Belfast Telegraph

Northern railway chief to take over top job at ScotRail

The head of northern England's leading trains operator is to take over at the helm of ScotRail.

Alex Hynes, the current managing director of Northern, will take over from Phil Verster as head of the ScotRail Alliance.

Mr Verster stood down as managing director on Friday to take up the same role at the East West rail project, a new line linking Oxford and Cambridge.

He had been in the post for less than two years during a turbulent period for the company, which has faced calls to be stripped of its £7 billion 10-year franchise to run Scotland's railways after being ordered to put an improvement plan in place when performance slipped below contracted standards last year.

Mr Hynes has nearly 20 years' experience in the industry and has been managing director of the Northern franchise for the past three and half years, during which he is said to have "delivered their best-ever customer satisfaction scores as well as record levels of positive employee engagement".

He said: "I am delighted to have been appointed to lead the ScotRail Alliance, this cutting-edge arrangement, which brings together the management of ScotRail and Network Rail to deliver the very best for customers.

"The ScotRail Alliance is delivering one of the largest programmes of investment, change and modernisation since the railway was built.

"To be part of that, and the plans to vastly improve services and capacity for customers, is hugely exciting for me."

Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK, said: "Alex has a proven track record delivering rail improvement and investment programmes, and is the ideal replacement.

"We are currently investing in a fleet of 70 new faster, longer and greener trains, which will transform the rail travel experience of our customers and we are delighted to have Alex in place to lead this work."

Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail, added: "We are very pleased that Alex is joining Network Rail to lead the ScotRail Alliance.

"This is one of the most pressurised, high-profile roles in the whole railway industry and we look forward to helping him succeed."

Last week, Mr Verster, 53, appeared before a Holyrood committee and revealed Scottish Government plans to give a week's free train travel to ScotRail yearly and monthly season ticket holders could collapse as it relies on £1.8 million from a fund controlled by his firm which was earmarked for other initiatives.

Scottish Labour transport spokesman Neil Bibby MSP said: "T he relationship between ScotRail and the SNP appears to be at breaking point, so Mr Hynes will have a lot of work to do repairing that in the interests of Scotland's passengers.

"Passengers are fed-up with delayed, overcrowded and cancelled trains. ScotRail's performance simply isn't good enough.

"Last week it was revealed that ScotRail don't even know how to pay for the SNP's fare plan, which looks like it was drawn up on the back of a fag packet."

Scottish Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Mike Rumbles MSP said: "Passengers want to see improvement and would have been angered to hear that the SNP had not even agreed on the spend of £1.8 million to pay for a week's free travel when those funds had already been earmarked for rail improvement services such as disabled access at railway stations such as at Insch in my North East region.

"The transport minister and the new managing director need to act quickly to fix the recent poor performance of ScotRail which has brought misery to thousands of passengers."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "As stated on Friday, we are grateful to Phil Verster for his contribution and we wish him well in his new role.

"Alex Hynes is very experienced and highly regarded in the industry, and we look forward to working with him.

"We will arrange an early meeting with Mr Hynes upon his arrival to discuss how we can assist Abellio ScotRail as they strive to further improve performance and the overall passenger experience.

"We will shortly confirm more details of a week's free travel in 2017 for season ticket holders and have a series of further positive announcements and initiatives in the pipeline that we will deliver in partnership with the industry."