First name in the frame for Network Rail chairman post

Internal candidate Keith Ludeman, former boss of transport operator Go-Ahead, is an early tip

Keith Ludeman, the former boss of train and bus operator Go-Ahead, has emerged as an early contender for the chairman role at Network Rail.

Rick Haythornthwaite, the current chairman of the Government-backed owner and operator of Britain's rail infrastructure, will stand down in the summer after deciding against standing for a second three-year term.

Mr Ludeman has emerged as a leading internal candidate, having become a non-executive director at Network Rail after retiring from Go-Ahead in July. An internal appointment would follow recent form – Sir David Higgins having been plucked from the non-executive board to become chief executive in February.

A leading rail industry source said Mr Ludeman was potentially interested in the role and had already been identified as a prospective candidate.

An advertisement for the job was placed in a national newspaper last weekend. It called for candidates to have been a "chairman or chief executive of a major commercial organisation operating in a large scale, complex environment", which would chime with Mr Ludeman's experience at £2.3bn turnover Go-Ahead. However, the advertisement also stated that experience of the rail industry was not a necessity, suggesting that Network Rail is willing to look far and wide for the right person.

Another potential candidate is Rob Holden, the chairman of High Speed One, the £5.8bn rail link from Kent to the Channel Tunnel. The former Crossrail chief executive is often linked to major infrastructure roles having successfully overseen the construction of High Speed One in his first stint at the project.

Mr Ludeman was chief executive at Go-Ahead for five years, having previously held senior management positions at a number of bus companies. The 61-year-old has also acted as a transport consultant.

Mr Haythornthwaite surprised the industry when he decided not to seek a second term earlier this year. He was viewed as pivotal in moving Network Rail from the much-criticised era of Iain Coucher to a revitalised structure under Sir David.

This appointment was a coup for Network Rail, as Sir David had been widely acclaimed for his work on leading the construction of the London 2012 Olympics. Sir David was credited with bringing the Games in well under its revised budget.

Mr Haythornthwaite has promised to talk to the public in his remaining months in charge as he seeks to improve the perception of the organisation. He has admitted that Network Rail is often looked at with "confusion, suspicion or disdain".

A spokesman for Network Rail said: "We are just at the start of the process of appointing a new chairman. Shortlisting will take place early in the new year and our aim is to make an announcement in the spring."

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