Light rail and tramways

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Light rail is an urban transportation system that generally uses electrically powered rail guided vehicles along exclusive rights-of-way at ground level, on raised structures, in tunnels, and in streets. To allow greater flexibility in integrating systems into urban environments, light rail systems generally use lighter equipment that operates at slower speeds when compared to mainline or heavy rail metro/urban railways.

Tramways are a specific type of light rail system that have a significant element of the system operating in a highway environment or other public space. Tramways are typically built at street level, sharing roads with traffic, but most systems feature a variety of operating environments, including private rights of way, segregated, and off street sections.

ORR is the safety regulator and enforcing authority for light railways and tramways. UKTram represents most of the organisations in this sector; and the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board (LRSSB) is the dedicated safety body for the sector.

Light rail and tramways operating in Great Britain

  • Blackpool Trams
  • Docklands Light Railway
  • Edinburgh Trams
  • Glasgow Underground
  • London Trams
  • Manchester Metrolink
  • Nottingham Express Transit
  • Sheffield Supertram
  • Tyne and Wear Metro
  • West Midland Metro

How do we regulate light rail and tramways?

Light rail and tramways need to comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and regulations made under it. This includes the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (ROGS). ORR has published guidance on ROGs which includes details on which parts are relevant to light rail and tramways.

Our strategy for regulation of health and safety risks for tramways complements our other strategic health and safety chapters, setting out our vision, summarising the key characteristics of tramway systems; how differences with traditional rail systems impacts on risk management; and describes our priorities at sector and individual dutyholder level.

Safety issues are dealt with by a team of ORR inspectors, led by a Principal Inspector. They provide advice and guidance on health and safety matters, undertake proactive inspections and respond to incidents and complaints. We also enforce relevant health and safety legislation.

We encourage UKTram and LRSSB in their sector leadership. In particular we provide encouragement and support in developing and maintaining core guidance and standards for the industry. LRSSB’s website contains technical and regulatory guidance to help the sector comply with its obligations.

Key issues

The following are key areas of interest for light rail and tramways:

  • Supporting LRSSB in providing safety leadership to the sector, setting standards and good practice drawing on the experience of GB operators, and learning from across mainland Europe and the rest of the world.
  • Keeping under review the possibilities for improving risk control and taking a proactive approach to embracing appropriate risk control technologies and arrangements, including from both other railway and wider transport sectors.
  • Using an evidence-based approach to modelling the risks inherent in the system and for determining the reasonable practicability of control measures to mitigate those risks; in accordance with the hierarchy of risk controls.
  • Using established methods to measure health and safety performance and measure against sensible performance benchmarks
  • Developing an improved culture of cooperation and sharing of safety related information.

Our Rail Management Maturity Model (RM3) is relevant to the light rail and tramway sector and can be a useful tool to help both ORR and dutyholders assess the capability of the safety management system and identify areas for development.