HS2 boss quits before key decision on high-speed rail project


The boss of HS2, the company behind the UK’s planned £55bn high-speed rail network, has announced he is leaving just weeks before the transport secretary is expected to make a key decision on the controversial project’s future.

Simon Kirby, who reportedly earns £750,000 a year as chief executive at Europe’s largest infrastructure project, is to become chief operating officer at the engineering firm Rolls-Royce.

Anti-HS2 campaigners accused Kirby of getting out before the true scale of the mess he has presided over is realised.

Chris Grayling, who was recently appointed as transport secretary by Theresa May, is expected to make a decision on phase two of the route, from the West Midlands to Leeds and Manchester, this autumn.

In June, the National Audit Office said HS2 could be delayed by a year, with the 2026 target date for opening phase one between London and the West Midlands being at risk.

The Stop HS2 campaign manager, Joe Rukin, said the project was beset by major problems and Kirby could not justify his salary.

The departure of Simon Kirby will be a serious blow to those who champion HS2, though many of us are at a complete loss to see just exactly what it is he has done to justify his three-quarters of a million pay packet.

Kirby, who joined HS2 in May 2014 from the board of Network Rail, said his experience delivering a major project on time and to budget would be applied at Rolls-Royce.

The ability to deliver major programmes on time and to budget is essential, and I am looking forward to bringing my experience to bear on these complex challenges and to leading the current programme of industrial transformation, he said in a statement on the Rolls-Royce website.

In May, it emerged Britain’s most senior civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood, was reviewing HS2 as fears grew that the high-speed railway could not be built within budget in its current form.

HS2 is supposed to alleviate the capacity crisis on the railways, which are struggling to cope with the highest number of passengers since the 1920s. The economic benefits of getting business travellers between major cities quickly have been estimated at more than £40bn. The boost would come in the form of new jobs, homes and businesses, according to the accountancy firm EY.

But the project has been plagued by cost problems since it was first mooted under the last Labour government. There was an increase of nearly £10bn in 2013 and recently a £5bn rise to reflect inflation.

The HS2 chairman, Sir David Higgins, said the company would miss Kirby. Whilst naturally we will miss his experience and leadership, I also recognise that he is joining a truly great, global company in an industry in which he has previously worked.

The Rolls-Royce chief executive, Warren East, said: His exceptional track record in delivering complex major programmes is highly relevant to Rolls-Royce and will strengthen management capability ahead of a period of significant expansion.

News Source TheGuardianNews

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