Bowker quits as National Express boss

RICHARD BOWKER, the chairman of bus and rail operator National Express, stood down last night after a tumultuous month for the company, City A.M. can confirm.<br /><br />Bowker, once group commercial director of Virgin Group and co-chairman of Virgin Rail, quit ahead of today&rsquo;s update regarding the operating terms on the east coast main line, which the firm is disputing.<br /><br />National Express, which carries 320m bus passengers a year in the UK, and transports 164m passengers on train services, is contracted to pay the government &pound;1.4bn to run the line, but is struggling to meet costs as passenger numbers dwindle.<br /><br />Investors have been pressuring the company to renegotiate its repayment terms. <br /><br />But the Department for Transport has repeatedly said it won&rsquo;t budge on the deal.<br /><br />It is estimated that the east coast contract will lose the group &pound;90m over the next two years as payments to the DfT go up from &pound;85m to &pound;133m, before hitting &pound;395m by 2015.<br /><br />Meanwhile, National Express was approached by larger rival FirstGroup to create a global giant last month.<br /><br />But National Express rejected the approach, saying it did not &ldquo;consider it appropriate&rdquo; to enter into talks.<br /><br />The approach from FirstGroup &ndash; the company which operates Greyhound buses in the US &ndash; came just days after National Express agreed a deal with its banks to delay a tightening of terms related to its loans for six months, as it strives to slash its &pound;1.2bn debt pile. <br /><br />It has cuts its dividend payments and slashed 750 jobs in the economic downturn.<br /><br />National Express is also understood to be considering a &pound;400m rights issue.<br /><br />The firm was last night unavailable for comment.