California High Speed Rail Authority Continues to Staff Up
Tim Sheehan of the Fresno Bee has a good overview of some recent significant hires at the California High Speed Rail Authority. While Sheehan argues these changes mean “stability seems to be at a premium,” in fact this looks to me like things are settling down as the Authority gets ready to begin construction next year on the Central Valley segment of the system.
The authority announced this week that it’s hired Frank Vacca, who has been the Chief Engineer for Amtrak for six years, as chief program manager for the high-speed rail effort.
Vacca will head up the authority’s technical and engineering teams….
Earlier this year, Roelof van Ark, the authority’s CEO since mid-2010, stepped down; the agency eventually tabbed Jeffrey Morales as his replacement. Morales, a former chief of Caltrans, came to the authority from his post as a vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the multinational engineering and consulting company that is providing overall project management services to the authority.
Jeff Abercrombie, a Caltrans veteran who was the authority’s Central Valley program manager for about a year and a half, returned to Caltrans last month. His post has been filled by Diana Gomez, who worked for Caltrans in Los Angeles. Gomez is one of eight senior positions the authority has filled recently.
Within Parsons Brinckerhoff, Hans Van Winkle, a retired general with the Army Corps of Engineers, was the company’s high-speed rail project manager. Van Winkle’s appointment to the post was much ballyhooed by the authority back in 2010. Van Winkle is now on to other things within the company, and Brent Felker took over the high-speed rail chores — quietly and without ceremony — within the past few months.
Staffing changes aren’t unusual on big projects like this, but what you are seeing is that Governor Jerry Brown is slowly but surely getting his team in place. Many of the new hires, in addition to the ones described above, are filling vacancies. The numerous open positions was a point of criticism made by peer reviewers and the Legislative Analyst’s Office against the Authority in recent years, so this should be taken as a positive sign.
Many of these new hires have a background in government transportation, whether Amtrak or Caltrans. That’s a good sign, as successful construction of the project will require people familiar with building public transportation projects in California and the legal, regulatory, and political issues that come with them.
Sheehan also pointed to three resignation from the CHSRA board. We mentioned Bob Balgenorth’s retirement earlier this month. Matthew Toledo was appointed on the last day of 2010 by outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Russell Burns was appointed back in 2009 by then-Speaker Karen Bass. Brown can now appoint more of his own people to the board, helping ensure his stamp is on the project as it moves forward.