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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 10:35 GMT
Railtrack appoints new chief
Railtrack's new chief executive, John Armitt
John Armitt: says his new job is a 'major challenge'
The ex-boss of a UK construction company has been appointed chief executive of Railtrack.

John Armitt, formerly chief executive of Costain, is the man who is taking on what has been described as the toughest job in British industry.

Speaking to BBC News Online, he described the job as a "major challenge" and said he would focus on getting Railtrack's day-to-day operations working properly.


We've got to ensure it [the railway network] is safe and that it is reliable

John Armitt
He said he aimed to make Railtrack "a successful company that is delivering what is expected of it".

At the same time as appointing Mr Armitt, the administrators running Railtrack announced a further reshuffle of the company's board of directors.

The current chief executive Steve Marshall and chairman John Robinson will stay on the board of the parent company, Railtrack Group, which is trying to win back money for the company's shareholders.

Juggling act

Mr Armitt will be asked to improve the performance of the rail network, which has been worsening since the government withdrew its support for the company.

He said the travelling public was his principal concern.

"We've got to ensure it [the rail network] is safe and that it is reliable," he said.

BBC business editor Jeff Randall said Mr Armitt faced "a real juggling act" satisfying competing concerns of customers, the government, demoralised staff, suppliers, rail operators and the media.


The issue for me is the day-to-day operations of the railway - getting those efficient

John Armitt

"John Armitt's biggest problem is managing expectations," he said.

Mr Armitt told BBC News Online that the less media attention Railtrack got, the better.

"It's clearly a very major challenge because there's a lot of public focus on Railtrack, a lot of government focus on Railtrack, and as far as I'm concerned the less focus there is the better job we'll be doing."

He emphasised that it would a require a team effort to turn things round.

"One individual doesn't turn Railtrack around, what turns Railtrack around and helps it to improve is knowing everyday what's got to be done, and having the resources to do that - both in people and money.

"We've just got to make sure that everybody is focused on what's got to be done each day and are working together to achieve that."

Future structure

At the time of Railtrack's collapse, the government's favoured option appeared to be to turn it into a company run along 'not-for-profit' lines.

But since then several banks have expressed an interest in making a bid for the stricken rail operator.

Steve Marshall
Steve Marshall stays on the board of Railtrack Group

Mr Armitt said he was happy with the financial resources Railtrack had to work with for the moment, but refused to be drawn on what form he wanted to see the company take when it emerges from administration.

"I don't have a favoured preference and frankly it's not an issue for me. The issue for me is the day-to-day operations of the railway - getting those efficient.

"Others can then decide what they believe is the most appropriate financial structure going forward."

Experience

Mr Armitt has held top jobs at construction firms John Laing and Costain.

He also brings rail experience from his time as the chief of British Rail subsidiary Union Railways, which developed the plans for the high-speed Channel Tunnel rail link.

In addition to Mr Armitt's appointment, Railtrack's administrators have also added a new non-executive director, Jim Cornell.

Mr Cornell is an engineer with 36 years experience at British Rail.

The introduction of people with experience of railways and engineering at board level is expected to be welcomed by many in the rail industry.

And Mr Armitt said his and Mr Cornell's backgrounds may well be of benefit when dealing with Railtrack workers.

"We've done many of the things that they're doing, so if you've actually been involved in the things the people are doing you can understand what they're doing and help them to do it better."

'Well respected'

Analysts in London's financial centre gave Mr Armitt's appointment an initial thumbs-up.

"He has a very good track record... he turned Costain round over the period 1993-97," said Jeremy Batstone of NatWest Stockbrokers on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Whether he can actually resolve the very deep seated problems that Railtrack has is another matter, but he's quite well respected within the City and within the industry."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeff Randall
"Putting Railtrack back on course is one of Britain's toughest jobs"
John Armitt, new chief executive of Railtrack
"People are looking for reliability and safety"
John Armitt talks to BBC News Online
"Everybody is focused"
See also:

14 Dec 01 | Business
Peace champion takes Railtrack job
14 Dec 01 | Business
Armitt's Challenge
07 Dec 01 | Business
New funds for rail services
29 Nov 01 | Business
Ford UK boss tipped for Railtrack
25 Nov 01 | Business
More delays at Railtrack
08 Dec 01 | Business
Railtrack bosses 'to step down'
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