The new chief executive of Network Rail has pledged that his senior staff will be “well-paid but not overpaid”, in the wake of outcry over bonuses at the taxpayer-backed operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure.
Mark Carne made the vow to The Independent ahead of today’s launch of detailed investment plans for a £38bn revamp of the railways from this year to 2019. Already, more than 1.5 billion passenger journeys take place by rail each year and in five years’ time trains will carry more people than at any time in British history.
The Thameslink programme running 24 trains an hour through London and 850 miles of rail electrification from Maidenhead to Swansea and Sheffield to Bedford will be part of a £12bn capital expenditure programme. On top of that, £13bn will be poured into replacing and renewing older parts of the network, such as refurbishing nearly 6,000 sets of points.
Mr Carne, a former executive at Royal Dutch Shell, succeeded Sir David Higgins this year in difficult circumstances. Network Rail is facing its biggest regulatory fine – around £70m – as one in 10 trains are failing to get to stations within 10 minutes of their set arrival time, when the target is 92.5 per cent.
This will heap even more pressure on Network Rail’s bonus culture which has been heavily criticised over the years. Sir David was subject to media ridicule for receiving a bonus just shy of £100,000 last year, even though he made great strides in commercialising the business, while a predecessor, Iain Coucher, received more than his £613,000 basic salary in add-ons in 2010.
Mr Carne said that he is preparing to take executive pay proposals to Network Rail’s annual meeting in July, but hinted at a crack-down on the bonus culture as “we need to ensure that we hire good people who are well-paid, not over-paid”. Sources confirmed there will be a “significant” hit on bonuses from 2014-15.
The organisation’s hefty debt burden – expected to be nearly £50bn in 2019 – is guaranteed by the Government, while 30-50 “ members”, who are drawn from the public to hold the group to account, will vote on any proposals at the meeting.
Mr Carne has ordered the managers of the 10 major routes that make up the rail network to have developed climate change strategies in the wake of the extreme winter weather that saw the Dawlish sea wall collapse under the railway line. That part of the railway, which is between Exeter and Cornwall, is due to reconnected to the network on Friday.
He added: “Coastal damage this year has been particularly destructive and the South-west took a pasting. But we have to take a good look at the whole network.”
Richard Price, chief executive of the Office of Rail Regulation, warned that he “will be scrutinising progress … [on] improving train punctuality, enhancing the resilience of our rail network to severe weather, closing level crossings and increasing workforce safety are effectively delivered”.