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."