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Abstract: This paper examines major privately owned British railway companies before the First World War. Quantitative evidence is presented on return on capital employed (ROCE), total factor productivity (TFP) 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. 

Crafts, N., Leunig, T., and Mulatu. A., (2008) ‘Were British railway companies well managed in the early twentieth century?’ , Economic History Review, 61(4) :842-866