Van Ark: HSR “Will Be Built”

Sep 29th, 2010 | Posted by

California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark spoke today at a joint lunch of the Commonwealth Club and the San Jose Rotary Club, and expressed his confidence in the high speed rail project:

Despite some community opposition and money challenges, the head of California’s proposed bullet train said Wednesday that “we can and will build this project.”

Roelof van Ark told a lunch audience in San Jose: “I’m more confident than ever this project can and will be built.”

He also spoke of the need for increased federal funding, and acknowledged that the CHSRA needed to do a better job working with local communities:

Van Ark acknowledged that his agency has not done a good job of communication. “We have not engaged sufficiently,” van Ark said, pledging to improve on that aspect of planning.

All in all, the speech wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it was good to see that van Ark is communicating to the public about the project, and recognizes the need to make some improvements in how the Authority does its public outreach.

Still, not everyone thinks this is enough. At the San Jose Mercury News, Sal Pizarro argues HSR needs a Steve Jobs:

Roelof van Ark, who became the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s CEO in June, certainly has the transportation background, engineering skill and business sense to lead the multibillion-dollar infrastructure project.

But he falls flat when it comes to firing up a crowd.

Van Ark gave a fact-filled but snooze-inducing update on high-speed rail to a joint meeting of the Commonwealth Club and San Jose Rotary Club on Wednesday….

To his credit, van Ark concedes that his strengths are in engineering and business. “I’m not a politician,” he said.

But to succeed, this project needs a politician involved to win over Peninsula residents and Washington bureaucrats. Van Ark needs to be complemented with an evangelist who can sell high-speed rail the way Steve Jobs sells iPhones.

Because if a dynamic advocate isn’t on board soon, this train’s not going anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have someone as engaging as Steve Jobs going around California touting the benefits of the HSR project. It would have been nice had Arnold Schwarzenegger been doing that a few years ago, when he still had the popularity to pull it off.

Still, it’s not Jobs who generates interest and demand for Apple products. The fact is that the products themselves are what generate the interest in the first place. The first iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad – it’s those things that have earned the oohs and aahs of American consumers, not the thin guy in the black turtleneck and jeans. We know this because not everything Jobs has touted has been a huge success (I almost bought a G4 Cube 10 years ago but went with an iMac instead, as did apparently everyone else).

HSR functions similarly. It doesn’t need an engaging salesperson – Californians already decided they really like the idea of bullet trains and have voted for them. If you want to extend the Apple analogy, they placed the order on the store and are just waiting the 3 weeks for the product to get shipped, worrying if the logistical issues will mean they won’t ever get what they ordered.

In other words, HSR needs someone who can deliver on the plans, who can get the project built, who can resolve the conflicts and controversies, and pull together the remaining funding. That’s Roelof van Ark’s job, and I am fully confident that he can get it done.

  1. Alon Levy
    Sep 30th, 2010 at 03:00

    “It’s gonna be me” ~Hillary Clinton, in the fall of 2007.

    TomW Reply:

    Didn’t Obama say he was going to win?

    All polticians say they are going to win, regardless of whether or not they do… so that’s kind of a useless thing to cite.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Obama did not use this triumphalist language, not that early. Clinton did; she campaigned on a theme that her win was inevitable.

  2. YesonHSR
    Sep 30th, 2010 at 08:45

    Money..big time WILL get this thru..40Billion from china or DC will do just fine and once construction begins thats when alot of the anticipation and excitement will start to grow. At this point it’s just a bunch of committee meetings and the media and its bad news drama, So we have another year of this stuff to get thru.. is it not today the secretary of transportation was supposed to announce the funding awards for 2010? If we get good news and get our 1 billion its one big step further along the way!

  3. Missiondweller
    Sep 30th, 2010 at 08:55

    If Steve Jobs promoted an “I-Train” would it be built in China?

    Peter Reply:

    MacTrain Air

    J. Wong Reply:

    Of course. Where do you think IPhone’s are made.

    Alan Reply:

    Yes. Just be sure to not put your hand over the radio antenna.

    jimsf Reply:

    I’d rather he spend money on some new clothes first…

  4. HSRComingSoon
    Sep 30th, 2010 at 11:38

    Here is a link to a audio recording of Van Ark’s presentation yesterday:

  5. StevieB
    Sep 30th, 2010 at 16:10

    Money is key and the Central Valley Business Times reports More federal money for California bullet train.

    The California High Speed Rail Authority on Thursday received $194 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars for preliminary engineering and environmental analysis for 520 miles of its high-speed rail corridor.

    California received the largest share of the latest funds.

    Peter Reply:

    California got nearly the entire amount, to be exact.

    North Carolina got $17 million for improvement of rail stations, Ohio got $14.9 million for for preliminary engineering and environmental analysis for the 3-C corridor, which connects Cincinnati through Dayton, Columbus to Cleveland, and Maryland eceived $9.4 million for improvements to the BWI rail station at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport.

    dave Reply:

    Refresh my memory, how much did they apply for?

    Elizabeth Reply:

    This is not new money. This is the ARRA money they got – $194 million of which was set aside for planning not construction. With Federal grants, there is the initial award but the recipient doesn’t actually get the cash until an agreement is signed. Welcome to the federal bureaucracy.

    dave Reply:

    Sorry, I think I was refering to the $1Billion or so that they applied for not too long ago.

  6. jimsf
    Sep 30th, 2010 at 16:17

    Just got this in the mail…

    For Immediate Release:
    September 30, 2010 Contact: Rachel Wall


    SACRAMENTO – Today, the California High-Speed Rail Authority was awarded a $194 million grant by the Federal Railroad Administration for preliminary engineering and environmental analysis.

    “This funding award demonstrates again the continued confidence the federal government has in California and the progress we’re making in planning our state’s high-speed rail project,” said Curt Pringle, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “This will give California’s system the funds we need to complete the environmental review and bring us closer to realizing the enormous opportunity this project represents for our state.”

    The Authority sought the $194 million, which will be matched dollar for dollar with state funds. The funding will contribute to the Authority’s ongoing environmental work and preliminary engineering in the segments connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim via the Central Valley

    Elizabeth Reply:

    don’t get too excited. This is just the release of the money previously awarded as part of the $2.25 that was allocated to planning work. This is how they get down to the amount for construction

    $2.25- .4 -.194 = 1.656 billion for construction

    See page 2

    jimsf Reply:

    True I wouldn’t want to hyperventilate. I just want to know where the first shovel of dirt will be turned. They will have to do it in la and sf at the same time or there will be a fight.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    I guess there will be fight. Van ARk announced yesterday they are going to pick one segment soon. The lucky segment gets the first $4.7 billion of spending.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    By the way, that is precisely why we think this conflict of interest thing is so important. The decision will always be tainted by it if not resolved immediately.

    jimsf Reply:

    Perhaps but considering the positions of caard, I think that the “controversy” has more to do with trying to derail the project.

    dave Reply:

    Why do you care? Aren’t the two cantidates in question from the L.A area, wouldn’t it be better for you that they start Construction down their so it will give you guys more time to think up more lawsuits?

    morris brown Reply:

    And pray tell where is this magic 4.7 billion coming from. All construction bond funds expended must be matched 1:1 with other funds. They have 1.656 in fed money plus an equal amount of bond funds comes up to only 3.312 billion or about 1.4 billion short of the goal of $4.7 billion.

    Van Ark also said his plan is to do the central valley and connect to either LA or the Bay area to make part of a system. That is a whole lot more than 4.7 billion.

    dave Reply:

    He said the new GOAL is to connect either L.A – CV or B.A – CV, but $4.7 B is for ONE section of that goal, not the whole thing at one time.

    Anyway I think that $1.4 can be scraped up somewher by the end of 2012. Or did you think they where starting next month?

    StevieB Reply:

    It is very important that the Federal Railroad Administration which was staffed with safety experts is now reconfiguring itself to fund high speed rail projects.

    “We are making substantial progress in providing funds to states so they may start construction projects or advance their necessary planning,” says Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo.

  7. jimsf
    Sep 30th, 2010 at 16:56

    of course it will be built.

    Now, I just made my trip by air to psp, and some observations

    1. the CRJ200 by Bombardier… forget it. Oh sure it flies ok. But its like flying the hot wheels or barbie plane. The seats are way to small. Not the pitch, the width. Forget it.

    2.Palm springs, airport /tsa nazis. SFO, super friendly and efficient.

    3. Palm springs city, immaculate. SF, filthy. Apparently republicans are better at housekeeping.

    4. Our route happened to afford me an absolutely, spot on, panoramic view of the entire southern end of the hsr route. As we crossed from the coast , over the Carrizo Plain-bfd-tehachipi etc. on a very clear day, from that particular altitude, I could at once see everything from Santa Barbara Co, the grapevine, the SFvalley, over the hwood hills, past Downtown LA all the way to Palos Verdes and including both grapevine and tehachapi. And without a doubt, clear as day, the geography via tehachapi is a piece of cake compared to grapevine. Same goes for the PMD over to SF Valley portion. From the high desert into the SFValley, there doesn’t even appear to be any climb, just a simple drop in elevation down from pmd to santa clarita. From BFD to SAnta clarita via grapevine not only are there about zero customers to serve, but the terrain is a much bigger pain. I saw it all, laid right out before my very eyes. Its a no brainer. We also flew right over victorville and saw the would be stretch that might connect cahsr with dx someday. Also watched freights descending gracefully, though I’m sure carefully, the pass down from VRV. It was just very cool to look out and see that much of the hsr at one time and imagine the trains down there. The trains which, I might ad, will have much larger seats than that CRJ200 Barbie Dream Jet I was on.

    Now if we can just get them to forget ANA from LA and switch it to LA-RIV instead……

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Which carrier did you use – United? I’m asking because many other carriers actually have slightly wider seats on their CRJs than on 737s.

    jimsf Reply:

    yep, united via united express/skywest. Normally I would prefer alaska who also has a nonstop sfo=psp on a 737. It was just matter of fares and skeds that brought to UA this time. By the way does anyone know about flight paths? Because we had the wackiest approach to SFO I have even seen. Normally you come in, depending on where your’re coming from, either from the east (altamont/mt hamilton) or from the south (monterey santa cruz/ highway 17/ SM bridge) but this time over mry bay, we took a sharp left out over the pacific, then north up the sm coast, then, a sharp right over San Gregorio/ then practically south again, along skyline, then left again to the east to the north over Moffet and along the bay on the normal approach. What was that crazy scenic detour! Maybe we were killing time? Maybe our barbie plane was too small to get in the mix in the normal approach with all the big gi joe and terminator planes? The views were nice though.

    Johnathan Reply:

    What you’ve described is an airplane queueing in line for a landing slot, flying in circles above the airport. A usual occurence due to air traffic and limited capacity, leading to delays.

    Peter Reply:

    It’s called being vectored. The controller was vectoring the plane around to fit it into the line of airplanes coming in for landing. The RJ actually has a slightly faster approach speed than most other airliners, so that may have made it slightly more difficult to fit in if they were busy. Finally, they may have changed runways in use for landing. When that happens they have to vector all the planes around to set them up for a different runway. It can get complex, especially in congested airspace like the Bay Area.

    Peter Reply:

    Hey jim, do you know what your flight number was? Because you could look it up on and see your flightpath.

    jimsf Reply:

    Cool thanks for all the explanations. Makes sense. yes the flight was skywest (ua express) 6160 30sep. ill check out the site. The plane did slow down … a lot… over the coast and hills, then, as we crossed skyline, over the ridge, sped back up again. I’m sure the pilots have more fun flying the smaller jets with all the sharp turns and such. They are like sports cars.

    jimsf Reply:

    wow there it is! just like I thought.

    Peter Reply:

    If you click on the aviation sectional view you can even see all the radio navigation aids and the airways that you followed.

    jimsf Reply:

    its very cool. ill have to do it everytime now. well, until hsr is built.

Comments are closed.