Britain's leading railway historian provides a critical examination of the Blair governments' involvement in the rail industry from 1997 as they attempted to deal with the UK's fragmented, privatized railways.
The book focuses particularly on the work of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), and considers the role of individuals - John Prescott, Stephen Byers, Alistair Darling, Sir Alastair Morton, and Richard Bowker - and events - the Hatfield accident (2000), the demise of Railtrack (2001-2), and the funding crisis of 2003-4 - in the shaping of emerging policy.
The book was commissioned by the SRA, and written with access to government files. Dr Gourvish argues that the establishment of the SRA as a Non-Departmental Public Board proved largely unsuccessful. It produced tensions with the industry's existing institutions - Railtrack/Network Rail, the operating companies and the economic regulator. There were some gains from the experiment, notably the rescue of the West Coast Main Line project. However, it remains to be seen whether by winding up the
SRA and taking responsibility for strategy and funding back into its own hands the Department for Transport has resolved the problem of managing a fragmented industry.
This important book is essential reading for those concerned with, and interested in, railway policy, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world.
Terry Gourvish is Director of the Business History Unit at the London School of Economics. He has published widely in the fields of business and transport history, including British Rail 1974-1997: From Integration to Privatisation (OUP, 2002) and The Official History of Britain and the Channel Tunnel (Routledge, 2006).
1. Labour's Response to the Privatized Railway, 1993-8 ; 2. Labour's Vision: the Strategic Rail Authority and a Ten Year Plan, 1998-2000 ; 3. The Hatfield Watershed, 2000-1 ; 4. The Strategic Rail Authority and Railtrack after Hatfield ; 5. The Strategic Rail Authority and the Railway, 2001-4: The Strategic Vision ; 6. The Strategic Rail Authority and the Railway, 2001-4: Network Rail, Cost Escalation, the Regulator's 2003 Review, and Project Management ; 7. The Rail Review and its Aftermath, 2004-5 ; 8. Conclusion