KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller has resigned, effective immediately.

It comes after reporting by BusinessDesk and other media exposed concerns about his leadership style, including allegations of a "command and control" approach.

The KiwiRail board had ordered an external review, speaking to about 20 senior executives and managers who have left the state-owned rail operator since 2019, when Miller, the former KiwiRail board chair, was appointed chief executive.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, acting chair Sue McCormack said Miller had decided to resign from the role effective immediately.

Miller advised that recent and sustained allegations in the media, while rejected by him, have become such a distraction that he has decided that it was in his and KiwiRail's best interests to step down, McCormack said.

“I have accepted his resignation and on behalf of the board, I thank him for his service to KiwiRail as chair and subsequently as group chief executive during a time of growth and unprecedented government support.

"The period included the revitalisation of rail in Northland, the re-opening of the Wairoa-Napier line, significant capital projects nationally, and the project to introduce two brand-new Interislander ferries.”

Miller said he is proud to have led KiwiRail through a transformational period, including improved safety leadership.

“Historically the company has been under-resourced and, with government support, I have been redressing that deficit. The workshop rebuild programme including planned wagon assembly at Hilllside, and 67 new locomotives on order for the South Island, are all part of ensuring KiwiRail is on a strong footing for the future, and able to contribute to helping New Zealand reach its emissions reduction targets.

“I wish Team KiwiRail well as they deliver projects which will see rail enjoy a greater role in New Zealand’s transport sector in future.”

Deputy chief executive Todd Moyle, who had resigned, has been appointed acting chief executive.

"The board will immediately begin a search for a permanent replacement for Mr Miller but until then I know KiwiRail is in a safe and trusted pair of hands with Mr Moyle,” McCormack said.

Review goes on

In an internal email to staff, McCormack said she, Moyle and the board agreed the “single most important focus right now is workplace safety”. 

The independent review speaking to departed senior staff was still ongoing, McCormack said, and – as it was an HR matter – would not be made public. 

“However, if the report indicates concerns that need addressing, I will act on them.” 

A number of the senior managers who resigned under Miller were women. McCormack noted that rail, historically, had been a male-dominated industry. 

However, she told staff she expected “the company to lift women’s participation, and for all women at KiwiRail to feel their contribution is valued”. 

This week, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union issued strike notices for 24-hour stoppages in the South Island on Dec 16 and the North Island on Dec 17. 

The relationship between the union and KiwiRail has deteriorated under Miller, culminating in the prospect of strike action that – if it goes ahead – could cripple the freight sector, affect passenger rail networks in Wellington and Auckland and impact Interislander sailings. 

McCormack said she expected the new KiwiRail chief executive to build effective working relationships with the unions. 

“The board will also require a new chief executive who understands the importance of providing a workplace where diversity is valued,” she said.