The chief executive of the HS2 high-speed rail project has resigned amid cost and political pressures on the delayed project.
Mark Thurston, 56, announced he will leave the job in September after six-and-a-half years, making him the longest-serving chief executive of the state-owned enterprise.
Another leader is needed for the project, Mr Thurston said, as HS2 moved to a “defining period” with the installation of railway track and signalling equipment.
Mr Thurston was paid a salary of £617,300 in the 2021-22 financial year, according to HS2 Ltd’s latest annual report. He also received benefits worth £5,400, it shows.
Multiple delays have beset HS2. It was initially expected to open in 2026, which was pushed out to between 2029 and 2033 due to construction difficulties and rising costs.
Major building work is currently taking place at more than 350 sites as part of phase one of the construction project, between London and Birmingham.
HS2 explained: What is it and why are parts being delayed?
MPs on the Public Accounts Committee just last week piled pressure on ministers over the project, saying the delays to Euston station work show that ministers do not know what they are “trying to achieve”.
Mr Thurston said on Wednesday: “The next 18-24 months will see the project move into an exciting new stage. I have agreed with the board that someone else should lead the organisation and programme through what will be another defining period for HS2.”
He was preceded by Simon Kirby, who held the role from 2014 to 2017, and Alison Munro who held the reins from 2009 to 2014.
Upon Mr Thurston’s departure at the end of September, the HS2 Ltd chairman, Sir Jon Thompson, will become executive chairman for an interim basis while a new chief executive is hired.
Praise for Mr Thurston was given by Transport Secretary Mark Harper.
“As well as successfully overseeing the start of construction, [Mr Thurston] has ensured HS2 has created tens of thousands of skilled jobs and apprenticeships across the country,” Mr Harper said.
The HS2 development is a key part of the government’s “levelling up” agenda, aiming to improve connectivity between cities in the Midlands, the North and London.
It been planned to go northeast from Birmingham towards the East Midlands Hub at Toton, where trains would continue on the HS2 line to Leeds, with others diverging onto existing lines via Chesterfield and York.
But that eastern extension was scrapped and the Crewe-northwest section has been delayed by two years.