Transport commissioner Andy Byford began planning his departure from London almost immediately after the successful opening of the Elizabeth line, he has revealed.
His decision to quit the top job at Transport for London, the organisation responsible for the London Underground and the capital’s bus and main road network, came as a shock when it was announced on Thursday morning.
He said getting the long-delayed Elizabeth line open had been his crowning achievement, and meeting the Queen when she visited the line that had been renamed in her honour his greatest moment.
He told Mayor Sadiq Khan on May 31 that he would be leaving after serving out his notice.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Mr Byford insisted there had been no rows - “none whatsoever” - with Mr Khan, when asked whether there were other reasons for his departure.
Mr Byford said he and his Canadian-born wife Alison, known as Ali, had “both wanted to restart our life in the States”. He leaves TfL at the end of October.
“The timing of that [resignation] letter was particularly affected by the fact we wanted to get the Elizabeth line open first,” he said. “We did that on May 24. That was about the time Ali and I started discussing things. I have a six months’ notice period and I’m a stickler for adhering to the rules.
“I thought my tenure would be longer but, to me, the important criteria wasn’t the length of the tenure but what we got done.”
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The Queen was able to visit the new Elizabeth line station at Paddington only days before the £20bn scheme opened to the public, on May 24. “Had that line not been open by the time of the Queen’s passing, we would have been castigated,” he said.
His constructive relationship with the mayor was in contrast to the situation in New York, where he quit as president of New York City Transit after being “undermined” by the then state governor Andrew Cuomo.
“The politics are fundamentally different,” Mr Byford said when comparing London and New York.
“In New York I was undermined. I was second-guessed. I was cut out of conversations deliberately by the politicians.
“Here Sadiq has been incredibly supportive. He has held my feet to the fire, of course. But he has left me alone, he has let me get on with my work and he has trusted me.”
It was in New York that Mr Byford earned the nickname Train Daddy.
The TfL job will be his last in the public sector. He joined London Transport as a graduate trainee in 1989. “I wanted to finish 33 years of public service back where I started, at TfL,” he said.
It has been the toughest job of his career. “The funding negotiations and discussions were way more protracted and way more consuming than I could have possibly imagined,” he said, reflecting on the numerous bailout negotiations to keep TfL afloat during the pandemic.
“I love the cut and thrust of the challenge but it was exhausting and it also dominated my tenure. We were determined to get the best possible deal for TfL, the best quantum and the most acceptable conditions, knowing we would never get a blank cheque.
“I look back at the fact we got £6 billion out of a Government which had their issues with the regime at City Hall. I think that is a pretty good return.”
Mr Byford said he did not have a new job to go to in the US but had “irons in the fire”. He planned to take a holiday before resuming his career, having taken only about 15 days off in his time as commissioner. “I have not seen my mother-in-law for two-and-a-half years,” he said.
His only regret is that he and his wife will no longer be able to travel the country in support of Plymouth Argyle, his hometown team.
In his time as commissioner he got to visit Hillsborough, the home ground of Sheffield Wednesday, and Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s stadium for the first time.
“I will be re-subscribing to Argyle TV and getting up at 10am every Saturday to follow Argyle from afar,” he said. “Also, I’m keeping my season ticket.”