California High-Speed Rail Authority names chief executive officer

Embattled agency hires president of Alstom Transportation to steer rail project

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has hired a seasoned transportation executive and current president of Alstom Transportation to serve as its new chief executive officer, the agency announced Thursday morning.

Roelof van Ark, 58, will be the first CEO in the 14-year history of the rail authority, which has been looking for a new leader since its former Executive Director Mehdi Morshed announced his retirement in January. Van Ark will now be charged with leading the $43-billion project that over the past few months has drawn extensive criticism from state officials and local communities.

For the past five years, van Ark has served as president of Alstom Transportation, the North American subsidiary of the French giant Alstrom SA, which constructed TGV, France's highly acclaimed high-speed-rail system. He was selected from 42 candidates, the rail authority announced.

"Building the first high-speed rail system in the nation is no ordinary job," Curt Pringle, chair of the rail authority's board of directors, said in a statement. "It is the biggest public works project in the country and the largest environmental review in history.

"Roelof van Ark is the world-class manager and engineer we need to take the reins of the project and turn the promise of high-speed rail into a reality for the people of California."

Before joining Alstrom, van Ark worked as president of aviation security for Invision Technologies and had spent more than 20 years at Siemens, a German conglomerate that manufactures high-speed trains. He served as president and CEO of Siemens Transportation Systems between 1999 and 2002.

He will receive a salary of $375,000 at the rail authority.

"As someone who has devoted his career to this industry, there's no doubt in my mind that California is the place to be, and I'm honored to be given the opportunity to work with all partners to move California's high-speed train project forward," van Ark said in a statement.

The rail project was approved by California voters in November 2008 when they passed Proposition 1A, which authorizes $9 billion for high-speed rail and another $950,000 for other transportation improvements. The proposed rail line would stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles and pass through the Peninsula along the Caltrain corridor.

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Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 9, 2010 at 11:22 pm

My gosh, it's no wonder this is a costly project with the salary the new CEO will be making based on the above article: $375,000.

Here are some other annual salaries of important officials:

Chief Justice of the United States - $223,500
Federal Reserve Chairman - $191,300
Admiral or General (4 stars) $172,000+/- depending on years of service
CA Governor - $206,500 (which he turns down)

I'm glad we're paying such a lavish amount to a CA employee. Maybe I should change jobs.

Like this comment
Posted by I smell an HSR Funded Rat
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 10, 2010 at 8:40 am


Kill the HSR project now.

Like this comment
Posted by CHOOCHOO
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

It'll be owned by China and you know it.

And so will the cars you end up replacing your Escalades.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I think the interesting point is the 14 year history of the rail authority. It took 12 years of taxpayer funding for them to construct a proposition with enough falsehood and innuendo to hoodwink the people of this state to vote for this costly boondoggle.

BTW, according to the SF Chronicle, Van Ark also gets a $75K bonus if he stays two years.

Like this comment
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 10, 2010 at 1:20 pm

How much would you pay the CEO responsible for a project that will cost $100 billion or more?

We're asking the wrong questions. Van Ark left a job paying nearly $1 million. Why did he willingly take such a large pay cut?

Is it because, perhaps, he stands to make gobs of money from this project in other ways?
Did he completely sever his relationship with Siemens/Alstom? What's in his portfolio?
Is a major conflict-of-interest brewing on the horizon?

He's not a government employee; he's a contract. Those pay scales are quite different and need to compete with private sector salaries. This job doesn't come with civil service tenure.

He's not our problem. The CHSRA Board is our problem. Whether you want a high-speed train or not, the project is being grossly mismanaged -- there is ample official documentation -- so that there may never be a project; only the expenditure of billions of wasted dollars.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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