The year 1994 saw the completion of one of the most controversial privatisation processes in Britain: the railways. This paper presents a description of the restructuring process implemented in Britain, and of its critical features which were at the core of a number of problems experienced after privatisation. Among other critical features, the paper then focuses the discussion on horizontal and vertical separation achieved by means of the allocation of twenty-five franchise contracts for passenger service operations. The second part of the analysis concentrates on the restructuring systems adopted in other countries and on the allocation systems of rail service operations adopted in those countries. The concluding section discusses how short term political agendas generally dictate ad-hoc interventions which are very unlikely to resolve the underlying problems of complex railways systems.