Scotland rail boss on leave after ‘breaking rules’

David Simpson, head of Network Rail in Scotland. Picture: Julie Bull
David Simpson, head of Network Rail in Scotland. Picture: Julie Bull
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THE head of Network Rail in Scotland has been placed on “extended leave” after alleged irregularities over the promotion of a senior colleague, The Scotsman understands.

Route managing director David Simpson is believed to have failed to follow proper procedures in appointing Anne-Marie Harmon to a more senior role at the Glasgow-based track firm.

Mrs Harmon, a member of the company’s executive group of senior managers, has also been put on extended leave.

She was promoted last year from being [Scotland] route performance manager to change programme manager, which involves commercial activities such as preparations for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

David Dickson, the firm’s Scotland area director (west), and one of Mr Simpson’s deputies, is standing in for him.

The firm’s action against the pair is understood to have happened about two weeks ago.

It is believed to have involved Network Rail’s London-based network operations managing director Robin Gisby – Mr Simpson’s boss – travelling to Glasgow.

A spokesman for Network Rail said the pair were on “extended leave because of personal circumstances”.

On the promotion of staff, he said: “We have procedures in place that have to be followed.”

The move has shocked the rail industry in Scotland, where Mr Simpson has been highly regarded since he took over running of the country’s rail network in 2005.

One senior rail executive said: “I felt very, very saddened. It’s come as a real shock. He is very well thought-of politically.”

Another source said Network Rail had informed the shortlisted bidders for the next ScotRail train operating franchise of Mr Simpson’s absence, but not provided any explanation.

They said: “David Simpson had been quite high-profile in discussions over planned closer working between ScotRail and Network Rail.”

The action is thought to have come days after Mr Simpson and ScotRail managing director Steve Montgomery were summoned to a dressing-down by transport minister Keith Brown over poor train punctuality.

However, sources said this had been coincidental and played no part in Mr Simpson being put on leave.

Despite the dip in performance, Network Rail under Mr Simpson’s stewardship has successfully completed several major projects on time and on or under budget.

These include reopening the Airdrie-Bathgate line to provide a new route across the Central Belt in 2010, and electrifying the Glasgow-Paisley Canal line with ScotRail this year.

The firm, whose Scottish budget is nearly £1 billion a year, owns all non-moving parts of the network such as tracks, bridges, tunnels and signalling, and runs Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley stations.

Mr Simpson, from Blantyre in South Lanarkshire, has worked on the railways since joining British Rail as a graduate trainee after leaving Aston University in Birmingham.

He has since worked for Network Rail’s predecessor, Railtrack, including on the upgrade of the Glasgow-London west coast main line and the introduction of Virgin Trains’ tilting Pendolino trains on the route.

Mrs Harmon, who lives in Lanarkshire, had been a performance manager at Network Rail since 2005 before being promoted in June last year.