LONDON The government and trades unions condemned Network Rail on Thursday for awarding its top managers bonuses and incentive payments totalling more than 2.2 million pounds.
"Network Rail is of course a private company, but one that is dependent on taxpayer funding so I am very disappointed that Network Rail executives have accepted bonuses of this scale in the current climate," said Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.
"In the week when everyone has been asked to share the burden of reducing Britain's deficit, people will rightly be asking how Network Rail's top executives feel this is appropriate," he added.
The payouts included a 348,184 pound bonus for Iain Coucher, the company chief executive who announced last week that he was leaving. His basic salary was 613,000 pounds and he is also eligible for a long-term incentive plan worth 293,165 pounds.
Coucher waived the bonus last year but a company spokesman said he would be taking this payment.
Network Rail is responsible for the track and signals on Britain's rail network. It is funded by government subsidies and charges to rail operators.
Unions were unhappy about the payments announced two days after a deficit-cutting emergency budget set out plans for a two-year wage freeze for most public sector workers.
"It is nothing short of a national scandal that Network Rail boss Iain Coucher is walking out of the door with a golden-handshake bonus of nearly two thirds of a million pounds," said RMT General Secretary Bob Crow.
"While this new government tell low paid workers that they've got to stomach a two-year pay freeze and attacks on their pensions, they are sitting back while Network Rail, to all intents and purposes a public company, fills up the coffers of the highest paid public sector boss in the country."
Network Rail chairman Rick Haythornthwaite defended the payouts and said they were justified by what he said was an improved railway.
"Network Rail only rewards for success. This is measured against what matters most to passengers -- a better railway with more trains on time. On that basis, awards for the past year have been earned, are a contractual right and should be paid."
(Editing by Steve Addison)