David Higgins, chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), is to join Network Rail.
Iain Coucher, the current chief executive of the rail infrastructure operator, is stepping down at the end of October, and Higgins will replace him in the role on 1 February 2011. He is currently a non-executive director of Network Rail.
Higgins was previously chief executive of Lend Lease from 1995 to 2002, before joining English Partnerships as chief executive (2003-05).
He will be replaced at the ODA by Dennis Hone, who has been its director of finance for the last four years.
Network Rail’s chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite, said: "We recruited David to the board earlier this year because of his track record in leading large organisations, delivering demanding projects and managing a complex range of commercial interests and wider stakeholder sensitivities.
"There are significant challenges and opportunities ahead for both Network Rail and the industry such as the comprehensive spending review, the McNulty value for money review and the planning of HS2. David is well-placed to lead both Network Rail and the industry forward to meet these challenges."
Higgins said: "Network Rail is one of the most important companies in the UK. My priority is to bring Network Rail and the industry closer so that together we can continue to improve service, efficiency and safety and add much needed capacity to a railway network that is nearly full."
In the interim period prior to Higgins starting and following the departure of Coucher, asset management director Peter Henderson will take on the role of acting chief executive.