“WE must never lose sight of why we are here.

“We are the custodians of the country’s most valuable national asset and our job is to make sure it meets the needs of local communities and economies.”

Rob McIntosh is talking about Network Rail, and he’s unequivocal about the organisation’s chief focus.

Officially based in York, but more likely to be found on a train during the working week, Mr McIntosh is Network Rail’s route managing director with responsibility for services across the North-East, the East Midlands and London.

His remit is a lengthy one.

Covering the route from Berwick down to London, Mr McIntosh’s domain extends into Lincolnshire, with St Pancras and cities including Leicester, Derby, Sheffield and Leeds also on his list.

The East Coast Mainline is at the heart of his work, and he reveals an ongoing national £4bn investment programme will include work to future-proof North-East tracks for an anticipated 25 per cent rise on services from 2021 onwards.

“I’ve just had a young graduate student shadow me and I think the variety of things I cover blew his mind”, said Mr McIntosh, who lives in Kirkbymoorside, near Pickering, North Yorkshire.

“First and foremost, my job is about making sure we run a reliable train service every day, that is always our priority.

“The last thing I do when I go to bed is to check the service at closing and the first thing I do when I wake up is check how prepared we are for the start of the day.

“We should never lose sight of the fact there are hundreds of thousands of people that rely on us every day, that is the most important thing.

“I’ve got a workforce of 5,600 and they are phenomenal people.

“When you are on a train you might see the guards and the crew, but my team are there too, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in all weathers to keep the railways going.

“I sometimes think they don’t get the credit they are owed.”

It could have been all so very different for Mr McIntosh, however.

He actually began his career as an apprentice at a forklift truck company in the late 1980s.

But, when the recession struck at the start of the 1990s, the firm told him it couldn’t recruit apprentices, instead offering him the chance to go to university.

It was, says Mr McIntosh, a watershed moment.

He said: “University had never really been in my head, but I went to Liverpool Polytechnic.

“It opened my eyes to the rest of the world a bit more.

“Rather than going to sit behind a desk in Basingstoke, which is where my destiny was headed, I applied for the Railtrack Graduate Training Programme.

“Mechanical engineering was my discipline and it was what hooked me into the world of the railways.”

Leaving Railtrack at the start of the millennium, the former overhead line engineer went to work in the supply chain, overseeing projects domestically and internationally, which included time in Northern Europe and Singapore.

“It was great exposure to how the rest of the world operates railways”, said Mr McIntosh.

He switched to Network Rail a little more than a decade later, and said his past experiences are helping shape his future decision-making, which includes a focus on the East Coast Mainline and operator Stagecoach’s travails.

The business runs services alongside Virgin, but the Government says it will only oversee the franchise for “a small number of months” after it “got its numbers wrong”.

However, Mr McIntosh, who has met Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen to discuss regional operations, moved to assure passengers the situation will not cloud Network Rail’s concentration.

He added: “We have got a good relationship with Virgin Trains and we can’t lose sight of what we do, which is move people and goods every day.

“We remain committed to seeing services run to the best of our ability every day.”

Five minutes with Rob McIntosh

Favourite North-East building and why? King Edward Bridge VII. It offers a fantastic view up and down the Tyne.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? A paper round at £4.50 a week.

What is the worst job you've had? That paper round.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? An Italian meal of however many courses your appetite allows.

What would your superpower be? Reading minds.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: George Mallory, Kenny Dalglish, my wife’s grandfather and my dad.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? My wife’s engagement ring.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? I don’t follow Twitter.

Favourite book? Complicity, by Iain Banks.

When did you last cry? When speaking about my family.

What is your greatest achievement? Adopting our two children.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Worry less about the next opportunity and more about being ready for the next opportunity.

Favourite animal and why? The human being. We are a phenomenally interesting animal with an amazing ability to re-balance from seemingly impossible situations.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? Sir Peter Hendy.

What was the last band you saw live? Doves, at Scarborough

Describe your perfect night in: Log fire and wine with Mrs McIntosh.

In another life I would be... Still be who I am.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Clint Eastwood.

What irritates you? Not getting to the point.

What's your secret talent? Not sure I have one.