GW trains are slow and late, so why should the bosses be making millions?

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The Independent Online
HE is the man who derided the sell-off of the nation's railways as a "folly". Yet yesterday Brian Scott, the chief executive of Great Western, was a green light away from becoming a multi-millionaire from the privatisation he denounced in 1993.

Five years ago, Mr Scott - who has risen from a humble station master to head of one of Britain's biggest networks - wrote to the then transport secretary, John MacGregor, saying: "as an experienced, professional railway business manager, I would not put my money into a train-operating company."

Fortunately he did not take his own advice. FirstBus, a bus and rail group, confirmed yesterday it was in the "advanced stages" of buying up Great Western, which runs trains from London to Wales as well as commuter services in the north west. The estimated pounds 200m deal, would see Mr Scott's pounds 37,500 investment in 1996 rise by 133 times to pounds 5m.

Other directors about to board the gravy train include Richard George, a former British Rail high-flier, who is set to make more than pounds 3m from an investment of about pounds 40,000 and Mike Carroll, the company's marketing director, who will pocket around pounds 2m from seed capital worth less than pounds 30,000. If the takeover is approved, seven GWH directors could well net more than pounds 10 million between them. The deal will not impress the train company's customers. Dubbed "Late Western" by passengers, nearly 20 per cent of services are "officially" late and punctuality is so bad that season ticket holders can now claim cash back from the company.

Local passenger groups have also accused the company of lengthening journey times by up to 7 minutes so it can improve punctuality. One regular traveller said yesterday: "It used to be known as God's Wonderful Railway. Now it is among God's worst."

Save Our Railways, the rail pressure group, yesterday wrote to both John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and John Swift QC, the rail regulator, asking them to block the sale and "derail this out-of-control gravy train".

Jonathan Bray, SoR's campaign director, said: "Trains are now slower, later and more complained about than under public ownership. Yet in the crazy world of privatisation this means the management will be rewarded with a publicly-subsidised, multi-million pound pay-off."

Local Labour MPs have also voiced their concerns. Dr Doug Naysmith, Labour MP for Bristol North West, criticised the possible sale and described the Great Western service in recent weeks as "utterly appalling".

The deal, which would see FirstBus up its stake from 24.5 per cent, is far from complete. John O'Brien, the franchising director, who sold off the railways, could put pay to any buy-out. A source close to Mr O'Brien said that the key to any change in the ownership was "how would the passenger benefit".