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Were British railway companies well-managed in the early twentieth century?

  • Nicholas Crafts
  • Tim Leunig
  • Abay Mulatu

This is a revised version of a previous working paper, of the same name, which incorporates corrections to errors in our estimates of TFP growth. This paper examines major privately-owned British railway companies before World War I. Quantitative evidence is presented on return on capital employed, total factor productivity growth, cost inefficiency, and speed of passenger services. There were discrepancies in performance across companies but ROCE and TFP typically fell during our period. Cost inefficiency rose before 1900 but then was brought under control as a profits collapse loomed. Without the discipline of either strong competition or effective regulation, managerial failure was common. This sector is an important qualification to the conventional wisdom that late-Victorian Britain did not fail.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27889/
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History in its series Economic History Working Papers with number 27889.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:27889
Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE, Dept. of Economic History Houghton Street London, WC2A 2AE, U.K.
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7955 7084
Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/

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  1. Nick Bloom & John Van Reenen, 2006. "Measuring and Explaining Management Practices Across Firms and Countries," NBER Working Papers 12216, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Foreman-Peck, James & Millward, Robert, 1994. "Public and Private Ownership of British Industry 1820-1990," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198203599.
  3. Mehdi Farsi & Massimo Filippini & William Greene, 2004. "Efficiency Measurement in Network Industries: Application to the Swiss Railway Companies," CEPE Working paper series 04-32, CEPE Center for Energy Policy and Economics, ETH Zurich.
  4. Greene, William, 2005. "Reconsidering heterogeneity in panel data estimators of the stochastic frontier model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 126(2), pages 269-303, June.
  5. Dodgson J. S., 1993. "British Railway Cost Functions and Productivity Growth, 1900-1912," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 158-181, April.
  6. William Goetzmann & Andrey Ukhov, 2005. "British Investment Overseas 1870-1913: A Modern Portfolio Theory Approach," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm445, Yale School of Management.
  7. Crafts, Nicholas & Mills, Terence C. & Mulatu, Abay, 2007. "Total factor productivity growth on Britain's railways, 1852-1912: A reappraisal of the evidence," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 608-634, October.
  8. Mathias Dewatripont & Philippe Aghion & Patrick Rey, 1997. "Corporate governance, competition policy and industrial policy," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/9613, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  9. Richard Green & Jonathan Haskel, 2004. "Seeking a Premier-League Economy The Role of Privatization," NBER Chapters, in: Seeking a Premier Economy: The Economic Effects of British Economic Reforms, 1980-2000, pages 63-108 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Nickell, Stephen & Nicolitsas, Daphne & Dryden, Neil, 1997. "What makes firms perform well?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(3-5), pages 783-796, April.
  11. McCloskey, Donald N. & Sandberg, Lars G., 1971. "From damnation to redemption: Judgments on the late victorian entrepreneur," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 89-108.
  12. Stephen King, 1992. "What Is Privatisation?," Economic Papers, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 11(3), pages 57-64, 09.
  13. William Kennedy & Robert Delargy, 2000. "Explaining Victorian entrepreneurship: a cultural problem? A market problem? No problem?," Economic History Working Papers 22377, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  14. A. J. Arnold, 1999. "Profitability and capital accumulation in British industry during the transwar period, 1913–1924," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 52(1), pages 45-68, 02.
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