California High-Speed Rail Derails: CEO Quits In Long-Expected Surprise

Roelof van Ark, we hardly knew ye. 

The CEO of a California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) that is now described as "embattled" even by the establishment media has announced his resignation less than two years after taking office. From the office of CHSRA spokeswoman Rachell Wall, who didn't have enough to worry about on her last day on the job

At the regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Directors, held in Los Angeles today, Chairman of the Board Thomas J. Umberg issued the following statement after CEO Roelof van Ark announced his resignation, effective in two months:

"With admiration, I would like to thank Mr. van Ark for his service to California and the high-speed rail project. The announcement of his resignation will resonate throughout the State. His energy, passion and dedication to this critically important project are a testament to his character and his professionalism. We are extremely lucky to have his continued counsel and advice as we move to implement high-speed rail in California. I remain grateful for his professionalism and friendship."

Van Ark's resignation came during a board meeting, and the CHSRA flubbed the announcement. The reaction to his announcement followed by just ten minutes a press release in which van Ark is quoted speaking on a decision to run the line through the Antelope Valley rather than paralleling Interstate 5 over the Grapevine: 

The Authority recently re-examined the Central Valley to Los Angeles Basin segment, including a route along I-5 in Southern California that extends over the Grapevine. The Grapevine alignment was originally studied in the 2003-2005 Statewide Programmatic Environmental Review and did not advance because preliminary information suggested it could cost more than the Antelope Valley route.

“Due to many changes which had occurred over time, we had to look at as many alternatives as possible to ensure the best statewide system possible,” said Roelof van Ark, CEO of the Authority. “We conducted a conceptual study to update the engineering data from 2005 to see if the Grapevine route would save us time, distance and money. This was a prudent time to reevaluate both routes, which have changed since the initial studies.

“This re-evaluation makes it clear that running the train through the Antelope Valley will connect people in one of the county’s fastest-growing areas, have fewer environmental impacts, and afford more flexibility in route selection,” van Ark said.

Wall explains that van Ark will stick around until March and board chairman Umberg will leave as soon as a replacement can be found. 

The CHSRA is under tremendous pressure to begin work on the Obama Administration's chosen first leg of the project, a line connecting Merced and Bakersfield. The September deadline for groundbreaking and the odd location were needed to qualify the project for ARRA stimulus funds. Wall says the federal requirement is for the ARRA funds to be spent by 2017, and the September 2012 target was selected by working back from that. Should the project not meet that deadline, she says, the federal funding would not necessarily be jeopardized because the Golden State's contract with the federal government only "memorializes the schedule." 

The project remains on schedule, Wall says: "We anticipate groundbreaking by fall of this year. The next stage is to outline the capital-outlay budget." 

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  • Scott||

    It's "Surprise" not "Suprise"

  • rsi||

    It depends on what part of the country you're from.

  • Nope...||

    "Sunrise" not "Suprise".

  • oncogenesis||

    Yeah, get with the pogrom.

  • Nipplemancer||

  • ||

    So racist.

  • WarrenT||

    For a magazine called Reason you'd think they would remember the R.

  • Banjos husband||

    Yeah Ive had plenty to drink. Thanks though.

  • A fan||

    Maybe supine. Or sir prize. Or syrup-rise.

  • WarrenT||

    It's a super-prize.

  • johnl||

    Such a great day for California, there is no time to spellcheck.

  • Tman||

    So what's the over/under on months until this pipe dream finishes circling the rim of the toilet bowl and finally gets flushed down with the rest of California's economy?

    I give it six.

    "We anticipate groundbreaking by fall of this year. The next stage is to outline the capital-outlay budget."

    Ha ha. ho ho.

  • juris imprudent||

    If you had said years instead of months I might have agreed.

  • Tman||

    You think that long? Really? Hmmmm.

    You may be right, but I dunno.

    I mean their economy is close to Rhode Island bad and news like this isn't helping- California Cash Deficit Widens to $2.5 Billion in First Half That's since the start of the fiscal year.

    Yikes.

  • ||

    To many people will be making too much money off of it for them to quit that early. They'll end it as late as they possibly can.

  • ||

    This will not disappear until the Republicans control the California house. (So I'm guessing maybe 50 years?)

  • ||

    I dont know anything about California politics. I dont know anything about HS rail. I do know that no private company has tried to build a HS rail line with it's own funds. Subsidy = Bad Idea.
    It is going to be a black hole that taxpayers will have to throw money into until the end of time. I bet the thing runs 1/4 capacity tops.

  • WarrenT||

    And naming the first engine Solyndra's Promise isn't helping matters.

  • Sevo||

    Now, that's FUNNY!

  • juris imprudent||

    Not a black hole. Physics says matter can't be destroyed, it can only be transformed. This is something into which an endless stream of money can pour without anything every being accomplished. You kinda have to admire humans for that ingenuity.

  • anon||

    Physics says -energy- can't be destroyed. Which is why what you said works.

  • wareagle||

    I do know that no private company has tried to build a HS rail line with it's own funds.
    -------------------------
    in the real world, that's known as a clue. Fortunately for fans of big govt, much of the electorate is without one.

  • Typical Progressive||

    But someone somewhere may want, nee, need to ride that train who can't afford to because he was fired for a reason that I call unjust.

    That makes it worth ANY cost.

  • ||

    Well, there are those, you know, hidden benefits. Which are great. You don't have to prove that they even exist, much less, that they provide a net benefit.

  • okiedokie||

    Funny thing, private companies don't seem to like to build infrastructure..wonder why? WHEN WILL YOU PEOPLE REALIZE THAT RAIL IS LIKE ANY PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE???!! I'm sure you stay up nights worrying about your local freeway running at 1/4 capacity.

  • ||

    There are thousands of miles of road that shouldn't have been built either.

  • Xmas||

    Don't diss the Robert C. Byrd Highway!!!

  • Spartacus||

    This gentleman begs to differ.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    All aboard the Schadenfreude Express!

  • juris imprudent||

    Sounds like the Irwin Allen disaster epic about the HSR and the Big One on the San Andreas fault.

  • Sevo||

    "With admiration, I would like to thank Mr. van Ark for his service to California and the high-speed rail project."

    What, in some sort of specific terms, constitutes Mr. van Ark's 'service to California'?
    Could it be the $12M spent on PR to convince the peons?
    http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.c.....uestioned/

  • maybenot||

    That money was necessary to keep the US from falling to another great depression! The stimulus money which isn't supposed to be completely spent for another 5 years (8 years when ARRA actually passed) was SUPER NECESSARY AND IMPORTANT! THAT'S WHY IT'S BEING SPENT SO FAST!

  • Sevo||

    maybenot|1.12.12 @ 9:21PM|#
    "That money was necessary to keep the US from falling to another great depression!"

    It was also required to keep the US from falling behind China in the "throw-money-down-the-rat-hole" competition!

  • mr simple||

    "Mr President, we must not allow a money pit gap!"

  • ||

    Remember to rotate your kneepads

  • Paul ||

    I call bullshit. No "spending more time with family and pursuing other opportunities"?

  • Sevo||

    OT, but related:
    Oaktown's been using RDA funds for all sorts of things, and now that the RDA is dead, well, the folks getting paid with RDA funds will have to find a real job:
    "Because of the way Oakland uses the funds, the change will be devastating, officials said.
    Oakland's redevelopment funding, which totals up to $30 million annually, covers employee salaries in 11 departments, from public works to the Mayor's office."
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/......DTL&tsp=1
    What a shame! The slush-fund you used to keep your nephew off the streets just dried up!
    Cue the violins...

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    You do have to wonder how much gets flushed down the hole every year just keeping these Phillip Reardon types employed.

  • juris imprudent||

    Nice alt text on the first picture but "A man up to the size of the job" would've been better.

  • ||

    Hell, the picture's so small, it could have been Chester A. Arthur and no one would have been the wiser.

  • Sevo||

    And:
    Would I like to know what his severance package is, or would I rather not get angry this evening?

  • ||

    I wouild like to know who he, and many other top execs in CHSPA voted for and/or campaigned for in the 2008 presidential election.

  • ||

    line connecting Merced and Bakersfield

    How many billions are they planning to piss away on connecting north bumfuck to south bumfuck?

    -jcr

  • ||

    I thought they changed that; Roosterpoot to Bumfuck? I didnt read the article that closely.

  • ||

    The true plan is to run a spur line into Yosemite Valley from Merced, and to make everyone who wants to visit Yosemite go in on the HSR.

    Killing two environmentalist birds with one train, as it were.

  • Sevo||

    "How many billions are they planning to piss away on connecting north bumfuck to south bumfuck?"

    Well, according to the article, enough to qualify for the billions Obama is willing to pound down that rat hole.

  • ||

    I assume the requirement that they build the least useful stretch first is intended to prevent them from, say, building the section from San Jose to San Francisco and then stopping.

  • Sevo||

    "building the section from San Jose to San Francisco"
    That.
    Ain't.
    Happening.
    You think Palo Alto homeowners are gonna allow a HSR anywhere near their government-subsidized $10K./sq. ft. 'bungalows'?
    Well, I got a hint: Only if they add $100B to underground it from So. City to Sunnyvale.

  • Priestess||

    Yeah that'll be a really good idea in an earthquake zone..what could possibly go wrong. And if the Big Dig is any metric 100B aint enough money.

  • ||

    The shortest route from San Jose to San Francisco actually goes over 40 miles of completely unused territory. From San Jose shoot up the SP line to Alviso and into the Bay. Run a causeway all the way to Candlestick Point, and then run next to the Caltrain line from there.

    Piece of cake.

    If only the HSR had some environmentalist backing so they could have sway against any protestations that might arise!

  • ||

    Whatever, my point is that the sensible way to do a road or rail project, is to start building the most useful part first, so if you run out of money and only finish half, at least you've got a smaller but still useful road/rail system/whatever.

    But the BO-DOT doesn't want to be sensible, it wants to force them to build the whole thing.

  • Sevo||

    Tulpa|1.12.12 @ 11:30PM|#
    "Whatever, my point is that the sensible way to do a road or rail project, is to start building the most useful part first"

    Whatever.

  • ||

    That least useful stretch is getting built first because there are fewer eminent domain problems, and a hell of a lot fewer NIMBYs.

  • sounds real good||

    It's completely nuts. In Forbes last year, eight California cities were in the top 20 "most miserable cities." Six of those cities (Sacramento, Stockton, Merced, Modesto, Fresno, and Bakersfield) are already connected by I-5 and it hasn't helped them. Who thinks high speed rail will help? Are they planning to ship produce that isn't being grown because of bureaucratically engineered drought on high speed rail? It's the work of delusional minds.

  • Anacreon||

    Actually, they are all connected by 99, not 5

  • Amakudari||

    Yes, with HSR people would at least have to look out their windows at hellholes like Fresno. With I-5 it's nothing but a straightaway through nothingness from the East Bay into northern LA.

  • sounds real good||

    Eh. Close enough from my perspective.

  • Sevo||

    "Six of those cities (Sacramento, Stockton, Merced, Modesto, Fresno, and Bakersfield) are already connected by I-5 and it hasn't helped them. Who thinks high speed rail will help?"

    Pretty sure Reason did an article on this.
    BART (the local already-accomplished rail-pork) provides an extremely easy and nearly un-traceable escape route for thieves.
    You *really* don't want to live near a BART station.

  • sounds real good||

    I've done it. I narrowly missed being at Fruitvale Station, late on the night of Oscar Grant's death. So glad I took a shuttle home from the airport that night.

    I also lived in walking distance of MacArthur Station, but it wasn't really walkable at night despite the proximity, so it had little value to me.

  • Amakudari||

    The best part about it is that there is already a rail line there. It's Amtrak. So if it finishes only the Merced to Bakersfield line, the government has literally done nothing except cannibalized its own rail.

  • F Hart||

    "We anticipate groundbreaking by fall of this year."

    But if we go to war with Iran in the meantime, all bets are off.

  • mr simple||

    We are extremely lucky to have his continued counsel and advice as we move to implement high-speed rail in California.

    Does this mean the poor man has to move to a lucrative consulting position?

  • Sevo||

    Oh, shit! Is that his severance package?

  • ||

    the Golden State's contract with the federal government only "memorializes the schedule."

    RIP, schedule.

  • Malory Archer||

    This is why we can't nave nice things!

  • Binky||

    "We anticipate groundbreaking by fall of this year. The next stage is to outline the capital-outlay budget."

    Sentence first. Verdict afterwards.

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    I just don't see how the project isn't getting blocked on legal grounds. They haven't come up with a plan that doesn't involve operating subsidies, which the proposition forbade; surely someone should be suing and a judge should be ordering that work stop until such a plan materializes.

  • ||

    The green jobs boondoggles, the HSR boondoggles....my god. I just went over to the npr website, which I will never do again, and read a story about shell oil wanting to build a huge ethane cracker in WV. The comment section was filled with laments about fracking and environmental destruction blah blah blah. Not one single fact or cogent argument was put forward, just teeth gnashing and hair tearing. Not one word about the areas economy having had no investment for over a decade. The fucking idiot-left is going to kill us all.

  • cathrine||

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  • ||

    The only way I could possibly support this high-speed rail boondoggle is if they promise to tie a spammer to the rail every mile and let me drive over them.

    -jcr

  • Paul ||

    Why only every mile?

  • ||

    Make it ten per mile and I'm in. Well, OK, five.

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  • ||

  • AlmightyJB||

  • rather||

  • AlmightyJB||

    Funny but no.

  • Ted S.||

    It's never Joan van Ark :-(

    (You don't want to see how she looks today.)

  • ||

    What civil engineering genius even _thought_ they could run this thing up over the Grapevine in the first place? Probably not an engineer at all but some bureaucrat. Emblematic of the whole folly.

  • ||

    How long did he hold his gold-plated CEA position? Possibly a year, making him eligible for increased retirement benefits?

    Possibly I'm cynical, but I'd bet that most of the top dogs are there for that purpose. They know the thing is going to crap out and die eventually, but it's got one hell of a budget right now. Gravy train, Ho-oooo!

  • TallDave||

    I think people aren't giving this a fair shake. The project actually looks really good judged against comparable projects such as:

    1) Carpet-bombing the San Fernando Valley
    2) Nuking Los Angeles.
    3) Triggering a 9.7 earthquake along the San Andreas faultline
    4) Re-opening FDR's concentration camps for Asians

    You have to put things in the proper context, people.

  • ||

    Nope, not seeing it for the first three.

    If I had to choose between HSR and reopening FDR's camps, I'd go with HSR (although historically concentration camps and railroads go together like chocolate and peanut butter).

    But the other three? I don't think so.

  • ||

    Does the change into the Antelope Valley explain the harassment of the locals by L.A. county sheriffs recently? Code infractions which have been ignored for decades are suddenly resulting in big fines and driving people off the land. Makes it easier to take with eminent domain.

    Reason.tv: Why is the Government Driving Folks Off Their Land?

  • dan||

    I was thinking the exact same thing.

  • ||

    The left is still aflutter over Scott Walker's cancelling of a similarly useless rail line. This article views it as even worse than his public-sector union reform.

    Gov. Walker's fateful decision on rail: Rejecting federal train funds will haunt the state for decades to come

  • SFC B||

    The coffee shop I frequent has several regulars who bemoan that the shiny awesome traing of awesomeness that Walker killed would have been the bestest bit of transportation every and they'd use it every day for grocery shopping in Chicago.

    Of course they ignore the fact the train was going to speed right by our region and that they could hop on a train right now (well, not "right now" because the number of people using the current Amtrak line is no where near enough to justify that frequent of a schedule) and go to Chicago.

  • ||

    The only debate about high-speed rail should be whether it is a bad idea or a dumb idea.

  • ||

    Don't make me choose between bad and dumb.

  • ||

    Is it just me, or is there nothing in the article to justify either the headline or the assertion that "the CHSRA flubbed the announcement?"

  • ||

    The High Speed rail boondoggle doesn't need to result in any track being laid in order for the politicians and their developer supporters to consider it a success. This story gives away the ending. The Antelope Valley route explains this activity on the part of the LA government: http://www.laweekly.com/2011-0.....perty-war/ The developers will buy the properties for pennies and sell them to the rail authority for millions. This is essentially a wealth transfer from taxpayers to democratic party supporters, courtesy of the corruptocrats in washington and sacremento. The LA Sheriffs provide the muscle, and the Antelope Valley property owners are the victims. Haven't you folks ever seen Blazing Saddles?

  • ||

    They can make the budget if they replace the rail and trains with one of those conveyor belts that pulls your car through the car wash. And you can drive when you get to your destination! Maybe a nice Carnauba wax at the station, too.

  • ||

    One more note: I actually had a die-hard Wisconsin leftist tell me, in all sincerity, that Wisconsin needed the high-speed rail line to cope with all the migrants who were going to be driven north by global warming.

    I saw it as a perfect storm of liberal, brainwashed idiocy.

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