The chief executive of the train operator GNER is to step down amid speculation that the franchise might be up for sale. Having explicitly denied predictions by The Independent that he was about to go, Christopher Garnett announced yesterday that he was leaving after 10 years at the helm.
Bob MacKenzie, the chief executive of the train operator's troubled parent company Sea Containers will take over when Mr Garnett leaves on 31 August.
The change follows a decision by the rail regulator to allow competition on GNER's east coast main line which calls into question the operator's ability to honour a £1.3bn premium it promised to the Exchequer over the next 10 years.
The High Court is expected to deliver a judgment tomorrow about whether the regulator's decision to allow a competitor access to the route was lawful. GNER, which runs inter-city trains between London and Edinburgh, argued the regulator's decision was unfair.
Industry sources said last night Mr MacKenzie's appointment might be a precursor to the sale of GNER, although any new owner will almost certainly seek to renegotiate the premium due to the Government. One source said British Airways might be interested in buying the operator as its flights from London to Newcastle are under increasing competitive pressure from GNER.
It is understood that Mr Garnett, 60, has been in negotiations with Sea Containers about his departure for some months and that pensions arrangements were a sticking point.
The train operator issued the following statement on 13 April: "Following an inaccurate statement in today's Independent newspaper, GNER wishes to make clear that its chief executive Christopher Garnett had NO [sic] plans to step down from his current position." Mr Garnett said yesterday: "After 10 challenging and rewarding years helping to transform GNER into a company renowned for customer service, now is the right time to step down."