Investing in the rail network: Authorising vehicles and infrastructure (Interoperability)


All new, upgraded or renewed infrastructure or rolling stock must:

  • Be authorised by ORR before it can be placed in service. We call this 'authorisation to place into service' or 'interoperability authorisation'; and
  • Comply with common technical standards set out in EU Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs) and UK notified national technical rules.

Interoperability authorisation has a direct relationship to safety, but has a wider purpose of ensuring technical compatibility, reliability, performance and accessibility of new or substantially modified rail vehicles or infrastructure. The process of getting interoperability authorisation requires you to compile a technical file identifying the relevant rules and standards for your project, explaining your arrangements for demonstrating conformity with them and having these verified by an independent notified body (for EU requirements) or designated body (for UK-specific requirements). Our role is to check that you have carried out this process correctly and to issue authorisation to place into service based on the technical file that you submit.

The law gives us two months from receipt of the technical file to determine an application for authorisation to place into service, and we may seek an additional one month for further checks or tests if we have a safety concern. We recommend that projects engage with us at the earliest opportunity and in any event well ahead of when you plan to submit the technical file.

More detailed information about our approach to interoperability authorisations is available.

Will my project need an interoperability authorisation?

Interoperability is likely to affect anyone who wants to build new lines or change the existing mainline rail network in the UK, or anyone who wants to place new, renewed or upgraded rolling stock into use on the mainline railway in the UK. This could cover infrastructure managers, operators of passenger and freight trains, rolling-stock leasing companies and manufacturers or suppliers of trains. If you are planning to do this you will require an ORR Interoperability authorisation before you place the new vehicles or infrastructure into service.

Away from the mainline railway, anyone who is introducing new or substantially altered vehicles or infrastructure into operation must carry out a safety verification process before they place it into service. In short, the safe introduction of the new or changed equipment must be verified by an independent competent person. More guidance on safety verification is included in our guide to ROGS.

Will interoperability requirements apply when the UK exits the European Union?

At present, all interoperability requirements continue to apply. The Department for Transport will be taking the decisions on the appropriate requirements in the context of negotiations on the UK’s exit from the European Union.