Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

High-speed rail: More changes atop the state’s HSR agency

Frank Vacca

Stability seems to be at a premium at the California High-Speed Rail Authority, where changing faces have become something of a constant in recent months.

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. Construction of the statewide $68 billion high-speed rail project is planned to begin next year in the Fresno area with work on the first $6 billion stretches through the central San Joaquin Valley. But there are at least four different legal challenges — and likely more to come — potentially standing in the way, all hoping to derail the state’s plans.

Vacca’s hiring to fill a vacant post in the authority’s senior management is only the latest change at the agency.

Roelof van Ark

Jeffrey Morales

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.

Diana Gomez

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.

Hans Van Winkle

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.

And on the authority’s governing board, there are three vacant seats created by resignations since December:

  • Matthew Toledo, a Los Angeles businessman appointed in late 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, resigned at the end of 2011 and whose seat has yet to be refilled by Gov. Jerry Brown.
  • Russell Burns, appointed by then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass in 2009, stepped down in August. Burns is the business manager for the Operating Engineers Union Local 3 in Sacramento.
  • Bob Balgenorth, outgoing president of the state Building and Construction Trades Council, resigned earlier this month. He was appointed by the state Senate’s Rules Committee in March 2011.


b2burns says:

Geez, people, let this boondoggle die a quiet death. HSR is a perfect example of an unaffordable program that take on life of its own!

Dale Drozen says:

How about we put it to the vote of us citizens again now that most of the lies we were told to get it passed have been exposed. We could use some of the money to fill in the Amtrak system. Getting on a train in Fresno being put on a bus then back to the train is crazy, and keep a lot of people from taking the train.

Ole Blue says:

Looks like a whole lot of the upper echelon at the HSR Commission is comprised of former Cal Trans brass. I recently heard that Cal Trans was going to lay off about 10K employees……………Why you ask?
A 5 year study revealed that a shovel will stand up on it’s own, no need to have 8 people standing around watching it!
HSR is destined to be a mirror image of Cal Trans.

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