Scotland

ScotRail Alliance managing director Phil Verster leaves role

Phil Verster

The managing director of the ScotRail Alliance is leaving to take up a new role in England.

Phil Verster, who has been in the post since May 2015, is to become managing director of the East West rail project between Oxford and Cambridge.

The 53-year-old has been facing intense pressure in recent months, because of the rail service's failure to meet targets on punctuality and reliability.

The identity of his successor will be announced in the coming days.

Earlier this week, Mr Verster sparked a row at Holyrood over who would pay for free travel for season ticket holders as compensation for ScotRail train delays.

ScotRail Alliance was formed as a partnership involving Abellio ScotRail and Network Rail, intended to improve performance through cooperation between the rail operator and the rail infrastructure company.

New business

Mr Verster said: "Over the last two years I have worked with my team to launch the ScotRail Alliance, delivering hundreds of commitments and laying the ground for the exciting new train fleets that will start to arrive later this year.

"The opportunity to build on these same principles with the creation of a new business such as East West Rail is great for me and my family, and I wish the ScotRail Alliance team all the best for the future."

Mark Carne, the chief executive of Network Rail, said: "Phil has done a great job setting up the ScotRail Alliance and overseeing the delivery of one of the largest programmes of rail modernisation in Scotland since Victorian times.

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"I am delighted that a leader of Phil's calibre will be heading up the new East West rail project.

"We have agreed a replacement to succeed Phil and will be making an announcement shortly."

During Mr Verster's time in charge, Abellio ScotRail has faced calls for it to be stripped of the £7bn 10-year franchise.

Transport Scotland ordered ScotRail to put in place an improvement plan after 2016 saw its performance slip below contracted standards.

'Ideal candidate'

Mr Verster has previously been Network Rail's managing director for London North East and deputy chief executive officer at Irish Rail.

At the time of his appointment, Dutch contract holder Abellio said his track record on improvement and safety made him an "ideal candidate".

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We are grateful to Phil Verster for his hard work during a transitional time in charge of Abellio ScotRail and the ScotRail Alliance and wish him well in his next venture.

"He has overseen many improvements and considerable investment which will ultimately lead to major benefits for passengers.

"As ever, our focus is not on individuals but helping the industry to deliver the best possible service for Scotland. There will be no let-up as we strive to help ScotRail and others improve the passenger experience over the coming weeks and months."

'More bad news'

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Liam Kerr said: "Recent developments showed that there was friction between ScotRail and the SNP government, and Phil Verster's resignation further proves this.

"This is yet more bad news for Scottish passengers, and raises questions about what impact this will have on improvements to our rail network."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said passengers were "fed up with delayed, overcrowded and cancelled trains" and added: "It's clear the relationship between the SNP and ScotRail has broken down."

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said ScotRail's performance "has not been good enough" but said changing the person in charge would "make little difference".

The Scottish Liberal Democrats called for the transport minister to give a statement to parliament about Mr Verster's departure.

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