Former Orange County Assemblyman Tom Umberg anhnounced Thursday he will step down as chairman of the troubled California High-Speed Rail Authority, and CEO Roelof van Ark submitted his resignation, effective in about two months.

The two top management changes come as the leadership of the proposed $98-billion Anaheim-to-San Francisco rail project has been under fire from many directions. In addition, the project’s Peer Review Committee said this month the high-speed rail funding plans aren’t ready to begin drawing millions in state funds approved by voters in 2008.

U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, has urged the project to use resources from CalTrans.

“The announcement of his [van Ark’s] resignation will resonate throughout the State,” Umberg predicted in a news release. “His energy, passion and dedication to this critically important project are a testament to his character and his professionalism. We are extremely lucky to have his continued counsel and advice as we move to implement high-speed rail in California.”

No reason was given for van Ark’s departure. Umberg, a lawyer and former Democratic assemblyman, told KCAL9-TV news Thursday night that the critical peer review report “really had nothing to do with this.”

The Los Angeles Times reported:

Van Ark’s resignation represents a serious blow to the management of the authority as it hustles to start construction of the project’s first 130 miles in the Central Valley, a segment that has run into increasing opposition from major agricultural interests and some cities along the route.

Van Ark, a senior business manager with extensive experience in high-speed rail systems, replaced Mehdi Morshed in June 2010 as head of the authority. He had been president of the North American division of Alstrom SA, a French conglomerate that makes high-speed trains and built the the TGV bullet train system in France.

Van Ark also headed other major divisions of Alstrom as well as units of Siemens AG, a German firm that also develops high speed rail systems.

The Times also reported “Umberg will recommend that Dan Richard, who was recently appointed to the board by Gov. Jerry Brown, assume his [Umberg’s] leadership role.”


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