The Player: Chris Green, Chief Executive of Virgin Rail: Right man to tackle `mission impossible'

THE LOGO on the side of the computer-generated image of the new tilting train destined for Virgin's West Coast main line says it all: "Mission Impossible". Chris Green, the high-flier who turned around three divisions of British Rail, has been hired to sort out problems at the country's most unpopular train company.

Mr Green, 55, faces an uphill task. Virgin owns two of the most elderly and problematic rail franchises. The West Coast line from London to Glasgow has had little work done on it since it was electrified in the Sixties. CrossCountry runs trains that connect all corners of the UK and cover distances of up to 800 miles, making them liable to delays.

Last year the franchises attracted more passenger complaints than any other operator and the latest performance figures showed the flagship London-to-Glasgow service had the worst punctuality record in the country, with almost 20 per cent of trains running late. The letters columns of the national papers are full of horror stories from passengers. Virgin is a butt of the nation's jokes to an extent that only British Rail could rival.

The business probably reached its nadir at the Labour Party's annual conference when Virgin failed to deliver party delegates to Blackpool. Richard Branson went on the radio to tell shocked listeners: "We fucked up, we fucked up badly."

The appointment of Mr Green is a sign that Mr Branson is desperate to restore the reputation of the train business, whose performance threatens to undermine the Virgin brand. Mr Green has been hired on a five-year contract with a two-fold mission - to deliver a markedly improved service on the existing network and ensure the pounds 1.8bn worth of new trains will be delivered on time. He should be qualified for both, as one insider praised his "exceptional" marketing ability and his track record on train procurement.

The first task looks the more challenging. Mr Green said he would launch a "back-to-basics" strategy to improve punctuality. He has embarked on a 100-day mission to get views from staff and passengers about the way forward. "I want added professionalism in everything we do. Whatever we do, let's do it well and let's get rid of those silly little mistakes that have annoyed customers. Running out of tea is just unforgivable," he said. "People have taken their eye off the ball while making large train orders or contracting out work to third parties. We have to get back to basics.

"It will be a process of continuous improvement for the next few months. It is about getting the boring details right. I would hope to be able to show an improvement every three months."

Virgin recently provoked an outcry by increasing first-class fares to Manchester by 10 per cent and to Birmingham by 19 per cent while offering better deals on tickets booked three days in advance.

Mr Green said Virgin's prices had been lower than other operators, but added: "I would not expect us to have higher prices." He had "four or five" new initiatives up his sleeve but said it was too early to go into details as he only officially took over the reins from Brian Barrett, who is retiring, on Monday.

Despite Virgin's poor reputation, he said that only 30 per cent of delays were caused by Virgin, with the rest down to other operators, Railtrack or acts of God. Under the deal for the new trains, the train builder Alstom would take responsibility for the existing fleet under a contract that demanded a 33 per cent cut in delays due to train faults. He insisted he wanted to build a new relationship with Railtrack, which is spending pounds 1.2bn on the West Coast line, following recent arguments over who was to blame for falling standards. "Throwing rocks at each other may feel good but it won't solve a single problem."

The two new fleets of trains are the key to the long-term success of the Virgin rail business, which is now 49 per cent owned by Stagecoach. About pounds 1.2bn is being spent on a fleet of 53 140mph tilting trains for the West Coast line which will achieve the "holy grail" of Glasgow in under four hours, said a spokesman. The rest is being spent on 78 diesel trains for the CrossCountry route.

Mr Green has been here before. From 1992 to 1994 he was managing director of InterCity, the profitable high-speed train business of BR that includes both CrossCountry and West Coast. Ironically, the man in charge of the West Coast line at the time was Ivor Warburton, who resigned last week as director of business development. Mr Green said the pair remained friends.

His successes in turning around the fortunes of ScotRail and the creation of the Network SouthEast business led to him being hailed as the best chairman BR never had. He quit in protest at the plans to break up the network at privatisation. His departure in 1995 for the top job at English Heritage took the industry by surprise.

Observers say Mr Green's career with BR made him the right man for the top job at Virgin Rail. One said: "He has an impressive track record. He is probably responsible for the procurement of more new trains during this period than any time since. His no-nonsense attitude and exceptional marketing ability is widely believed to be a long-needed counter to some of the more disastrous promotions dreamed up by Virgin's novice marketing people."

Mr Green declined to reveal his pay package but he said he had been given a "fair deal" by Mr Branson. He said he would have been interested in the job of chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, the new body being set up by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to regulate the railways.

However, it is unlikely he would have been accepted for the post following a Commons Public Accounts Committee report last year that said he was unfit to hold public office. This followed his high-profile departure from English Heritage amid accusations of inaccurate expenses claims. However, there was no suggestion of any fraud.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory