ScotRail boss Phil Verster has quit his £260,000-a-year job
The 53-year-old announced he was taking up a new role in England after less than two years of heading up the crisis-hit firm.
His dramatic departure heaped pressure on Transport Minister Humza Yousaf to speed up improvements on the country’s railways.
Opposition parties called on Mr Yousaf to make a Parliamentary statement over his apparently sudden resignation.
There has been widespread public anger over delays, cancellations, and overcrowding on ScotRail services.
Abellio, the Dutch state-owned firm that operates ScotRail, has faced calls to be stripped of its £7 billion 10-year franchise after failing to meet key targets.
ScotRail was ordered to produce a performance improvement plan in September.
But the latest performance data put its average annual punctuality rating at 90 per cent , breaching its contractual target of 91.3 per cent.
News of Mr Verster’s departure came just 48 hours after he told a Holyrood committee the Scottish Government’s free rail fare scheme will come from a fund meant to boost services – rather than ministers and could collapse.
Mr Verster, a South African, has been managing director of ScotRail Alliance, formed of the service operator Abellio ScotRail and the track operator Network Rail, since May 2015.
He will take up the same role at the East West rail project, a new line linking Oxford and Cambridge in spring.
Verster announced he was taking up a new role in England less than two years in his role
Announcing the move Mr Verster said: “Over the last two years I have worked with my team to launch the ScotRail Alliance, delivering hundreds of commitments and laying the ground for the exciting new train fleets that will start to arrive later this year.
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Over the last two years I have worked with my team to launch the ScotRail Alliance
Boss Phil Verster
“The opportunity to build on these same principles with the creation of a new business such as East West Rail is great for me and my family, and I wish the ScotRail Alliance team all the best for the future.”
Earlier this month it emerged Mr Verster received a year’s free rent on his £400,000 Edinburgh apartment as part of a relocation package.
Since Abellio’s takeover in April 2015, it has apologised to travellers 10,000 times across the year.
Scottish Tory transport spokesman Liam Kerr said: “Recent developments showed that there was friction between ScotRail and the SNP government, and Phil Verster’s resignation further proves this.
“This is yet more bad news for Scottish passengers, and raises questions about what impact this will have on improvements to our rail network.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “It’s clear the relationship between the SNP and ScotRail has broken down.
“One man has walked and the only man left standing is Humza Yousaf.
“He must address this ScotRail crisis and explain to passengers when they will see improvements. The clock is ticking.”
There has been widespread public anger over disruption to the services
Calling for Mr Yousaf to appear before MSPs, Lib Dem Mike Rumbles added: “We need to know what led to these events and how he will make sure that train services improve in the future.”
Mr Verstor’s successor has been agreed and will be announced in the coming days.
Dominic Booth, managing director, of Abellio UK said: “Phil has played a key role in helping us create the ScotRail Alliance, the first time an operating company has come together in such a deep alliance with Network Rail to deliver the very best for our customers.”
The Scottish Government said it was “grateful” for Mr Verster’s “hard work”.
A spokesman added: “As ever, our focus is not on individuals but helping the industry to deliver the best possible service for Scotland.
“There will be no let-up as we strive to help ScotRail and others improve the passenger experience over the coming weeks and months.”