A RAIL union is calling on First Great Western to provide clarity over rumours that operations director Kevin Gale is leaving the company.

Mr Gale, responsible for safety and punctuality, is said to be on gardening leave, according to sources who have spoken to union ASLEF and the Adver.

As a member of the company’s executive team, Mr Gale has worked in the railway industry since 1990.

He started off in finance before moving to Network Rail to set up performance management systems and timetable processes.

His team is responsible for a safe, punctual and customer-focused service.

ASLEF district organiser Stan Moran said: “As I understand it Kevin Gale is not doing anything in the business at the moment.

“We don’t know what the situation is but I have approached the managing director to find out what is going on.

“At the moment we are in limbo. It’s business as usual as far as we are concerned but it is very important we find out what is going on.”

Another industry source, who asked not to be named, said: “Gale is on gardening leave.

“He is one of the old guard in the industry who pre-dates the current management team so his departure is a surprise and will leave a big gap in terms of experience.”

Mr Gale’s role included setting up a customer service apprenticeship, having been inspired by a trip to Japan. He worked with Remit Training to devise the scheme for 16 to 18-year-olds.

The project launched in the autumn of 2011 and 15 more apprentices were taken on last year.

However, First Great Western has been hit by setbacks in recent weeks, which include disruption caused by flooding and landslips across the south west.

Commuters returning to work after the Christmas break then suffered travel misery due to over-running Network Rail engineering works. Passengers vented their fury on Twitter after turning up at stations in the morning to find services had been delayed or cancelled.

First Great Western’s comment was: “We don’t discuss these sorts of personnel issues with the media.” A secretary in Mr Gale’s office said he was not available and would be back ‘in a couple of weeks’.