The chief executive of Network Rail is to resign after three years in the job, saying it was a "good time" to move on, it was announced today.
Iain Coucher, 48, who has been at the rail infrastructure firm for eight years, will remain in his post over the coming months and will be involved in the search for his successor.
NR's chairman Rick Haythornwaite said Mr Coucher had been an "outstanding leader", adding that the railways had been "transformed" during his time at the company.
But Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said Mr Coucher had presided over a culture that had attacked jobs, working conditions and rail safety while his salary and perks had "gone through the roof".
NR was reportedly set for a clash with the new Government over the payment of bonuses to staff and senior managers.
The rail infrastructure operator is due to announce its staff bonuses at the end of the month, leading to speculation that senior staff could receive hundreds of thousands of pounds on top of their salaries.
Last year, Mr Coucher waived his annual bonus of around £300,000 but still received £150,000 as part of a three-year rolling management incentive scheme on top of his salary of around £600,000.
He said today: "I am enormously proud of what the Network Rail team has achieved over the past eight years. Britain's railway is now on a sure footing for the future.
"Following three years as chief executive, and five before that as Deputy, now is a good time for me to move on. The company needs continuity of leadership throughout the next five year regulatory review period.
"Leading the thousands of dedicated railwaymen and women that make up this company has been the greatest privilege of my professional life. I know that under the management team we have in place, complemented by a new chief executive, they will continue to go from strength to strength in the future."
Mr Haythornthwaite, said: "Iain has been an outstanding leader for Network Rail both as chief executive and deputy chief executive. During his time with the company Britain's railway has been transformed with improved punctuality, which is at record levels, safety improved and billions removed from the company's costs through efficiency saving. What was a company with enormous problems in 2002 is a strong and stable one today, and Britain's rail users and taxpayers are the main beneficiaries.
"The Board and Iain agreed that, with Network Rail one year into a five year financial settlement, now is the ideal time in our financial and regulatory cycle for Iain to hand over to a new chief executive who will guide the company through the process of reviewing our funding with the Office for Rail Regulation for the next regulatory control period and address the next phase of challenges in its transformational journey.
"Iain and I are working closely together to find a successor and then deliver a smooth and orderly transition, all the time focused on making sure that throughout the period the company continues to deliver a safe, reliable and efficient railway."
Bill Emery, chief executive of the ORR, said: "As regulator of Britain's railways we applaud Iain Coucher's major contribution to our improving mainline railway. His eight years at the top of Network Rail has seen marked improvements in train punctuality, the railway become much safer, and passengers returning to the railway as well as seeing the company making inroads into the efficiency gap with its peers.
"More recently Iain has set the company upon its transformation path to meet the stern challenges ahead. He has shown energy, drive and commitment to making our railways better. We wish him well in his future career."
Mr Crow said: "As far as we are concerned it's good riddance to Iain Coucher. He has presided over a culture at Network Rail that has attacked jobs, working conditions and rail safety at the sharp end while his salary and perks have gone through the roof. This news will be celebrated the length and breadth of the rail network.
"We now need a change at the top of Network Rail that ends the culture of secrecy and which puts a stop to the cuts in maintenance, operations and renewals which has thrown hundred of skilled workers on the dole.
"Iain Coucher's regime was dragging our railways back to the bad old days of Railtrack and I hope we can now move on under a new leadership committed to safety, protecting jobs and establishing a proper dialogue with the rail unions."
Before joining NR Mr Coucher was chief executive of Tube Lines, which has been maintaining and upgrading London Underground.
Gerry Doherty, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, welcomed Mr Coucher's resignation and called for a Government inquiry into his eight-year record.
"It is obviously good news for staff and passengers that Coucher has resigned rather than face an in-depth inquiry into his disastrous management style over the past eight years.
"We have been campaigning over the past two years for an inquiry into the culture of fear and bullying presided over by Coucher.
"We do not think it is a coincidence that he has quit following a decision by the new coalition to extend the Freedom of Information Act to cover NR, a state-funded maintenance firm that has acted as a private company."Reuse content