However, he will be paid a base salary of ‘only’ £535,000 a year, plus a pension allowance of £65,000, and a potential bonus of up to 10% of his base salary.
His predecessor, Simon Kirby, was appointed in May 2014 on a substantially higher salary of £750,000 a year. Mr Kirby handed in his notice last September to join Rolls-Royce as chief operating officer.
Mark Thurston began his career in the rail industry more than 30 years ago as an apprentice with London Transport, before fulfilling a series of roles with The Nichols Group and Metronet. Since joining CH2M in 2008, he has worked on the London 2012 Olympics and Crossrail, where he was lead for the programme partner joint venture for three years. He is currently the regional managing director overseeing CH2M's European operations, which includes the UK.
His appointment comes after a five-month global search that involved headhunters reviewing some 20 candidates working on projects all round the world.
HS2 chairman David Higgins said: "Mark not only knows the UK rail industry from the bottom up, but has worked for organisations operating at the highest level globally. His grasp of how to manage the transition from page to reality makes him not only the right person to take over at HS2 as we are on the verge of Royal Assent, but also to see it through the years leading up to the first train being commissioned.
"The challenge is huge in terms of the task and timescale, but the board believes Mark has the knowledge, experience and leadership qualities to deliver the project within the budget we have been given and to do so in a way that recognises our responsibility both to Parliament and the communities in which we will be operating."
Mr Thurston, who starts with HS2 in the spring, said: “HS2 is arguably the most important investment in infrastructure in the UK for a generation, which will serve businesses and communities across much of the country. I am looking forward to leading the HS2 team and its partners to deliver a railway that will transform connectivity between our major cities and regions.”
Mark Thurston has a master’s degree in engineering (project management) from Loughborough University Civil Engineering School and a Higher National Certificate in electric & electronic engineering from Willesden College of Technology. He is an incorporated engineer and a member of the Association of Project Management and the Institution of Engineering & Technology.