Coronavirus advice

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This page contains our coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for the railway industry, and a summary of our own working arrangements.

This page is being reviewed and will be updated in accordance with the current guidance and advice from governments. 

Our guidance should be read in the light of the latest guidance from Government and Public Health England which may be subject to change at short notice. The following links are particularly relevant:

Advice for the railway industry

Medical fitness and competence assessments for train drivers and other safety critical staff Collapse accordion Open accordion

Updated 14 May 2021

The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments have issued advice on controlling coronavirus (COVID -19) throughout the pandemic.

ORR continues to consider the impact of this advice for the railway where a person has duties under Part 4 of the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations (ROGS) in relation to employees carrying out safety critical tasks and has produced this guidance in response. Specific separate guidance is included below for employers of those train drivers who also come under the Train Driving Licences and Certificates Regulations 2010.

Fitness – medical assessments

The duty to have suitable and sufficient arrangements to monitor fitness remains in place during the COVID-19 outbreak and, as part of this, employers of safety critical workers should ensure that necessary medical assessments of safety critical workers are carried out.  These will in most circumstances be face-to-face, following clinical guidance issued by a relevant professional or public health body on conducting medical examinations during the pandemic, to ensure the safety of both the clinician performing the medical examination and the safety critical worker undergoing the examination.   

Employers of safety critical workers should plan how to deal with any delayed or deferred medical assessments alongside those assessments which are due to expire so that only safety critical workers who have passed a medical assessment are deployed on safety critical tasks or work. Employers should work with the medical providers to manage capacity and prioritise requirements as necessary. 

Face-to-face consultations should now be the normal approach for all full initial assessments and for periodic assessments of fitness, since the specific criteria in standards must be measured.  Any other consultation methods should be limited to circumstances where there is no requirement in the standard, or medical need, to carry out the consultation face to face, for example to review long term sickness or to conduct a follow up appointment after a previous declaration of temporary unfitness.  

Employers are encouraged to consider the possible effects on services in cases of local lockdowns and work to ensure that medicals can be attended.

ORR’s guide to who has the duties to manage safety critical work is available.

Competence assessment and monitoring

COVID-19 precautions mean that rail organisations need to adjust their arrangements for assessing and monitoring the continuing competence of their staff, taking into account ORR’s “Practical guidance for operators on implementing COVID-19 public health advice on trains, trams, and stations”. 

Operators are encouraged to take into account relevant guidance on adjusted competence development processes developed by the Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum. This guidance is available to RDG members via its Hub.

Operators should plan how to deal with any delayed or deferred competence assessments alongside those assessments, which are due to expire, to manage capacity and prioritise requirements as necessary.

Where an employer uses an adjusted process for assessing or monitoring competence, they should take a risk-based approach and:

  • consider the risks from the individual continuing their safety critical role beyond the normal competence review process for a limited period;
  • consider the likely effectiveness of any steps taken to minimise any increase in risk, including:
    • any remote competence assessment methods which can reasonably be carried out to minimise the potential reduction in risk control necessitated by the public health advice.  RSSB have produced relevant guidance on "COVID-19: Railway Undertaking Guidance for Delivering Training and Briefings Remotely"
    • the likely duration of any extension, and arrangements for carrying out the usual competence monitoring as soon as reasonably practicable; and
    • the conditions and arrangements for any further extension, should this appear necessary.
  • Consider the risks likely to arise from the individual being unable to continue their work, including:
    • the criticality of the role in terms of potential impact on safety and the provision of train services; and
    • the availability of other suitably competent and fit staff.

Additional guidance for mainline operators relating to licensed train drivers only Collapse accordion Open accordion

Updated 15 January 2021

In addition to the arrangements described above, licensed train drivers are subject to specific requirements for periodic medical and competence assessments in order to maintain the validity of their documentation. On 25 May 2020 the EU passed Regulation (EU) 2020/698, and this regulation applied directly in the UK. This regulation automatically extended the validity of licences expiring between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2020 by 6 months from their date of expiry. 

Furthermore, the time limits for completion of periodic checks, including medical examinations and professional knowledge examinations, that otherwise would have expired between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2020 were extended by 6 months (meaning, for example, for a periodic medical due on 31 July 2020 – due date extended to 31 January 2021).

The EU published a further decision Commission Decision EU 2020/1237 of 25 August 2020 authorising the UK to lengthen the period between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2020, by 4 months until 31 December 2020.  This decision lengthened the period during which periodic checks could be extended from 31 August 2020 to 31 December 2020. This means that any periodic checks that fell due between 1 March 2020 and 31 December 2020 could be extended by 6 months only. Examples:

  • Driving licence belonging to driver A due to expire on 30 April 2020 - expiry date extended to 30 October 2020;
  • Periodic medical of driver B due on 30 May 2020 – due date extended to 30 November 2020;
  • Periodic medical of driver C due on 31 October 2020 – due date extended to 30 April 2021. 
  • Periodic medical for driver D due 31 December 2020 – due date extended to 30 June 2021. 

This lengthening of the period during which extensions could be applied was intended to allow operators to manage the completion of checks, including periodic medicals, which had been deferred during the COVID-19 outbreak, and to manage events of  increased COVID-19 cases restricting the ability to carry out periodic checks. 

[Please note: this further Commission Decision did not increase the original 6 month extensions granted under Commission Regulation EU 2020/698, it simply lengthened the period of time during which checks falling due can be extended.]

ORR is not able to issue any derogations from the legal requirements in TDLCR, nor can we extend the deadlines set for periodic medicals. The extensions to TDLCR deadlines previously granted as described above were authorised directly by the European Commission and are no longer available to the UK from 1 January 2021. Any further extensions, which may be granted in the EU, will NOT apply in the UK. 

Therefore, if TDLCR medical deadlines are exceeded from 1 January 2021 onwards they are non-compliant. ORR will monitor this situation and inspectors will support duty holders to proactively manage their driver medical arrangements so that they return to compliance as soon as possible.   

Periodic medicals required by TDLCR, can only be completed in line with Schedule 1 by a face-to-face clinical assessment, due to the requirement for specific medical tests to be undertaken which cannot be provided remotely. This must be provided in a COVID safe environment to protect the clinician and the driver.

Employers should plan how to deal with any delayed or deferred medical examinations alongside those which are due to expire, to ensure that all drivers maintain up to date medical examination records. Employers should work with the medical providers to manage the booking of medical examinations so that priority is given to train drivers whose periodic medicals are close to expiry. This is particularly important to avoid a situation in which a medical due date is exceeded. Employers should consider utilising the services of an alternate Occupational Health provider (where there is an ORR recognised doctor) to assist in obtaining appointments.

Where the expiry date of the periodic check has been extended, this does not remove the need for the competence and fitness of train drivers to continue to be managed in accordance with Part 4 of ROGS. Our guidance for all safety critical workers continues to apply to train drivers. 

An ORR guide to train driver licensing and certification requirements is available.

Engineering standards requirements for periodic inspection and maintenance Collapse accordion Open accordion

ORR recognises that recent public health advice from the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, may restrict the industry’s ability to meet their normal inspection and maintenance requirements contained in their engineering standards. This may arise from, for example, the need to adhere to advice on restricting face-to-face contact, or from self-isolation causing a reduction in the availability of staff who would normally carry out this monitoring.

If transport bodies need to move away from normal periodicity for inspection and maintenance due to lack of staff then a competent person will need to carry out a risk assessment and record their findings.

The following principles should be applied:

  1. Apply a risk-based approach to reviewing and conducting inspection and maintenance activities.
  2. Prioritise inspection and reactive maintenance activities most critical to maintaining safe operation of the railway and the safety of passengers, public and workforce.
  3. Record work that hasn’t been done, any mitigation, and when a further review is required.
  4. Any proposed changes to inspection or maintenance activities should be validated by another appropriate competent person in line with the organisation’s safety management system.
  5. Record all variations to standards.
  6. Keep all changes under review, to take account of changing railway operating characteristics, asset condition, and resource availability.

Practical guidance for operators on implementing COVID-19 public health advice on trains, trams and stations Collapse accordion Open accordion

Updated 19 July 2021

We have published guidance that sets out key principles which should be followed when considering the easing of COVID-19 related risk controls, as the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments change guidelines and legislation mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission. It is principally aimed at the assessment of COVID-19 risks in the workplace, for employees and contractors, while COVID-19 is still defined as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the Governments. It is not intended to be used for the management of risks and controls relevant to passengers in relation to transmission of COVID-19, but dutyholders should take account of the risk of transmission from passengers to employees and contractors. 

The guidance has been endorsed by the Railway Industry Coronavirus Forum (RICF), whose members include the General Secretaries of ASLEF, RMT, TSSA and Unite as well as the Rail Delivery Group, Network Rail, train operating companies and their owning groups. It also has support from Transport for London (TfL) and the Light Rail Safety Standards Board (LRSSB).

RIDDOR reporting and COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) Collapse accordion Open accordion

General information on reporting RIDDOR incidents and occupational diseases is available on our website. Specific information about RIDDOR reporting of COVID-19 is available from the Health and Safety Executive.

Guidance for heritage railways Collapse accordion Open accordion

We've produced a document relevant to heritage and museum railways (heritage railways) that operate on their own network. It provides guidance on heritage railway's health and safety arrangements for re-commencing operations after the extended shut down due to COVID-19.

ORR's holding to account policy during coronavirus Collapse accordion Open accordion

We wrote to High Speed 1 Ltd, Highways England, train operating companies and Network Rail outlining how we would hold them to account during the coronavirus pandemic.

Advice for rail passengers

Passengers should read this advice in line with government guidance on safe travel in England, Scotland and Wales Collapse accordion Open accordion

Updated 14 May 2021

Advice

  1. Some journeys may take longer due to social distancing measures, and you should try travelling off peak if you can. Check your journey before you travel as train times are likely to have changed.
  2. Try to socially distance from staff and other passengers where possible. You must wear a face covering when in stations and on trains. Children under five and people with certain medical conditions are exempt.
  3. Buy tickets before travelling at ticket offices or purchase from ticket machines where possible.
  4. Payment by contactless card is encouraged.
  5. The UK government has temporarily suspended admin fees on Advance rail tickets when rescheduling a journey. Passengers can change the ticket without paying an admin fee or, if the Advance ticket was purchased before 4 January, get a rail voucher valid for 12 months from the ticket retailer. For more information please visit: National Rail Enquiries / refunds
  6. Catering on trains has been ceased or significantly reduced – buy any food or drinks you require before travel.
  7. If you require assistance to travel you are not required to book ahead. If you require assistance to travel you are not required to book ahead. However please note that due to physical distancing rules some operators now require you to reserve seats, wheelchair spaces and seats with extra legroom so it is advisable to check this information before you travel.
  8. It is no longer necessary to visit a ticket office to get a refund. Systems are now in place to claim refunds remotely. Check your ticket retailer’s website.
  9. For rail travel vouchers which have expired or are due to expire between 20 October 2020 and 30 June 2021, the UK government has announced an extension to the validity by an additional 6 months from their original expiry date.

Competition law advice

ORR's approach to the enforcement of competition law in response to COVID-19 Collapse accordion Open accordion

It is ORR’s role to enforce competition law in the railways sector. Fair competition typically benefits passengers and rail users by creating rivalry between businesses to offer lower prices, better service and increase innovation. ORR nonetheless recognises that in its approach to enforcing competition in this sector must take into account the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. The railway is vital to ensure that key workers can get to where they are needed most, and supply chains for essential goods can continue to function.

For this reason, ORR endorses the CMA’s guidance on its ‘Approach to business cooperation in response to COVID-19’.

Additionally, and specifically for the railway sector we also commit not to take enforcement action against any cooperation between businesses, which might otherwise have raised competition concerns, which is necessary and appropriate to achieve the primary objective of:

  • Ensuring the continuity of delivery of essential products to consumers; and/or
  • Maintaining effective passenger services for the transport of key workers.

We emphasise, however, in line with the CMA guidance, that we are resolved to take firm action against any behaviour which seeks to: exploit the crisis for commercial gain; engage or embed any longer term anti-competitive arrangements; or, otherwise to use the pandemic as cover for anti-competitive activity.

Any queries about this guidance should be directed to Tom Cole, Head of Competition: tom.cole@orr.gov.uk.

ORR working arrangements

Our staff are currently working remotely, in line with government advice Collapse accordion Open accordion

Updated 14 May 2021

To protect our staff and to help reduce the spread of the virus, most of our staff are now working remotely, in line with government advice.

This will not affect our ability to work effectively, as ORR is well set up to do most of our work online and via mobile.

In practical terms it does mean we will communicate more frequently by email and will conduct meetings by phone and video, instead of face-to-face.

Staff carrying out site visits or attend our offices are encouraged to take a lateral flow test beforehand, to ensure ORR staff are doing everything reasonably practicable to reduce transmission.

We do not expect there to be any large-scale disruption to our core processes, and our health and safety teams will continue to carry out their role.

We recognise that there will be considerable pressures on those within the rail and road industries during this period. We want to assure stakeholders that we will be as pragmatic as possible in how we work, given the challenges faced. We will provide support and advice wherever we can.