Trends and Success Factors of Organisational Models in Suburban Rail – An International Comparison

Trends and Success Factors of Organisational Models in Suburban Rail – An International Comparison


Deborah Mundy, Railway and Transport Strategy Centre, Imperial College London, Benjamin Condry, Railway and Transport Strategy Centre, Imperial College London


This paper undertakes an international comparison of railway organisational models across a selection of suburban railways. The authors examine organisational characteristics and governance mechanisms of 15 railways, both in Europe and elsewhere.


Organisational models of railways have evolved significantly in many countries over recent years. While traditional state railways under direct government control remain common, many railways are now operated by more independent companies ranging from semi-public (e.g. major shares owned by the state) to fully private firms. In many countries traditional state owned railways have increasingly been viewed as inefficient and anti-competitive. There has been a trend towards encouraging greater levels of competition. As in Europe, where much of the change has been driven by EU Directives on railway policy, similar trends have taken place in other parts of the world.
This paper reviews the organisational structures of 15 suburban railways: in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia. These are also considered in relation to the situation in the UK, which has undergone substantial reform.
The key objectives of the study were to:
• Understand the organisational characteristics of railways within different national contexts, and how railway governance mechanisms vary accordingly.
• Investigate the differences in contractual arrangements, railway business objectives, and the distribution of responsibilities and decision-making between operator, government and/or authority.
• Identify recent organisational trends experienced across the international railways, and establish advantages and disadvantages associated with different organisational characteristics.
Through addressing the above objectives, this paper seeks to provide insight into what aspects of different railway structures have been successful and unsuccessful. These include the degree of independence from government, the contractual regime and whether or not the operators are also responsible for infrastructure.
The authors of this paper analyse questionnaire responses provided by the participating railways. The paper content is based on the analysis of the responses and any supplementary materials provided such as contractual documentation or other corporate publications. The paper is further supported by direct experience from Great Britain.
There are a number of key findings, including:
• Insight into the differences and similarities of international railway organisational models is provided.
• A trend amongst railways of moving away from state railways towards more independent companies with increasing contractual arrangements in place is identified.
• The level of responsibility and remit varies widely between railways and for some railways responsibilities are much more prescriptive than for others. The reasons for, and impacts of this, are presented.
• Where responsibilities are split (e.g. between operator/authority/infrastructure provider), incentives are not necessarily aligned. This can cause inefficiencies and conflicting priorities.
• Financial and institutional stability is important to deliver long term investment, efficiency and innovation.


Association for European Transport