Crossrail chief executive Rob Holden has unexpectedly announced his decision to leave the firm after less than two years in charge.
Holden’s announcement kick-started a dramatic week for the project, which also saw station construction contracts put out to tender with calls for cash savings attached and problems emerge for contractors awarded the key Western tunnels contract on a United Utilities job in Preston.
The hunt is now on for a chief executive to steer the £14.4bn project through a critical period after Holden made clear he will leave the firm within six months “to explore new opportunities”.
Holden joined Crossrail in April 2009 from London and Continental Railways having spent 12 years overseeing the delivery of the High Speed 1 (HS1).
At the time he told NCE that it was important to gather a team that would see the project through to completion – now scheduled for 2018, a year later than originally planned.
He said it had helped on the HS1 project that there were “a dozen or more people at a relatively senior level who saw the project through for over 20 years” and that at Crossrail he wanted to “assemble a core group of people who have every intention of seeing it through to a successful completion”.
He has now decided that he could not be part of that team.
“I am proud to have led the Crossrail team over the past two years. With the project moving into its construction phase, Crossrail needs a chief executive who can commit to lead right through to opening in 2018,” he said in a statement.
“With the project moving into its construction phase, Crossrail needs a chief executive who can commit right through to 2018”
Crossrail chairman Terry Morgan told NCE that Holden’s decision came as “a surprise to all of us”. “We didn’t want this to happen,” he said, adding that there was “certainly nothing negative behind his decision and zero pressure” put on him to leave.
However, a source close to the project suggested that Holden had been disappointed by the decision to push back the project’s programme to deliver cost savings.
Holden had previously stated that savings could have been delivered not by delays but within the scope of design work, a challenge, which he met with much acclaim on the £5.8bn HS1 scheme.
In September 2009 he told NCE that the budget was “more than adequate” and that the design stage would find “the bulk of the savings” (NCE’s Crossrail Supplement 28 September 2009).
“We didn’t want this to happen”
Holden’s departure has triggered an urgent hunt to find a replacement. NCE understands that Holden’s successor at LCR, chief executive Mark Bayley, has already thrown his name into the hat.
Selection of Holden’s replacement will come down to a panel led by Transport for London commissioner Peter Hendy. Hendy has a reputation for replacing outspoken executives with those more willing to toe the party line, having replaced Tim O’Toole as managing director of London Underground with Mike Brown.
Current frontrunner on NCE’s online poll with 40% of the vote is Crossrail programme director Andy Mitchell.
ODA chairman and ex-Network Rail chief executive John Armitt is in second place with 19% followed by recent ex-Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher (16%) and CLM programme director Ian Galloway (14%).