Minor and heritage railways

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Minor and heritage railways are 'lines of local interest', museum railways or tourist railways that preserve, re-create or simulate railways of the past; or demonstrate or operate historical or special types of motive power or rolling stock. There are well over 200 such railways operating across Great Britain and ORR is responsible for regulating their safety.

These privately owned railways range in size and scope of operation, and are separate from the mainline railway (although some have physical connections and interworking with the mainline). All are vertically integrated businesses, meaning that they both manage the infrastructure and operate the trains.

Much of the rolling stock and other equipment used on these systems is original and is of historic value in its own right. Many systems deliberately aim to replicate both the look and operating practices of historic former railways companies.

The Heritage Railway Association (HRA) represents the majority of minor and heritage railways.

How do we regulate minor and heritage railways?

The Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority for Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems) Regulations 2006 allocate health and safety enforcement functions to ORR for, among other things, minor and heritage railways that have a track of a gauge of at least 350mm or cross a carriageway.

Like any other business, minor and heritage railways 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). ROGs give us discretion to exclude certain transport systems, such as minor and heritage railways, from the mainline railway requirements. ORR has published guidance on ROGs which includes details on which parts are relevant to minor and heritage railways.

Minor and heritage railway systems need to have a safety management system (SMS) in place that has been adapted to fit the size and nature of the operation. This should include having in place appropriate, and proportionate systems and procedures to ensure the safety of its staff, volunteers, passengers, and public.

Railway operators who operate on systems that have a line speed not exceeding 25mph (40kph) are exempted from the Railway Safety Regulations 1999. Minor and heritage railway systems can also apply to be exempt from certain mainline safety requirements, such as train driver licensing.

An ORR Principal Inspector leads a team of inspectors who 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 the HRA in its sector leadership. In particular we encourage and support HRA in developing and maintaining its core guidance and standards for the industry. The HRA has its own website which contains a wealth of technical and regulatory guidance to help the sector comply with its obligations.

Key issues

The following are key areas of interest to minor and heritage rail:

  • Leadership and governance
  • Inspection and maintenance of:
    • Permanent way
    • Traction and rolling stock (T&RS), including the management of asbestos and other hazardous materials (e.g. lead, welding fume, dust).
    • Structures
  • Competence management systems generally, with particular focus on operating staff (including drivers, firemen, guards, dispatchers, signallers) and those engaged in safety critical engineering maintenance roles (including traction and rolling stock, permanent way and signal engineering)
  • Rule book
  • Workshops
  • Level Crossings – existing and new.

Our Rail Management Maturity Model (RM3) is relevant to the minor and heritage railway 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. During our supervisory activity, where we gain sufficient evidence, we will initially assess the company’s SMS maturity on a small number of RM3 criteria including:

  • SP1 Leadership & SP3 Governance
  • SP4 Written SMS arrangements
  • OP2 Competence management
  • OC7 Record keeping
  • PI1 Risk management
  • RCS2 Asset management
  • MRA2 Audit
  • MRA3 Incident investigation

ORR is developing a RM3 Topic Set for the Heritage sector to support the use of RM3 in the heritage sector. The intent is to provide meaningful descriptors over nine criteria listed above that reflect the heritage sector railway environment. The first draft was trialled at the RM3 Heritage seminars, and wider consultation will commence later in 2020/21. In the interim, please contact us at RM3@orr.gov.uk if you want further information on the RM3 Heritage topic set or to trial its use.

Publications and updates

Inspection guidance for heritage railways recovery plan in response to Covid-19
Published 11 May 2020

ORR and Heritage Railway Association Risk Management Maturity Model (RM3) seminars 2019
3 December 2019