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Rail privatisation in Britain - lessons for the rail freight industry

Fowkes, A.S. and Nash, C.A. (2004) Rail privatisation in Britain - lessons for the rail freight industry. In: ECMT Round Table 125.

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Until 1994, the rail industry in Britain – as in most of Europe – was organised in the form of a single integrated state owned company providing passenger and freight services, and the infrastructure on which they ran, throughout the country. It is true that significant reforms did take place in the 1980s, grouping rail services into a number of sectors (Inter City, London and South East and regional passenger, and trainload, distribution and parcels for freight) with their own objectives, management and accounts (Nash, 1988). Also activities such as hotels and rolling stock manufacture were hived off and privatised. However, by the early 1990s the government was determined to go further and privatise the entire rail network. After much debate about options they determined on a pattern that had come to be seen as the norm for network industries – a regulated monopoly infrastructure provider with competitive operators using it. The infrastructure was placed in the hands of a new infrastructure company, Railtrack, which levied charges to cover its costs and was subsequently privatised. Operations were divided into a number of separate companies and also privatised. However, for a mixture of good and bad reasons they were not willing – at least initially – to leave the question of what passenger services would be provided at what charges up to the market. Thus passenger services were franchised out, with franchise requirements as to minimum levels of service and regulation of some fares. In the case of freight services, the approach of the government had long been that services should be run on commercial principles, with specific subsidies for flows of traffic which would otherwise use road and where this would impose sufficient social costs that the subsidy was justified. This was essentially the approach carried through into privatisation. Thus the policy for freight was to implement complete open access for any licensed train operating company, and to seek to create a number of competing freight operating companies by splitting up and privatising the former freight business of British Rail. This paper will proceed as follows. First, the history of rail freight privatisation in Britain will be charted, sector by sector. It will be seen that there has been relatively little entry into the industry, and the reasons for that will then be explored. The particular issues of the price and availability of track access, and of the availability of government grants will then be discussed. Prospects for the rail freight business in Great Britain are then considered. Finally we draw together some lessons which may be learned for other countries embarking on the privatisation and/or deregulation of rail freight. An appendix presents detailed estimates of trends in rail and road freight in Great Britain.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: The Copyright is held by ECMT and this paper has been uploaded with thier permission.
Institution: The University of Leeds
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Environment (Leeds) > Institute for Transport Studies (Leeds)
Depositing User: Adrian May
Date Deposited: 10 May 2007
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2014 17:50
Published Version: http://www.cemt.org/pub/pubrt.htm
Status: Published
Refereed: No
Related URLs:
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/2473

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