Privatisation of British Rail - The Move To Privatisation

The Move To Privatisation

In 1991, following the apparently successful Swedish example and wishing to create an environment where new rail operators could enter the market, the European Union issued EU Directive 91/440. This required of all EU member states to separate 'the management of railway operation and infrastructure from the provision of railway transport services, separation of accounts being compulsory and organisational or institutional separation being optional', the idea being that the track operator would charge the train operator a transparent fee to run its trains over the network, and anyone else could also run trains under the same conditions (open access).

In Britain, Margaret Thatcher was replaced by John Major as leader of the Conservative Party at the end of 1990. The Thatcher administration had already sold off nearly all the former state-owned industries, apart from the national rail network. Although the previous Transport Secretary and arch-Thatcherite Cecil Parkinson had advocated some form of privately or semi-privately operated rail network, this was deemed 'a privatisation too far' by Thatcher herself. In its manifesto for the 1992 General Election the Conservatives included a commitment to privatise the railways, but were not specific about how this objective was to be achieved. Contrary to opinion polls, they won the election on 9 April 1992 and consequently had to develop a plan to carry out the privatisation before the Railways Bill was published the next year. The management of British Rail strongly advocated privatisation as one entity, a British Rail plc in effect; Cabinet Minister John Redwood "argued for regional companies in charge of track and trains" but Prime Minister John Major did not back his view; the Treasury, under the influence of the Adam Smith Institute think tank advocated the creation of seven, later 25, passenger railway franchises as a way of maximising revenue. In this instance it was the Treasury view that prevailed.

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