In praise of Andrew Haines
The idea for a new organisation that will act as the ‘guiding mind’ for the railway is gaining ground, with signs that things will start to return to normal in the New Year and that within a few months, lockdowns, masks, social distancing and test & trace will be distant memories. (Mystic Wolmar seems to have been wrong in his pessimism about a vaccine, although nothing is certain yet).
There is little doubt that this organisation will be built around Network Rail, although the precise details of how this will be done remain unclear.
While we all know that Network Rail has been anything but a perfect organisation (with a tendency towards unfathomable bureaucracy, gold-plating projects, hostility towards outsiders and schemes ‘not invented here’, and a lack of accountability), it has been on an upward path ever since Andrew Haines took over as chief executive from Mark Carne two years ago.
That suggests there is only one person qualified to take on the role of heading this new organisation (let’s call it British Railways for mischief’s sake, although realistically Rail UK is probably a more likely candidate) - the aforementioned Haines.
There is a good reason for this. For my latest book, I have been talking to a lot of the BR old timers who morphed successfully into the privatised railway a quarter of a century ago.
Almost to a man (and they are all men), they went through BR’s management trainee scheme which involved working in various parts of the network - one day you could be in a small parcels office, the next day at division HQ, and a couple of months after that organising passengers on a large chunk of the network.
There are few of these graduates from the trainee scheme left in the industry, but Haines is one of them, and even after privatisation he did a variety of jobs. His knowledge of the whole network is therefore unequalled.
Add the fact that he is personable, competent and articulate, and you have the only person up to doing the job. That won’t, however (as he knows), stop me disagreeing with him when I think he is wrong!
Indeed, RAIL has been pushing this for some time and it is something Nigel Harris and I agree on. A detailed argument proposing the reconfiguration and rebooting of NR as the industry’s ‘guiding mind’ was made by Nigel in RAIL’s Comment as long ago as July 29 – four months ago.