Investing in the rail network: Licensing


We issue licences to show that a person is ‘fit and proper’ to operate railway assets (defined in the Railways Act 1993 as networks, trains used on a network, stations or light maintenance depots).

An operator’s licence will contain conditions with which the operator must comply. These promote consistent, effective and efficient working relationships between licensed operators.

Licences are required under both domestic and EU legislation and it is an offence to operate railway assets without a licence (unless exempted).

Details on the application process are available. Further information on licensing is also available.

What are the main licence conditions to be aware of?

The requirement for satisfactory insurance against third party liability: All licensed operators and certain licence-exempt operators are required to hold and maintain third-party liability insurance, on terms approved by us.

Claims allocation and handling: All operators must sign-up to arrangements for the allocation, amongst operators, of liabilities and the handling of claims. The approved arrangements are in the industry Claims Allocation and Handling Agreement (CAHA). Sign-up must take place before the licence comes into effect.

Through-ticketing provision: This applies to those passenger train operators who must agree to the Department for Transport's (DfT) arrangements for the sale and validity of ‘through tickets’ and the operation of a national telephone enquiries service. The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) manages these arrangements for the industry.

Provision of services for disabled people: Passenger train and station operators are normally required to produce a disabled people's protection policy (DPPP) which is approved by us. The requirements are set down in How to write your Disabled People's Protection Policy: A guide for Train and Station Operators.

Information for passengers: Passenger train operators must provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to enable passengers (and prospective passengers) to plan and make their journeys with a reasonable degree of assurance, including when there is disruption. Station operators must cooperate with train operators to achieve this.

Complaints procedure: Passenger train and station operators must establish a complaints handling procedure approved by ORR. We have published guidance on complaint handling procedures for licence holders, to which licence applicants should refer.

More details on these licence condition requirements are available.

Do you need to have a licence to build new infrastructure?

The construction of railway assets/infrastructure, in itself, does not require a licence or an exemption from ORR. It is the operation of railway assets that needs either a licence or a licence exemption.

Who is exempt from requiring a licence?

It is ORR’s decision whether to issue a licence or licence exemption. Generally, we would expect that mainline operations should be licensed. A licence exemption will often be appropriate if you do not need a mainline safety certificate or safety authorisation under the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (ROGS).

Operations that will often qualify for a licence exemption are:

  • A network that is separate from the national mainline, such as a heritage railway. Assets on a licence-exempt network, such as light maintenance depots or stations, would also normally be exempted.
  • A minor network connected to the mainline, such as a goods terminal or a freight spur.
  • Certain light maintenance depots.
  • Maintenance and repair trains used in engineering work.