New job for rail boss caught in promotion row

A RAIL chief who was forced to leave his job after improperly promoting a female colleague has joined one of the firms bidding to take over ScotRail, The Scotsman can reveal.

David Simpson. Picture: Michael Gillen

Former Network Rail Scotland managing director, David Simpson, has been recruited by National Express, one of five shortlisted firms for the £6 billion train operating franchise.

Mr Simpson has joined former ScotRail chief Mary Grant, with whom he worked closely when she ran the trains for FirstGroup from 2004-09.

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He was put on “extended leave because of personal circumstances” in December after failing to follow proper procedures in appointing Anne-Marie Harmon to a more senior role at Network Rail, which runs the tracks. The move was followed by Network Rail announcing in January that Mr Simpson had left the firm “with immediate effect”. Ms Harmon, who had also been put on extended leave, returned to work.

She was promoted in 2012 from being [Scotland] route performance manager to change programme manager, which involves commercial activities such as preparations for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his departure, Mr Simpson said his new role had been “hugely energising”.

He said: “I was keen to get straight back into the industry in Scotland because there is so much going on. The ScotRail franchise is a great opportunity.

“Teaming up with Mary was really good as I worked with her for three or four years while I was at Network Rail and she was at ScotRail. What I can bring to the party is a knowledge and understanding of closer working between the companies.”

Mr Simpson declined to discuss his potential role should National Express win the contract from incumbent FirstGroup and Dutch railways offshoot Abellio, Deutsche Bahn-owned Arriva and Hong Kong-based MTR.

He also would not talk about his exit from Network Rail, saying only that he was keen to put the experience behind him.

The lifelong railwayman has been highly regarded since taking over the running of Scotland’s rail network in 2005, with a budget of nearly £1bn a year. He earlier worked for Network Rail’s predecessor, Railtrack, including on the upgrade of the Glasgow-London west coast main line and the introduction of Virgin’s tilting Pendolino trains on the route.

He said National Express had changed significantly since it suffered considerable damage to its reputation following the collapse of its East Coast train franchise in 2009. Mr Simpson said all the company’s most senior officials had left since the East Coast debacle.

Bids to run the ScotRail franchise from next year – the Scottish Government’s biggest contract – have to be lodged next month, with the winner announced in the autumn.

A spokesman for National Express said: “David recently joined the National Express bid team as an advisor on infrastructure issues. We believe his unparalleled experience will prove a real asset to our bid.”