Access for freight operators


This page includes guidance, the application form, model contracts and general approvals for track access by freight operators.

With the exception of the section titled ‘freight terminals’, most of the information on this page is relevant to access contracts where Network Rail is the Infrastructure Manager. If this is not the case for your query, we recommend contacting the relevant infrastructure manager in the first instance.

For guidance on how to apply for a track access contract for a passenger operator (including charter and open access) please visit the access for passenger operators page.

Aspirant new entrants to the market should familiarise themselves with our Starting Mainline Rail Operations document.

We advise all applicants to use our model contracts, provided below.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

Application form

Application for approval of, or amendments to a freight track access contract. Applicants should use a Form F application form for all applications under sections 17-22A.

Model contracts

Applicants are advised to begin with the freight model contract. Further guidance on this can be found in our track access guidance.

Freight general approvals

We have powers under sections 18 and 22 of the Act to grant general approvals. The current General Approval for freight track access contracts 2024:

  • enables Network Rail and a freight operator to enter into a track access contract for up to 5 years and permits contingent and some firm access rights;
  • permits Network Rail and the freight operator to amend their track access contract without our specific approval, subject to certain conditions. Any other amendments will require our specific approval under section 22 or directions under section 22A of the Act;
  • enables Network Rail and freight end-customers to enter into a track access contract for up to 5 years and permits contingent and some firm access rights;
  • allows Network Rail and a freight operator (nominated by a freight end-customer) to enter into an end-customer-specific freight track access contract; and
  • enables a freight operator and Network Rail to make certain changes to their existing track access contract relating to liability; necessary where the freight operator has a customer-specific track access contract.


The freight terminal operator will probably need a network licence exemption. See our licensing section.

Connection contracts

The facility owner will normally need a connection to the national rail network though some new terminals connect via another party's infrastructure. The arrangements for supporting a connection should be set out in contract known as a connection contract.

We have developed a model connection contract for connecting to Network Rail's network. Contracts using this model are covered by a general approval. The model connection contract can be readily adapted for other networks as necessary but they need our specific approval. If you cannot agree terms then you may be able to submit it to us for a decision. See our connection contracts page.

Facility access agreements

Freight train operators who want to use a facility will need to enter into an agreement with the facility owner, known as a facilities access agreement. There is no model contract for this type of agreement. It may be helpful to refer to contracts that we have approved in the past on our public register

Facility Access General Approval 2018
It enables facility owners who are not an Infrastructure Manager and their access beneficiaries to enter into access contracts at those facilities without our specific approval, within the terms outlined. 

Light maintenance depots

If your terminal includes facilities for the provision of light maintenance services it will be classified as a light maintenance depot (LMD) and additional rules will apply. See our licensing and depot access web pages.

Class exemption

At privatisation in 1994 certain named sites and types of freight terminal and LMD were exempted from the licensing and access provisions of the Railways Act 1993. 

Before you apply for a licence exemption or submit an access agreement you should check to see if you are already exempted from the requirements by virtue of the Railways (Class and Miscellaneous) Exemptions Order 1994 (the CMEO). 

Please note that the CMEO does not apply to any connection contract involving Network Rail. Also, The Railways (Access, Management and Licensing of Railway Undertakings) Regulations 2016 will still apply.

Contact us

As you will see there are potentially several regulatory issues for you to consider when developing a rail linked facility. We recommend that you talk to us, with any network owners that you need to connect to, at an early stage. You can email us at: Network Rail has more detailed guidance on its website.