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> I am left with a feeling of awe at China's development, and frustration at the UK's stagnancy.

To be fair, the UK was overspending on railway long before it was cool :-)

From Edward Chancellor's "Devil Take the Hindmost" [1]:

> In January 1845, sixteen new railway schemes were projected. By April, with rail receipts continuing to grow rapidly, over fifty new companies had been registered...

> By June 1845, plans for over eight thousand miles of new railway -- four times the size of the existing railway system and nearly twenty times the length of England -- were under consideration by the Board of Trade. In the following month, new schemes appeared at the rate of over a dozen a week.

> At the end of October [...] over twelve hundred railways were being projected at an estimated cost of over £560 million. The total amount of outstanding railway liabilities was nearly £600 million. This figure exceeded the national income, estimated at around £550 million, of which perhaps £20 million a year could be spent safely on the railways without starving the rest of the economy of capital.

> In Britain, [...] the spirit of laissez-faire dictated that the development of the railways should be left entirely to private enterprise. The uncontrolled expansion of the railway system, in the hands of semi-criminal entrepreneurs, produced a haphazard network. For instance, by the 1850s there were three independent routes from Liverpool to Leeds and three alternative routes from London to Peterborough.

> The results of the mania, however, were not entirely negative. With over 8,000 miles of track in operation by 1855, Britain possessed the highest density of railways in the world, seven times greater than that of France or Germany.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Devil-Take-Hindmost-Financial-Specula...

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