Thursday, May 06, 2010

Van Ark to head California HSR Authority

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Alstom Transportation, Inc. President Roelof van Ark has been named the new chief executive officer of the California High Speed Rail Authority.

roelof-van-ark.jpgSeveral industry sources say Van Ark, 58, an unabashed supporter of high speed rail and its potential in the U.S., was chosen in part to address the image problems the proposed $44 billion, 700-mile California system has acquired in recent months. Those problems were highlighted in a report released last month by the California state auditor, claiming the HSR program “risks delays or an incomplete system because of inadequate planning, weak oversight, and lax contract management.”

Van Ark’s appointment is backed by those who note he has served both Alstom and Erlangen, Germany-based Siemens AG, major potential suppliers for any U.S. high speed rail effort. Critics, however, suggest those very qualifications could put van Ark at a disadvantage, possibly a conflict of interest, should either of the two companies be considered for the project.

Van Ark succeeds Mehdi Morshed, who stepped down from his role as executive director in March after spending 11 years to advance HSR in California. According to a CHSRA news release, his $375,000 annual salary is “substantially less than his current compensation in the private sector.”

“California is leading the nation in high speed rail,” van Ark said. “I have seen how high speed rail projects transform the places where they have been built, creating incredible new opportunities by connecting the world s great cities. 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 has been president at Alstom Transportation Inc. for the past five years, and he previously served as president of Aviation Security for Invision Technologies Inc. Prior to that he spent more than 20 years as an executive, managing director, general manager, senior technical manager, and senior project engineer for Siemens, manufacturer of Germany’s ICE high speed trains. While with Siemens, van Ark worked in Germany, South Africa, and most recently in Sacramento, where he served as president and CEO of Siemens Transportation Systems from 1999-2002. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.