HS2’s outgoing CEO earned almost four times more than Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s current salary, while more than 40 staff in charge of the rail line earn £150,000 per year or more.
According to Cabinet Office figures, HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston earned between £640,000 to £644,999 last year - two and a half times more than the next highest earner working on the rail line.
In July, Thurston announced he would be stepping down as CEO after six and a half years leading the HS2 project. Thurston previously worked on the 2012 London Olympics and Crossrail.
Sir Jon Thompson, Chairman of HS2 Ltd, said that Thurston’s “legacy” is “building the foundations of HS2 which will bring growth and prosperity to towns and cities across the Midlands and the North”.
But will the outgoing CEO have achieved that?
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has suggested that the scheme is “out of control”while Sunak is reportedly considering axing plans for the high-speed rail link to run from Birmingham to Manchester amid soaring costs.
The high speed rail project is intended to link London, the Midlands and the north of England.
The first part, between west London and Birmingham, is already under construction but the scheme has already faced delays and cuts.
The planned eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds was axed in late 2021.
Construction between Birmingham and Crewe will be delayed by two years - with services potentially not entering central London until the 2040s.
Richard Bowker, the former Strategic Rail Authority head, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it would be a “very, very stupid thing” if the Birmingham to Manchester section of HS2 was dropped.
He said: "HS2 to Manchester is fully integrated with something called Northern Powerhouse Rail. You can’t do Northern Powerhouse Rail without that Manchester section."
A long-standing critic of the project and former journalist, Andrew Gilligan, has described the railway as the “greatest infrastructure mistake in half a century”. According to The Times it is understood that the prime minister hired Gilligan earlier this year.
The second highest earner working on HS2 is Christopher Rayner, who holds the role of ‘Director of Stations and Systems’. He joined in 2015 and previously worked on railways across the US, Sweden, Hong Kong, and Dubai.
Rayner earned between £265,000 to £269,999 last year. He and Mr Thurston were among five senior HS2 staff to earn £250,000 per year or more.
As Infrastructure Director Rayner is responsible for representing the interests of the passengers through the design development and construction process and for developing the overall specification and design of HS2 including its stations.
But currently there are concerns that the huge railway project may never reach central London as it has been reported the Prime Minister could be shortening the Birmingham to London leg so that it ends seven miles short of its planned terminus at Euston station.
Passengers have also been slamming the fact the leg between Manchester and Birmingham could be cut.
Adam Parry posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter: “HS2 is a shambles. Still no decision on the leg between Birmingham and Manchester. Utter waste of taxpayers money.”
Five Labour mayors have also issued a plea to Sunak not to scrap the Manchester and Birmingham link.
The third-highest earner working on HS2 was found to be Ruth Todd, HS2’s chief commercial officer. She had a salary of between £260,000 and £264,999 last year.
She joined HS2 in July 2021 and heads the new commercial directorate, where she has responsibility for HS2’s procurement, commercial and contract management including land and property related activity.
Before joining HS2 she worked on the UK’s Covid-19 vaccine programme, focusing on getting vaccines produced abroad into the UK. She was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June for her work on the pandemic response. Before this she worked at the Submarine Delivery Agency and Jaguar Land Rover.
She has not worked in the construction sector before.
A further eight HS2 staff were on a salary of more than £200,000; 12 were paid more than £174,999 last year, and another 18 were on salaries of £150,000 or more.
The Prime Minister, who earns £162,000 per year for his role, is reviewing HS2 following soaring costs. In 2009 the project was priced at £32 billion but has now soared to more than £100 billion.