Licensing the railway

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An overview of railway licensing in Great Britain.

Find out more information about the types of licences available and how we issue licences and licence exemptions to railway operators.

Operating railway assets and providing passenger and freight train services are of national importance and we safeguard them in the public interest.

Licences help ensure operators are 'fit and proper' to run a railway - applicants must satisfy requirements as to good repute, professional safety competence, financial fitness and insurance cover for civil liabilities.

Through licensing we promote effective and efficient working relationships between industry parties and we can hold individual operators to account in the public interest.

The information on these pages, and within the ORR documents we refer to, is being reviewed and will be updated as necessary to reflect the fact that the EU exit transition period has ended. If you have any questions regarding rail transport legislation from 1 January 2021 please refer to the GOV.UK website.

Railway undertaking licences
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The Railway (Licensing of Railway Undertakings) Regulations 2005 has been amended by the Railway (Licensing of Railway Undertakings) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (“the amended 2005 Regulations”).

These require most people who want to operate passenger trains or freight trains in Great Britain to hold an appropriate railway undertaking licence.

We can issue these licences following a statutory consultation process.
Under the amended 2005 Regulations, we grant two types of railway undertaking licence:

  • Railway undertaking passenger licence: Authorises a railway company to run passenger trains. This type of licence is typically held by passenger train operators who run on the mainline.
  • Railway undertaking freight licence: Authorises a railway company to run freight trains. This type of licence is typically held by freight train operators who run on the mainline.

Statement of National Regulatory Provisions (SNRP)

A railway undertaking licence holder operating in Great Britain must also have and comply with a Statement of National Regulatory Provisions (an SNRP) that we issue.

We use the conditions in an SNRP to bring consistency with operators granted a Railways Act licence and to promote effective and efficient working relationships between industry parties.

For example, conditions can bind operators into common arrangements and standards for ticketing, complaints handling, accessible travel policies and passenger information that we can enforce.

Railways Act 1993 - Types of licences
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Section 6 of the Railways Act 1993 makes it an offence to act as the operator of a railway asset without holding a Railways Act licence or licence exemption. These licences cover some operations not covered by the 2005 Regulations.

This applies to all railway asset operators regardless of the scale of operations and includes operators of privately owned freight terminals and other minor networks. Railway assets are trains, networks, stations and light maintenance depots. An operator is "the person having management of that railway asset for the time being".

Railways Act licences are issued on the same criteria as railway undertaking licences. However, the conditions are in the licence itself rather than in a separate SNRP.

Types of licences

There are five different Railways Act licences, one for each category of railway asset:

  • Network licence: Authorises a person to be the operator of a network, and trains being used on a network for any purpose comprised in the operation of the network.
  • Passenger train licence: Authorises a person to be the operator of a train being used on a network for the purpose of carrying passengers by railway.
  • Non-passenger train licence: Authorises a person to be the operator of other trains being used on a network. This is the type of licence held by some rail maintenance and renewal companies.
  • Station licence: Authorises a person to operate one or more specified stations.
  • Light maintenance depot licence: Authorises a person to operate one or more specified light maintenance depots.