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Network Rail chief nears end of the line as pressure mounts over pay and performance

Christopher Williams
Frustrations over high pay and slow progress at Network Rail are rising - PA

The man in charge of Britain’s railways is under pressure in Whitehall to step down, amid frustration about the slow pace of change and criticism of his £820,000 pay package.

It is understood that the Government wants Mark Carne, the chief ­executive of Network Rail, to leave when there is a “natural break” in his contract this year.

His departure could be sealed as soon as the spring, according to Whitehall sources, with further months ­required to find and appoint a new leader to steer the railways through a crucial period of rising demand and public ­investment. 

There is no formal process under way to identify successors, but ministers are understood to be keen to see Network Rail make a fresh start and accelerate ­improvements to tracks.

An insider said: “He has struggled with parts of the relationship with ­government.” It is understood that tensions have included Mr Carne’s remuneration, which is among the highest in the public sector and has provided ammunition to government critics.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has publically criticised Network Rail

Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary has publicly criticised Network Rail for failing to improve efficiency. Mr Carne’s allies this weekend pointed out that Mr Grayling had no direct power to oust the former Shell executive. The chief executive of Network Rail is appointed by a board led by Sir Peter Hendy, the former commissioner of Transport for London. Sir Peter was travelling this weekend and could not be reached for ­comment. Mr Carne, 58, has led Network Rail since April 2014, although he took up the role early to oversee winter track repairs after the main line into Devon and Cornwall collapsed into the sea.

Whitehall sources paid tribute to his efforts but suggested new management could help Network Rail deliver on ambitious upgrade programmes, ­including integration of existing infrastructure with the HS2 line.

The Government in October agreed to boost Network Rail’s budget despite concerns over the organisation’s progress under Mr Carne.

A source commented: “He could step down with a strong record intact and allow someone to come in with fresh ideas to deliver the next stage of ­improvements.”

A Network Rail spokesman called Whitehall discussion of Mr Carne’s ­future “rumours and speculation”, and said he had no plans to step down