HS2 and Network Rail bosses rank as top civil service earners - but it isn't reflected in the rail experience

While rail bosses continue to earn eye-watering salaries, commuters and rail workers have seen little improvement in their experience on our railways

Rail infrastructure in the UK hasn't notably improved despite rail officials ranking among the highest earning civil servants in the country. (Credit: Getty Images)Rail infrastructure in the UK hasn't notably improved despite rail officials ranking among the highest earning civil servants in the country. (Credit: Getty Images)
Rail infrastructure in the UK hasn't notably improved despite rail officials ranking among the highest earning civil servants in the country. (Credit: Getty Images)

It’s the story that we’ve all heard before - bosses at the top of the chain continue to profit while normal people on the rungs below battle with the cost of living crisis. 

Newly released data has shown that the top earners in the civil service has grown once again, with 6.4% more civil servants earning a salary of over £150,000 in the past year. According to the data, released by The Telegraph, the majority of those occupying the top ten public sector earners are those within the transport industry, specifically rail. 

Mark Thurston, the chief executive of HS2, has received up to £645,000, despite high-profile and consistent delays to the High Speed Rail network in the UK. 

HS2 (High Speed 2) precedes HS1, which connected London to the Channel Tunnel and opened between 2003 and 2007 in phased sections. However, the completion of HS2 has been severely delayed with cuts to the proposed line also announced and spiralling costs which have reportedly swelled to £100bn. 

The plan aimed to connect the north of England - Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds - to the capital in a bid to create jobs and industry outside of London. However, communities are now being left behind, with the Leeds extension scrapped and towns still included impacted by heavy and time-consuming construction. 

As for the timeline, the first section between London and Birmingham was due to open in 2026, but has now been pushed back to between 2029 and 2033. The second phase connecting Manchester to the phase one line was due to open between 2032 and 2033, now pushed to 2035 to 2040. So just a little longer for communities in need of “levelling-up”…

Despite this, Thurston - who has announced plans to step down in the autumn - has still taken home a more than healthy wage packet despite overseeing the shambolic plan so far. 

According to a government spokesman, these high salaries are necessary to attract “high-calibre people” who can “deliver quality services and manage projects in a way that represents true value to the taxpayer”.

Joining Thurston on the top earners in the civil service are Network Rail officials, four of which occupy the top 10 list. Andrew Haines, chief executive of the group, was rewarded with a salary of up to £590,000. His chief financial officer, Jeremy Westlake, took home £420,000. 

At the same time, thousands of workers had been on picket lines asking for an above-inflation pay offer which will help them to pay their mortgages, their rent, food bills and other expenses as the cost of living remains stagnantly high, opening themselves up to criticism of whether their job was worth the upgraded salary. At the point of the strike commencing, 55% of RMT union members at Network Rail earned less than £35,000.

With industrial action commencing in June 2022, it wasn’t until March 2023 that signallers and track maintenance workers voted to accept an improved offer of a pay rise of 14.4% for the lowest paid and 9.2% for those on the higher end of the spectrum. 

Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, the chairman of Network Rail, said: “Over recent years we have reduced our executives’ total wage bill and the number of high earners.

“We are absolutely committed to delivering more value for the taxpayer, while also balancing this priority with the need to attract and retain the best people to ensure the railway further improves performance for passengers and freight, and continues to support economic growth for our country.”

Our train services are woeful to say the least for the UK in 2023 - figures compiled from ontimetrains.com in January 2023 also showed that train services in the north of England were less reliable than those in war-torn Ukraine, with 11% of TransPennine services cancelled compared to only 4% in Ukraine. 

Tickets to travel on the rail network have spiralled in price, cancellations and delays are a common occurrence and those working on the railways continue to fight for a fair pay-packet. It’s infuriating for the public to consistently see these ‘fatcat’ officials continue to profit while the public transport system crumbles around us.