`Slow train' bosses set for millions

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THE RAILWAY watchdog was yesterday urged to block the takeover of a train company that would net five directors pounds 3.5m after figures showed its punctuality had slumped.

John Laing, the construction giant, is raising its stake in Chiltern Trains from 23 per cent to 84 per cent in a deal that will create a new family of railway "fat cats".

Chiltern managing director, Adrian Shooter, has seen his 17 per cent rise 33-fold from pounds 50,000 to pounds 1.65m. He is selling half his stake, netting pounds 824,000 as is marketing director, Alex Turner, and production director, Owen Edgington. Finance director, Tony Allen, gets pounds 544,000, and chairman, Sir Richard Morris, pounds 412,000.

The pounds 6m deal needs approval by John O'Brien, director of the Office of Passenger and Rail Franchising,who yesterday published performance figures showing Chiltern's punctuality fell by more than 6 per cent to 86.4 per cent, putting it 19th out of the 25 privatised train companies. Opraf has said it will ensure the passenger will get the best deal - which is code for benefits such as promises of new trains and refunds to regular commuters. Cynthia Hay, of the Capital Transport Campaign, said: "The rail managers are making a fat packet and becoming such fat cats even as the service is deteriorating. The franchising director should put the deal on ice until they show that they have done the job properly," she said, adding that no package of passenger benefits offered in exchange for approving the deal would compensate for the "enormous payments" and for the fall in the quality of service.

RMT leader Jimmy Knapp described the deal as "another sordid example of a few individual railway managers making massive profits at the taxpayers' expense".

Pressure group, Save Our Railways, said: "Private operators are getting the money, but the passengers are not getting their trains on time." Mr Shooter, who is seen as a rising star in the industry, told The Independent that the management team had decided to invest at a time when critics said privatisation would fail.

"People thought putting pounds 50,000 of my own money in was a real risk. We have invested about pounds 38m in the last two years, which is three times what we committed to the Government to invest - half on trains and half on infrastructure. The sole reason was to improve punctuality," he said.

Chiltern, which runs from Birmingham to London Marylebone via Buckinghamshire, has increased passenger numbers by 25 per cent.

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