Obituary: Sir Robert Reid

Robert Basil Reid, railwayman: born 7 February 1921; General Manager, Southern Region, British Rail 1974- 76, Executive Member for Marketing, British Railways Board 1977-80, Chief Executive (Railways) 1980-83, Vice-Chairman 1983, Chairman 1983- 90; CBE 1980; Kt 1985; Chairman, West Lambeth Health Authority 1990- 93; married 1951 Isobel McLachlan (died 1976; one son, one daughter); died 17 December 1993.

ROBERT REID was one of those rare breeds of company chairman who rose to lead an industry he genuinely loved. It was not just a job to him. Railways were his life and his hobby for more than 40 years. He took criticism of the network personally and never forgave the Conservative government for its policies, or lack of them, towards British Rail.

He cut a sombre and statesmanlike figure and could easily have passed for a senior politician or diplomat. His powers of diplomacy came in useful at BR, particularly when dealing with the militant unions NUR (National Union of Railwaymen) and Aslef (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen). His appointment in September 1983, for example, was immediately criticised by the then Aslef leader Ray Buckton. Buckton accused him of 'smashing good industrial relations'.

Reid was 62 when he succeeded Sir Peter Parker, stepping out into the limelight for the first time after a low-profile career. Such was his passion for the railways that he commuted from his home in Purley, Surrey, to London to endure the experiences of passengers. When he took over he said, 'I will be making gradual changes. I shall be looking for lower unit costs, better quality service and better value for money.'

The Government's decision to appoint him to the post was the culmination of a 36-year climb through the ranks of BR. He began as a traffic apprentice with the old London and North-Eastern Railway before nationalisation and became a member of the BR board in 1977.

A reserved man, some would say shy, he preferred his executives to do the talking. He was pleasant and charming but determined in everything he did. He was a natural winner and succeeded in persuading government to hand out huge amounts of cash when ministers were clearly anti-railway.

He once said that the 'jewel in my crown' was the pounds 306m electrification of the east-coast main line between London, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh completed in 1991. More lines were to follow, including London to Cambridge, London to Norwich and Harwich and the Hastings line in Sussex.

Always cost-conscious, Reid said he would only continue with massive cash injections 'if they are value for money and give us at least a seven per cent return'. 'I want to ensure that the railways and people in it survive in the long term,' he said. 'They will only do that if they are competitive and our prices are seen as good value for money.'

He set out to improve facilities, particularly stations, and encouraged local communities or shire counties to share schemes. More than 50 such were tackled in Cleveland alone. He refused to put proposals to government unless they had a business-like return on capital.

Customer care and safety were his priorities and he had an obsession with staff looking clean and presentable. He explained: 'Staff are looking much smarter and cleaner. It's nothing to do with charm schools. It's dealing with selling your business in a way the customer will find acceptable.'

He was not happy with the way the rail unions supported the miners in their 1984 strike, pointing out that millions of pounds' worth of business was lost to the roads forever. He took credit for putting the industry in 'good heart and pointing in the right direction. We know where we are going and it's just go like hell for it.'

Reid's one disappointment before retirement was that relations with the unions had not improved and before he retired in March 1990 he launched a strong attack on the Government over its attitude. He warned that congestion would 'begin to strangle us all' unless money was found for key projects and forecast that without extra rail capacity Britain would lose out to either France or Belgium in the race to become the transport capital of Europe.

He called on the Government to treat the network according to its importance to the nation rather than its financial value and wanted no repeats of the Clapham disaster.

He said safety must be 'top of the agenda': the only answer was high standards, efficient systems and constant vigilance.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home