Network Rail boss lined up to lead ‘Fat Controller’ rail shake-up

Andrew Haines has been asked to begin reviewing the train lines as if he had already been awarded control of a railways 'guiding mind' body

Fat controller

The boss of Network Rail is being primed to lead an all-powerful “Fat Controller” body in the biggest shake-up of Britain’s train network since the Nineties.

Andrew Haines, former boss of the Civil Aviation Authority, has been asked by the Department for Transport to begin reviewing the train lines as if he had already been awarded control of a railways “guiding mind” body, according to a letter seen by The Sunday Telegraph.

The body is one of two major reforms proposed by an as yet unpublished “root and branch” review. The other is the abolition of rail franchising.

A letter from Ruth Hannant and Polly Payne, joint DfT directors general for rail, asks Mr Haines to conduct an analysis of one of Britain’s most troubled train lines, the east coast network that was most recently run by Virgin and Stagecoach.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

“We would like to make clear that the review should be undertaken from the perspective of a neutral single guiding mind, not in your capacity as CEO of NR,” it reads.

The guiding mind or Fat Controller, named after a senior railway official from the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, was proposed to prevent meddling from ministers. Industry leaders have blamed government micro management for punctuality falling to 13-year lows prior to the pandemic.

Although Mr Haines, the former managing director of South West Trains, has been previously linked to the job, the letter is the first piece of evidence that signals transport officials are preparing him for the role.

Establishing a Fat Controller body continues to face opposition from some parts of the Treasury, according to sources.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The DfT has asked one of the leading rail experts in the country to assist in reviewing how best to run a major stretch of railway infrastructure.”