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Restructuring regulation of the rail industry for the public interest

Listed author(s):
  • Kessides, Ioannis N.
  • Willig, Robert D.

Throughout the world, the rail industry historically has been one of the most extensively regulated of all sectors. Price, entry, exit, financial structure, accounting methods, vertical relations, and operating rules have all been subject to some form of government control. The public utility paradigm of government regulation has been applied on the assumption that the economic characteristics of the rail industry preclude competitive organization or the need for market responsiveness. In the past three decades, however, policymakers and economists have become increasingly critical of traditional regulation of the rail industry. It is generally accepted that in markets where rail carriers seek to meet demand, there is often effective competition, and that government restrictions on the structure and conduct of firms in this industry impose considerable costs on society. Misguided regulatory policies have been blamed for the misallocation of freight traffic among competing modes of transport, excess capacity, excessive operating costs, and poor investment decisions. Regulatory controls have also shouldered much of the blame for the poor financial condition of railroads, the deterioration of rail plant, the suppression and delay of cost-reducing innovations, and the mediocre quality of rail service. The authors suggest principles for restructuring railroad regulation - indeed, for restructuring the orientation of railroad entries - for the sake of public interest. Much can be learned, they contend, from applying the principles of industrial organization to analysis of the rail industry. To assess the implications of policies aimed at rate regulation or infrastructure, it is essential to understand the nature of technology, costs, and demand in the rail industry. Government's role in relation to market behavior should be based explicitly on the economic and technological realities of the railroad marketplace. The authors say that restructuring along the lines they suggest - putting more emphasis on marketing effectiveness - will result in a more profitable railway with a better chance of covering its costs for commercial services. Changing the basis for noncommercial services as they suggest will make those services more effective at fulfilling public policy objectives, will eliminate an insuperable drain on revenues that condemns rails to inadequate investment, and will eliminate cross-subsidies that make it difficult for rails to compete against other modes of transport.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1506.

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Date of creation: 30 Sep 1995
Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1506
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  1. Baumol, William J, 1982. "Contestable Markets: An Uprising in the Theory of Industry Structure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(1), pages 1-15, March.
  2. Moyer, Neil E. & Thompson, Louis S., 1992. "Options for reshaping the railway," Policy Research Working Paper Series 926, The World Bank.
  3. William J. Baumol & Robert D. Willig, 1981. "Fixed Costs, Sunk Costs, Entry Barriers, and Sustainability of Monopoly," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 96(3), pages 405-431.
  4. Ronald R. Braeutigam, 1984. "Socially Optimal Pricing with Rivalry and Economies of Scale," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 15(1), pages 127-134, Spring.
  5. Friedlaender, Ann F, 1971. "The Social Costs of Regulating the Railroads," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(2), pages 226-234, May.
  6. Richard C. Levin, 1978. "Allocation in Surface Freight Transportation: Does Rate Regulation Matter?," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 9(1), pages 18-45, Spring.
  7. Bailey, Elizabeth E, 1981. "Contestability and the Design of Regulatory and Antitrust Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(2), pages 178-183, May.
  8. Richard C. Levin, 1981. "Railroad Rates, Profitability, and Welfare Under Deregulation," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 12(1), pages 1-26, Spring.
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