This paper provides new estimates of the return on capital employed (ROCE) for major British railway companies. It shows that ROCE was generally below the cost of capital after the mid-1870s and fell till the turn of the century. Addressing issues of cost inefficiency could have restored ROCE to an adequate level in the late 1890s but not in 1910. Declines in ROCE hit share prices and returns to shareholders were negative after 1897. Optimal portfolio analysis shows that, whilst railway securities would have had a substantial weight prior to this date, investors would have been justified in rushing to the exits thereafter
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