A Game-based Analysis of Railway Capacity Allocation with a Case Study on Great Britain Brighton Main Line

A Game-based Analysis of Railway Capacity Allocation with a Case Study on Great Britain Brighton Main Line


Konrad Bablinski, Steer Davies Gleave/University College London


The study explores how the railway capacity allocation process can be improved to strengthen the competitiveness of freight operators through a set of simulation games based on a real world scenario collected from Brighton Main Line in South England.


In recent years both passenger and freight rail have experienced significant demand growth in the United Kingdom, which has led to increased competition for the scarce resource of railway capacity, especially on congested mixed traffic lines. A decision faced by the Infrastructure Manager herein is to determine how the scarce resource should be allocated among the Railway Undertakings such that the corresponding benefit brought to the society is maximised. This decision problem is known as the Railway Capacity Allocation Problem (RCAP).

It is found that the current rail capacity allocation policy in the United Kingdom tends to favour passenger train operators rather than freight operators due to construction of franchising contracts and constraints on e.g. schedule cyclicality. This study explores how the existing railway capacity allocation process could be improved to strengthen the competitive position of freight operators. In particular, we look at the implications on social welfare, system efficiency, and (re-)distribution of benefits among Railway Undertakings should more capacity be allocated for freight trains.

The research questions were investigated through a set of simulation games based on a real world case study developed on the basis of the heavily congested mixed traffic Brighton Main Line in Southeast England. The games were designed to represent different sets of regulations and bidding frameworks. In each game there was an Infrastructure Manager, two Passenger Train Operating Companies and a Freight Operator. The profit-maximising Railway Undertakings had their ideal pre-specified schedules and Value of Access functions. Operators submitted bids for train slots to the Infrastructure Manager who had to resolve the existing timetabling conflicts. Penalties were introduced for deviations from the ideal schedule or path rejections for both the Infrastructure Manager and the Railway Undertakings. In some scenarios the Railway Operators could renegotiate the initially proposed timetable. Experimental sessions were complemented with the rail industry professionals judgements’ that provided better understanding of the problem. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to model and analyse impacts of the hypothesised preferential treatment of freight operators under several sets of regulations and bidding frameworks on efficiency, equity, and social welfare.

Our findings reveal improvements in equity among different operators, but loss of rail system efficiency due to increased level of heterogeneity seen in the train mix. The impact on social welfare is inconclusive, however, the value of freight seems to be underestimated. From the perspective of infrastructure utilisation, investments for freight trains should be prioritised to reduce speed differentials between slower freight and faster passenger trains. The study also revealed that it would be difficult to specify a unique set of golden rules with respect to capacity allocation process but rather different rules should apply to various parts of the network subject to the required utilisation strategy.

It is also found that Infrastructure Managers’ expertise has an important impact on the quality of the initially proposed timetable. Renegotiation might help achieve better results but it is difficult to gain radical improvement. Obtaining true Value Of Access is crucial to achieve better solutions but there are no mechanisms to extract this information from the operators and in reality it is difficult even for themselves to determine revenues and costs from individual services, which indicates further research venues. We conclude our paper with a list of suggested improvements to the current United Kingdom policy so that the needs of freight operators and hence their customers are better represented.


Association for European Transport