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Profile Christopher Garnett GNER chief executive

Great North Eastern Railways chief executive Christopher Garnett talks almost as fast as his trains travel. And that is very fast.

The locos travel at an average top speed of 157km/h up the East Coast Main Line on the 3 hour 59 minute journey from London to Edinburgh. And the line has so many records to its name including the current 246km/h speed record that it allows GNER to claim the title Britains Fastest Railway.

Garnett has taken the slogan to heart, and in top gear rattles out how he plans to push GNERs averages ever higher with the introduction of advanced tilting trains running at 225km/h by 2000 well before the much heralded similar trains are scheduled to appear on the rival West Coast Main Line route.

The early stages in a deal have been signed with Fiat Ferroviaria of Italy for two 15M trains with a possible six more to come depending on the outcome of negotiations with the government over an extension to GNERs franchise. This is currently set to run out in 2003, which makes it difficult to persuade financiers to fund a venture with only a five year guaranteed pay back period.

Garnett wants the franchise extended from the original seven years to 15 the same granted to Virgin on the West Coast. His enthusiasm for the potential of rail travel, political nouse he is Virginia Bottomleys brother after all and GNERs impressive record could well win him what he wants.

There is a large body of opinion in the City and within Railtrack which says that of all the privatised train operating companies, GNER is the one that knows the most about running a railway. And it is tipped as the favourite to run Eurostar if LCRs rescue plans come to nothing (see News).

Twelve million passengers a year now use GNER services. We promised an increase in passengers of 18% in seven years and we have achieved 15% in two, Garnett says. Turnover is up from 230M to 260M in 1996 and the 1997 results due soon will demonstrate that we had a very good year indeed he says. The big problem now is congested trains, which explains Garnetts enthusiasm to purchase new train sets.

GNER is owned by Sea Containers and Garnett led the companys bids for rail franchises. He bagged the East Coast line and became chief executive on the transfer of the company in April 1996. What he has brought to the railways is Sea Containers emphasis on customer service people choose to travel by rail rather than by air or car.

It is about clean trains ours are always immaculate making sure the loos work, he says. We have taken on 100 more staff to deal with customers and have invested 1M in air conditioning.

The food has also improved dramatically making train restaurants so busy, says Garnett, that he is rarely able to get a seat as he travels between London and his home in York.

Jackie Whitelaw

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