SERCO is poised to appoint Aberdeen-born Peter Strachan to run the Caledonian Sleeper when it takes over the franchise in April, The Scotsman has learned.
Strachan quit as the Department for Transport’s (DfT) head of major projects in the wake of the West Coast Main Line (wCMl) franchise fiasco and was a board member of Edinburgh city council’s tram development firm, TIE.
A life-long railman, he has held a string of senior roles, including running a train operating company and a major section of Network Rail. These include being in charge of the wCMl tracks, on which the Caledonian Sleeper trains will operate. He has also run trains on the route under British Rail.
Strachan has been with Serco since last year, as director of operations and maintenance for its North West Rail Link joint venture in Sydney.
The move to Australia came six months after he left the DfT – where his role included rail franchising – as part of restructuring following the collapse of the wCMl franchising process.
Major flaws were discovered in the DfT’s handling of the bids, which led to an award to FirstGroup being scrapped and Virgin Trains continuing to run the franchise pending a new competition.
Two separate senior industry sources said Strachan is expected to be confirmed next week as managing director of the Sleeper operation, which has been let separately by Transport Scotland from the main ScotRail franchise.
Serco confirmed yesterday to The Scotsman it had lined up Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation as funding partner for a fleet of brand new sleeper carriages after a deal with Beacon Rail fell through.
That would enable it to place the order in time to meet its pledge to introduce the new rolling stock in 2018.
Serco said the coaches would feature en-suite berths, innovatory “pod flatbeds” and a brasserie-style “club car”.
Strachan was a non-executive TIE board member for five years until 2011, during which time he also served one of several stints in Australia, as chief executive of the TransLink Transit Authority in Brisbane, from 2009-11.
He was London North Western route director for Network Rail from 2005-9, after two years as MD of Arriva Trains Wales and four years leading National Express’ Australia rail division in Melbourne, which included the city’s tram network.
Roger Ford, industry and technology editor of Modern Railways, said: “He has been around a lot and is one of the few people to have run both part of Network Rail – over which the bulk of Sleeper journeys will travel – and a train operating company.
“This is a boutique franchise in need of someone who will get out and about, motivate staff and keep up standards.”
The RMT union is to meet Serco next week to raise concerns over terms and conditions for its members following the transfer of staff from ScotRail.
Strachan was educated at Kirkcudbright Academy and Durham University, joining the railways 34 years ago as a British Rail management trainee.
His immediate tasks will include preventing further delays to the refurbishment of 50-year-old class 73 diesel locomotives, which Serco has chosen to haul the Sleepers between Aberdeen, Fort William, Inverness and Edinburgh, where they will be switched to electric traction to and from London.
Serco managing director David Stretch has admitted they will not be ready for the start of the franchise, and existing class 67 locomotives will continue to run in the “short term”.
Serco declined to comment.