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A Handbook of Alternative Theories of Public Economics

A Handbook of Alternative Theories of Public Economics

Elgar original reference

Edited by Francesco Forte, Ram Mudambi and Pietro Maria Navarra

This comprehensive and thought-provoking Handbook reviews public sector economics from pluralist perspectives that either complement or reach beyond mainstream views. The book takes a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach, drawing on economic elements in the fields of philosophy, sociology, psychology, history and law.

Chapter 16: Government failures in railway public policy: the British case

Mark Casson

Subjects: economics and finance, austrian economics, history of economic thought, public choice theory, public finance, public sector economics, politics and public policy, public choice


Britain is widely credited with developing the world's first national railway system. Certainly the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, was the first double track inter-city main line railway in the world, and the first line to run scheduled high-speed high-frequency passenger trains hauled by steam locomotives. The British railway system has been praised for the high geographical density it attained at its peak around 1914, when most towns and villages were within a few miles of a station, and for the speed and comfort of its express trains. It has been criticised, however, for wasteful duplication of routes, high costs and high fares, modest rates of return and excessive use of capital. It has also been criticised for leaving many market towns at the ends of dead-end branch lines rather than as the hubs of local lines (Hawke, 1970; Simmons and Biddle, 1997). It has been shown that the traffic carried by the 20,000 route miles of track in 1914 could have been handled just as well by a system with only 13,000 miles of track (Casson, 2009). This comparison is not so fanciful as it may seem. Recommendations for an alternative network along these lines were actually published by government civil servants at a critical stage in the development of the network - around the time of the 'Railway Mania' in 1845.

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