Post‐Second World War British Railways

Timothy Leunig

in Paradoxes of Modernization

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199573547
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722677 | DOI:
Post‐Second World War British Railways

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This chapter examines the performance of Britain's railways, as measured by the speed of travel. It looks at the post-1945 period and assesses not the overall gains in speed, but the distribution of those gains across different routes. In short, the question the chapter asks is: did British Rail invest in the right lines? The chapter first demonstrates that there was considerable heterogeneity in the extent to which speeds improved on different lines. It then shows that this cannot be explained by ex ante and unalterable technical factors. Nor is it in line with an equality-based social welfare function, or obvious commercial criteria. Having shown that there is no compelling reason for what we observe, it is shown that different patterns of improvement were possible. It is argued that decisions on where to invest were made by British Rail management, before indicating that Government, acting in accordance with political incentives, could have produced a railway system that better met the needs of those who travelled on it.

Keywords: railway systems; transportation policy; British Rail; rail transport; railway management

Chapter.  10004 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Management and Administration

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