New, major, upgraded or renewed infrastructure and rolling stock applicants have to follow a framework and seek an authorisation from us before placing the infrastructure or rolling stock into service.

What is interoperability all about?

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The Railways (Interoperability) Regulations 2011 (RIR 2011) came into force on 16 January 2012 and implement the EC Directive 2008/57/EC on the interoperability of the UK rail system. 

They apply to new, major, upgraded or renewed infrastructure and rolling stock. Applicants have to follow a framework and seek an authorisation from us, to place the infrastructure or rolling stock into service.

RIR 2011 was amended by The Railways (Interoperability) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (2019/345), on 31 December 2020. RIR 2019 corrected deficiencies that arose as a result of EU Exit and ensured that a clear and accessible domestic legal framework was established for interoperability.

Approach to authorisations

We have developed this guidance document to set out our approach to interoperability authorisations under the 2019 Regulations, formalise our expectations, and provide a framework to facilitate the submission of authorisation applications of a high quality with the introduction of stage gates during the lifecycle of a project.  

The guidance should provide confidence to applicants that authorisation will not be a barrier to meeting project timescales, will help spread workload associated with authorisation applications more evenly across the project lifecycle, and substantially reduce (or eliminate) the number of conditions we apply to authorisations.

We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the policy and undertake a full review after 12 months.

The Directive 2008/57/EC

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Consolidated Railways Interoperability Directive 2008/57/EC incorporates the amendments made by Commission Directive 2009/131/EC of 16 October 2009 and Commission Directive 2011/18/EU of 01 March 2011.

Directive 2008/57/EC incorporates requirements originally held in the Railway Safety Directive 2004/49/EC relating to the placing into service of rolling stock. The 2008 Directive was later amended by Directive 2009/131/EC (amending Annex VII) and 2011/18/EU (amending Annexes II, V and VI). The amendments caused the verification procedure for subsystems to split in two parts; an EC verification procedure by a Notified Body and a 'verification procedure in the case of national rules' by a Designated Body. The amendment also split the Control-Command and Signalling subsystem into two new subsystems; trackside CCS and on-board CCS.

What is the purpose of the Directive?

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The Railway Interoperability Directive 2008/57/EC sets out the conditions to be met to achieve interoperability within the Community rail system. These conditions are met through the processes of:

  • Design
  • Construction
  • Placing in service
  • Upgrading
  • Renewing
  • Operation and maintenance of parts in the system
  • Professional qualifications and health and safety conditions of staff who contribute to its operation and maintenance

Generally the Directives aim to:

  • ensure common Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSI's) are applied across Europe's railways;
  • establish a common European verification and authorisation process for placing new, upgraded or renewed infrastructure or rolling stock in service; and
  • provide a process for putting certain rail components knows as interoperability constituents onto the rail market.

The Railways (Interoperability) Regulations 2011

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The Railways (Interoperability) Regulations 2011 transpose the Directive into National Law. RIR 2011 revoked the RIR 2006.There are no transitional provisions.

Some of the key changes from the 2006 regulations include:

  • Widening the scope of the authorisation regime, meaning an authorisation is required for the first use of vehicles and infrastructure both on and off the Trans European Network (TEN);
  • Changes to the structure and content of technical files;
  • Enabling conditions and restrictions to apply to authorisations (this means if an authorisation for all of the UK network is technically impractical this can be taken into account);
  • Not to require a mandatory authorisation for vehicles first authorised in another Member State;
  • Enable a voluntary process of vehicle authorisation in the UK when a vehicle is already authorised in another Member State;
  • Enabling a streamlined "type" authorisation process to obtain an authorisation to place an identical vehicle or subsystem into service;
  • A type authorisation for non-vehicles and subsystems;
  • A new requirement for owners of infrastructure to publish data on their infrastructure and meet their requirements of an EU infrastructure register specification;
  • Ensure owners of vehicles supply data for a vehicle register in line with a European specification;
  • An appeal mechanism so an applicant can appeal about a safety authority decision to the Secretary of State. In Northern Ireland, where the safety authority is DRDNI, an appeal can be made to DRDNI; and
  • A dispensation provision to enable the use after 31 December 2019 of older vehicles which have been made accessible but which do not fully comply with accessibility standards.

Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs)

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Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs) define the technical standards required to satisfy the essential requirements set out in the Directive to achieve interoperability. These requirements include safety, reliability and availability, health, environmental protection and technical compatibility along with others specific to certain subsystems. The development process for TSIs are managed and published by the European Rail Agency (ERA).

The key stages in the process for development of a TSI are:

  • Drafting and development of the TSI by the ERA
  • Recommendation of the draft TSI by the Railway Interoperability and Safety Committee (RISC)
  • Adoption of the TSI in a decision by the European Commission (EC)
  • Notification of the EC decision to Member States (by formal letter)
  • Publication of the TSI in the Official Journal (OJ) of the European Union
  • The TSI 'becoming applicable' (i.e. coming into force)

National Technical Rules (NTRs)

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National Technical Rules (NTRs) are those standards which the Directive requires each Member State to notify to the commission where it contains an identified 'open point' or where a derogation from a TSI has been notified. The notified NTRs will not supplement the TSIs on performance related issues, nor repeat requirements instructed by the TSIs.

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) is responsible, on behalf of the rail industry, for proposing to the Department for Transport, those standards that should be notified against each of the TSIs for use on the GB mainline. The purpose of the notified NTRs is to provide additional controls to ensure that the essential requirements, as specified in the Directive, are met. Other NTR's are notified in a similar way for all networks including High Speed 1, the Channel Tunnel and Northern Ireland.

How to make an application for authorisation

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The Project Entity must seek an authorisation before placing the structural subsystem into service. We grant the authorisation for placing into service (APIS). An application for APIS should be made in respect of any structural subsystem if:

  • The authorisation is required under regulation 4(1)- a first authorisation;
  • An authorisation is not required under regulation 4(1) as regulation 3(2) or (5)(a) applies, however the person nevertheless wants an authorisation- a voluntary first authorisation;
  • An authorisation is not required under regulation 4(1) as regulation 4(1)(c) applies, but the person nevertheless wants an authorisation- a voluntary re-authorisation.

In accordance to regulation 5(2), the Project Entity must make the application to ORR in writing accompanied by the technical file, in accordance with regulation 17(2)(a) and relevant parts of the revised Annex VI of the Directive, and the verification declaration.

The application for authorisation must comply with regulations 4, 15 and 16 of the RIR 2011.

There is no mandatory time limit for us to determine an application or authorisation; however, applicants should build four weeks into their project timescales.


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As enforcing authority for the Interoperability regulations we will use the principles established in our HSWA enforcement policy statement to ensure compliance with these statutory requirements.

List of fully approved composite brake blocks for international transport

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A list of fully approved composite brake blocks for UK use is published within Table G4 of GMGN 2688 - Guidance on Designing Rail Freight Wagons for use on the GB Mainline Railway. 

The method of approving new ‘K’, ‘L’, or ‘LL’ brake blocks for UK use is defined within Appendix H: Dynamometer Testing of Friction Materials of GMRT 2045 - Compatibility Requirements for Braking Systems of Rail Vehicles.