Will the latest British reforms to rail passenger service procurement work?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - europe, mode - rail, operations - performance, operations - scheduling, organisation - competition, organisation - privatisation, organisation - nationalisation


Rail, Reforms, Vertical structure, Cost efficiency


In the 1990s Great Britain embarked on one of the most radical railway reforms undertaken anywhere in the world, with full vertical separation and privatisation of all aspects of the railway and the introduction of competition throughout the sector. However, since then Britain's railways have been plagued with multiple problems, most notably a failure to control costs, as well as multiple franchise failures and problems with developing sensible timetables, with consequent impacts on train performance. Multiple attempts to reform the initial model have failed and in 2018/2019 a fundamental review was undertaken which culminated in the publication of the Williams–Shapps plan for rail which proposes a major step back towards vertical integration with the establishment of a new government owned organisation to take charge both of infrastructure and services, although the latter will be operated by private companies under concessions. This paper reviews the reasons behind the problems experienced by Britain's railways – which led to the review – before setting out the proposed reforms and discussing whether they might solve the problems and what some of the critical success factors might be.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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