Competition, regulation, and the privatisation of British Rail

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

organisation - competition, organisation - privatisation, mode - rail, place - europe


Britain, privatisation, free market, passenger rail


The privatisation programme pursued by successive Conservative administations in the 1979 - 97 period was based on neoliberal values, and was aimed at the reduction of public sector involvement in industry by the promotion of a competitive 'free' market. However, despite this ideological objective, several large utility companies were privatised as regulated monopolies. Against this background, in a notable reorientation of privatisation policy, the Major administration attempted to secure a genuine movement towards market liberalisation when it divested British Rail (BR). An elaborate methodology was used to break BR's monopoly and establish a competitive market for the provision of passenger rail services. The authors argue that, notwithstanding the complexity of the rail sell-off, competition has not materialised and BR's monopoly has to all intents and purposes been reconstituted in the private sector.


Permission to publish has been given by Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, copyright remains with them.