John Graeme Nelson was born in 1947 and studied for an Economics degree at the University of Manchester. He joined British Rail: Western Region through the Graduate Scheme. He was appointed as Assistant Station Manager for Liverpool Street and went on to undertake various commercial posts in the Leeds & Sheffield Division. He acted as Personal Assistant to Sir Robert Reid, Chief Executive, before moving to be a Parcels Manager in British Rail: Southern Region. He subsequently became Red Star Business Manager at British Railways Headquarters. He served as the General Manager for British Rail: Eastern Region between 1987 and 1992, moving on to be the Managing Director of Network SouthEast until 1997.