What Rail Privatisation in Britain Has Meant: Public Specification and Private Delivery

What Rail Privatisation in Britain Has Meant: Public Specification and Private Delivery


E O?Loughlin, Strategic Rail Authority, UK


The effects of rail privatisation in Britain will be examined, especially costs, performance and network and train utilisation. It will use the work recently undertaken on the Brighton Main Line as a case study throughout the analysis.


The privatisation of British Rail, achieved during the 1990s, was notable in that it was one of the first examples in Europe of loosening the ties between a nationalised integrated railway and the government.
This paper will use a themed approach to examine the effects of privatisation, from the mid-1990s to the present day. In all parts of this analysis, it will focus on the relationship between government (or public bodies), and the private sector.
It will start with an assessment of the changing nature of cost allocation in the industry ? and especially concentrating on the way in which operating and enhancement costs have increased. It will use the development of the West Coast Route Modernisation programme as an example of increases in the cost of enhancements, and for operating costs, how the first franchises (let from 1996) differ from those awarded more recently.
The second area for examination will be the changing use of network and train capacity during the first decade of the privatised railway. It will assess how the rail industry has responded to changes in demand over the period, principally in the passenger sector, although comparisons with freight operations will be drawn as well. The relationship between supply and demand - and changed trends in the period driven by commercial pressures - will form a part of this analysis.
Thirdly, the effect of privatisation on performance will be treated ? examining whether trends in performance are directly or indirectly related to the structure of the industry. It will also examine the response towards improving performance by train operators and Network Rail.
The paper will use as a case study the process involved in implementing the SRA?s Brighton Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy, and will outline the challenges that the SRA and its successor bodies face in reconciling stakeholders? aspirations and the stringent targets set by central government. Whilst there is still much work to undertake to make the changes on the Brighton Main Line, the outcome will be clear by October 2005. The process of negotiation and iteration of inputs to the specification will be assessed.
The paper will conclude with an assessment of the Strategic Rail Authority?s newly-established franchise specification process, which sets tight parameters against which bidders have to submit their proposals. It is this process which forms a key part of the term ?publicly specified, privately delivered?, frequently applied to the current status of Britain?s railways.
Some conclusions will be drawn out of the analysis with regard in particular to whether the process works in the best interests of the passenger and the tax payer (which in many cases is the same thing), and the efficiencies that the private sector is able to bring to the operation of the final train service and specification.


Association for European Transport