First Group director to choose rail franchisees

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The Independent Online

The new £190,000 a year "fat controller" in charge of choosing which companies will run Britain's passenger rail services is a senior director of a group bidding for a number of train franchises.

Mike Mitchell, the business development officer at First Group, will become director general of railways at the Department of Transport.

A spokesman for the ministry said that if Dr Mitchell held any shares in his company, he would be required to sell them.

First Group, which already runs Great Western, Scotrail and Trans-pennine, is bidding for Thameslink, the East Coast Main Line licence from London to Edinburgh and the new integrated franchise in Kent, which will include super-fast commuter services using the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

According to one senior rail source Dr Mitchell, who will start his new job in May, has been a "ferocious critic" of senior directors at Network Rail, including its deputy chief executive Iain Coucher. Dr Mitchell will be responsible for securing improved performance and value for money from the network.

The post is being created in the wake of the demise of the Strategic Rail Authority - led by the £300,000-a-year Richard Bowker - which was regarded by the Treasury as a financial black hole.