1st Edition

The Privatisation of British Rail How Not to Run a Railway

By Sean McCartney, John Stittle Copyright 2023
    234 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The privatisation of the British railway industry was a unique political and economic event. An integrated industry was broken-up into numerous component parts and sold off to private sector interests. The result was a highly fragmented industry that was structurally unsound and operationally dysfunctional. This authoritative volume presents an enlightening portrait of an industry that is less efficient, more costly and still more dependent on state subsidy today than its nationalised predecessor.

    The nine chapters in this work present a comprehensive and rigorous evaluation of how and why the industry has become so dysfunctional and costly, supported by detailed financial analysis and industry examples.

    Seven chapters comprise a series of peer-reviewed academic papers by Professor McCartney and Dr Stittle and published in leading international journals over the period 2004–2017 which analyse selected key segments of the privatised industry: where appropriate, updates are provided at the end of these chapters outlining developments since initial publication relevant to the analysis therein. Two chapters are published here for the first time: Chapter 7 reviews the performance of the freight sector, while Chapter 1 ‘bookends’ the volume by providing first, an account of how rail privatisation was conceived and implemented in the 1980s/90s, and then reviews the impact of the pandemic and the proposals of the Williams-Shapps White Paper of 2021 which, if enacted, will effectively end the Major government’s experiment.

    Going far beyond the usual superficial analysis of the topic, this volume will be of significant interest to researchers and advanced students of accounting, economics, business history, transport studies, as well as industry and specialised business interests in transport and privatisation.

    Chapter 1: A Privatisation too Far.

    Chapter 2: ‘Engines of Extravagance’: The privatised British railway rolling stock industry.

    Chapter 3: ‘Taken for a Ride’: The privatisation of the British railway rolling stock industry.

    Chapter 4: ‘Carry on up the East Coast’— A case study in railway franchising.

    Chapter: 5: ‘A Very Costly Industry’: The cost of Britain’s privatised railway.

    Chapter 6: Accounting for UK rail freight track charges: privatisation, politics and the pursuit of private sector vested interests.

    Chapter 7: The ‘success story’ of rail privatisation in Britain: Public policy and the rail freight industry.

    Chapter 8: ‘Not our problem’: UK Government’s fiscal obligations towards the privatised railway network.

    Chapter 9: Accounting for Producer Needs: The case of Britain’s rail infrastructure.


    Sean McCartney is Emeritus Professor of Accounting and Business History at Queen Mary, University of London. His research interests are mainly historical and have focused on two areas: (i) aspects of British industrial performance between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the First World War, particularly the railway and canal sectors. His most recent paper (in Business History) is on the ‘Railway Mania’ of 1845–7; (ii) the performance of the rail industry in Britain since privatisation in the mid-1990s, in collaboration with John Stittle. The resulting papers form the basis of this book.

    John Stittle was formerly a Senior Lecturer in Accounting at the University of Essex. He has authored a number of successful books on topics such as corporate reporting for non-accountants, financial reporting, and on improving the quality of annual corporate reports. In addition, he has written widely on financial and business issues in both academic and professional journals. In particular, he has written extensively on the privatised railway industry, which forms his main research interest. He is currently accounting columnist for Governance and Compliance, the journal of the Chartered Governance Institute.