Nearly 1 year after the Hatfield disaster (17 October 2000), the British government
astonished the world on 7 October by putting Railtrack PLC into administration. Some
foreign journals, especially in France, suggested that this quasi-bankruptcy is the
beginning of slow re-nationalization. We cannot jump to conclusions at this early
stage, because the British government is still showing a strong will to keep Railtrack in
the private sector, suggesting the establishment of a new type of 'private company
without shareholders.' But in any case, some important revisions and alterations are
inevitable to keep the railway in Britain running safely.
In the original government plan, Railtrack was to be the last business to be privatized.
But the government suddenly switched course and put a lot of money in the Treasury
coffers by selling Railtrack first. Unfortunately, the current British scheme of rail
privatization failed to assure the investments that are badly needed for safe operation
and future development. We also remember that Eurotunnel, another private rail
infrastructure company, failed not so long ago. Railway infrastructure requires huge
funds to build and maintain, so adequate management by a genuinely private company
is very difficult. There are two important exceptions in the world––freight railways in
North America and passenger railways in Japan's main island of Honshu. Both enjoy
much higher traffic volumes than their British and European counterparts and both are
running railways without separating operations from infrastructure.