Following a spate of rumours and denials, Network Rail has announced that its new chief executive will be Mark Carne. He will join the company on 6 January and take over as Chief Executive on 1 April.

Mark will replace Sir David Higgins who had always said that he would not see out the next financial control period, CP5. That starts on 1 April 2014 and runs until March 2019, so Mark will be in post from the start.

Sir David took the helm of Network Rail on 1 February 2011 having been a non-executive director since April 2010. His predecessor, Iain Coucher, left the company on 29 October 2010 leaving Network Rail without a leader for three months. Sir David was determined to avoid this and insisted on an overlap.

Mark Carne was formerly executive vice president for the Middle East and North Africa for Royal Dutch Shell. As such, he was responsible for the company’s business in countries such as Iraq and always emphasised that local staff and businesses should be developed as one means of reducing local unemployment.

His 21-year career at Shell included taking responsibility for oil and gas production in the North Sea and helping to lead the company’s response to the disaster on the Piper Alpha platform.

Commenting on the appointment, Network Rail’s chairman, Richard Parry Jones, said: “Each and every day, Network Rail has to provide a safe and reliable railway for the travelling public as well as the train and freight operating companies, at the same time as working to improve the network to help us meet unprecedented growth in demand. That poses a unique set of challenges for any chief executive, demanding the skill and experience to translate engineering excellence into daily operations safely and effectively, as well as keeping the public informed of what we are doing and why.

“Mark Carne has shown that he has the necessary skill and global experience to build on, and develop further, what Network Rail has already achieved in meeting these challenges under the leadership of David Higgins. We thank David for all he has done for the company.”