John Russell Ellis joined British Railways as a Management Trainee at Cardiff in 1962. He then held various posts in freight operating, before working in the passenger department at British Railways Headquarters. He then held positions as Service Group Manager for British Rail: Southern Region, Divisional Commercial Manager in King’s Cross and then Regional Freight Manager in York. He was appointed as Divisional Manager, Liverpool Street in 1983 and Deputy General Manager of the Southern Region in 1985. He held the position of General Manager, Scottish Region from 1987 and then became the General Manager, Southern Region in 1990. He was also the Deputy Director of the Network South-East and InterCity sub-sectors during 1992 and 1993.

At privatisation he joined Railtrack as Production Director from 1993 and then moved back into passenger operations when he became the Managing Director of Scotrail Train Operating Company in 1995 until 1997. He then went on to work in rail consultancy posts.