Networks and Spatial Economics

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 339–378 | Cite as

The Efficiency of the Victorian British Railway Network: A Counterfactual Analysis

  • Mark Casson


This study of the evolution of the British railway network, 1825–1914, investigates claims that the network was over-capitalised due to excessive duplication of lines. A counterfactual network is constructed to represent the most efficient alternative network that could have been constructed given what was known at the time. Comparison of the actual and counterfactual networks suggests that the actual network was even more inefficient than is commonly alleged. The roots of this inefficiency can be traced to excessive competition between towns which national government was too weak to control. Although Parliament was in a position to regulate excessive competition between the private railway companies that built the system, competition between towns discouraged Parliament for regulating inter-company competition to an adequate degree.


Network Rail Britain Victorian Competition Regulation 



This research was financed by a grant from the UK Economic and Social Research Council. I am grateful to their advisors for comments on the original proposal, and also on the final report. I would also like to recognise the support of the editor in encouraging this paper to be submitted to the special issue, and to thank the referees for their constructive comments. Previous versions of this paper have been presented at the Annual Conferences of the Economic History Society and the Association of Business Historians, and at Cardiff University Business School, Queen Mary Business School, London, and the Institute of Railway Studies, University of York; on each occasion very useful feedback was received.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics, Business SchoolUniversity of ReadingReadingUK

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