Coronavirus advice


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

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
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Updated 5 January 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.   Mainline operators are encouraged to take into account the processes for safety critical workers developed by the Rail Delivery Group for use during this time and RSSB guidance on medical fitness assessment during coronavirus restrictions.

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, which will shortly be available via RSSB. The contact for this work

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
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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
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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
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Updated 28 January 2021

The Office of Rail and Road advises operators to take every opportunity in their communication with passengers, the public and other stakeholders to encourage adherence to current public health advice. This advice may change frequently, and further variations to restrictions introduced or amended/removed, so operators should ensure information is kept up to date. Operators should also communicate information about busy train times and stations.

Operators should take the following measures where practicable. We recognise that some specific steps may be more challenging in certain operating environments, but it is vital that all operators do their utmost to support the key principles of cleanliness and social distancing.

Governmental social distancing policy

You should socially distance at an appropriate distance where possible. To reduce the risk try maintain a two metre distance where possible, but if you cannot, take suitable mitigations. Operators should review their risk assessment and the controls they have put in place, examples are set out below and in the Department of Transport guidance for operators.

Our advice should be read alongside advice and guidance provided by UK Government and Devolved Administrations, Public Health authorities and the Health and Safety Executive. On the mainline railway, this guidance is supplemented by agreed safety principles established by the Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum, which the mainline railway industry should apply.

On trains

  • Practice and facilitate social distancing, encouraging passengers and employees to maintain social distance where possible. Approaches to this should take into account that, if a train is crowded, passengers may become unsettled by regular announcements about social distancing.
  • Drivers should be alone in the cab. Where there is a recognised requirement for more than one person to be in a cab to undertake an activity, such as driver assessment, a task-based risk assessment should be implemented.
  • Where social distancing can be achieved, on-train revenue protection and catering facilities may take place.
  • Ensure regular cleaning - with your usual cleaning products - of surfaces that employees and passengers are likely to touch. Pay particular attention to driving cab controls, door controls, grab handles and toilet door handles.
  • Passengers exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 on board should be isolated in a carriage, or else placed at least 2m away from other passengers, as soon as can be achieved. Assistance should be provided for passengers with symptoms to alight the train if necessary. In this situation assisting employees should thoroughly wash/sanitise their hands as soon as possible. There is currently no requirement to self-isolate if you have been in proximity with someone showing coronavirus symptoms in the workplace and have been following social distancing measures. The coach should be cleaned before re-entering passenger carrying service.

At stations and on platforms

  • Train operators should maintain an appropriate level of staffing to ensure suitable and sufficient levels of security and control at stations.
  • Rostering should consider the advice to establish recurring ‘contained teams’ of people to reduce wider employee interaction.
  • Remind passengers about Government guidance on travel restrictions, social distancing and wearing face coverings on trains (remembering that the advice may not always be the same in every part of Great Britain), by way of visual and audible messages.
  • Station operators should put in place arrangements to manage queues and congestion. This should include identifying areas where there is an increased risk of crowding or congestion and identifying mitigation measures to reduce the likelihood, such as signage and communication, and physical measures to guide passenger flows.
  • Display information to encourage passengers, unless in family/household groups, to maintain social distancing. Graphics (such as posters or floor markings) may help to illustrate spacing on trains.
  • Discourage cash payments at booking offices and retail outlets. If employees must handle cash, hands should be washed or sanitised immediately afterwards.
  • Waiting rooms can be open where social distancing guidelines can be met, with additional controls informed by risk assessment.
  • Operators should maintain customer assistance arrangements. Passengers should be encouraged to contact the relevant train operating company as soon as possible to discuss their requirements. However, pre-booking assistance is still not required.

Face coverings on stations and trains

Face coverings and masks:

  • Face coverings and masks available for assurance purposes are not mandatory PPE and therefore do not fall under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. Face coverings and masks when worn properly can provide a physical barrier against transmission to others and do not prevent the inhalation of the virus. This approach is being adopted outside of a medical environment, including by the emergency services when working in close proximity such as working within the same vehicle.
  • The British Standards Institution (BSI) have created a guide to masks and face coverings for use in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic to aid procurement.
  • To promote a consistent approach, whilst at work, employees should be discouraged from wearing items not assessed and made available to them by their employer such as separately purchased or homemade face coverings, masks or visors.
  • In line with UK government advice, face visors or face shields may be worn in addition to a face covering, but not instead of one. This is because face visors or face shields do not adequately cover the nose and mouth.


  • Protective masks classed as respirators are designed to protect the wearer from the inhalation of airborne contaminants. Tight fitting disposable respirators (FFP2 and FFP3) are designed to filter out and prevent inhalation of solid and liquid particulates such as hazardous dusts. The Government are currently reserving face fit testing for health and care workers, and those in industrial settings, like those exposed to dust and other particulate hazards.
  • It is expected that FFP respirators will only be used in a railway setting where:
    • A task specific COSHH risk assessment shows that they are required as PPE to minimise worker exposure to high hazard dust or fumes in line with existing guidance and industry practices (for example silica dust, welding fume), or
    • Following Government guidance on first responders, they may be included within first-aid kits for the initial response to medical emergencies.
  • HSE guidance on using PPE at work.

Risk assessment and implementation

  • The hierarchy of risk control should continue to be followed, with priority given to collective protection by reviewing and adjusting work practices in order to avoid the need for close proximity interaction before relying on individual protection. For example, where control measures such as clear acrylic screens have been erected, no further assurance would be delivered from a face covering other than to promote and encourage wearing by passengers.
  • The best defence against the spread of COVID-19 continues to be the isolation of those exhibiting symptoms, social distancing and enhanced hand hygiene. The safe use of face coverings should be supported as an additional precautionary measure to protect others working in close proximity. Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect the user, however if they are infected but not showing symptoms, it may provide protection and mutual assurance for others when unable to maintain social distancing.
  • Task based risk assessments should be conducted to identify roles where face coverings should be considered and the option of wearing them given to employees, e.g. for employees where social distancing rules cannot be observed. (Based on Public Health authorities and European Centre for Disease Control guidance to on infection transmission risk).
  • The provision of face coverings does not remove the need to maintain social distancing and every effort should be made to reinforce this message to reduce the risk of a face covering giving the wearer a false sense of security. Operators should develop and communicate a clear policy for face coverings, enabling all employees to understand what is available and why.
  • Any face covering offered to employees should be risk assessed to ensure that the item does not import further risk and is practical for the task being undertaken. For example, ensuring that face coverings do not impede communication with passengers who may need to lip read, and that a face visor or face shield used in addition to a face covering does not introduce a risk where visual acuity is critical.
  • Clear processes should be in place regarding all face coverings including:
    • instructions as to its safe use (putting on and taking off);
    • how employees are to safely store and transport it;
    • safe disposal of the used/contaminated item OR instructions on the cleaning/laundering of the item; and
    • when to change the item.
  • Consider the medium to long term procurement of the face coverings identified in the task based risk assessment. Have prepared plans in place should the identified items be no longer attainable considering the guidance on standards by the BSI.
  • Awareness of the current difference in government advice regarding face coverings within England, Scotland, and Wales needs to be recognised. However, isolating at home if symptomatic, practicing good hygiene methods, having a thorough cleaning regime and maintaining a social distance from people remain the primary control measures.

Supporting employees

  • All employees should be reminded to wash their hands frequently, ideally with soap and water or alternatively using a hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol or equivalent alternatives.

We advise operators to keep the above measures in place until the Government instructs that COVID-19 controls can be relaxed further.

In conclusion our guidance is that in order to provide reassurance and reduce risk of transmission to a colleague that a re-usable mask/covering or Type I and Type II surgical masks may be suitable. Furthermore, following a specific task based Risk Assessment FFP1 respirators could also be considered appropriate although they offer no material advantage to re-usable/surgical masks unless the wearer is clean shaven and the mask is face fitted. Employers/operators should be confident that they are not accessing supply which could be used as part of PPE by healthcare and other workers. These supplies must continue to be reserved for health and care workers and other responders.

RIDDOR reporting and COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus)
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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
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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
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We've written to High Speed 1 Ltd, Highways England, train operating companies and Network Rail outlining how we will be holding 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
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Updated 5 January 2021


  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 services have been reduced and may be subject to change:
  2. Try to socially distance from staff and other passengers where possible. From 24 July, anyone in a transport hub such as a train station as well as those travelling on public transport must wear a face covering. 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 in all circumstances.
  5. From 26 October the UK government has temporarily suspended admin fees on Advance rail tickets. This applies when rebooking a journey due to changes in Covid-19 restrictions. Passengers can change the ticket for free or get a rail voucher valid for 12 months from the train company.
  6. Following the UK government announcement on 19 December, some ticket terms & conditions for refunding tickets or changing journeys are different to usual. For more information please visit: National Rail Enquiries / refunds
  7. Catering on trains has been ceased or significantly reduced – buy any food or drinks you require before travel.
  8. If you require assistance to travel you are not required to book ahead but are recommended to contact your train operator before travel to discuss your journey. Train operators are contacting anyone with an existing booking to discuss how they can help with your journey.
  9. 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 train operator website.

Competition law advice

ORR's approach to the enforcement of competition law in response to COVID-19
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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:

ORR working arrangements

Our staff are currently working remotely, in line with government advice
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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.

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.