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.