Our functions

We regulate the rail industry's health and safety performance, we hold Network Rail and High speed 1 to account and we make sure that the rail industry is competitive and fair. We are also the monitor of Highways England and we have economic regulatory functions in relation to railways in Northern Ireland and for the northern half of the Channel Tunnel, situated in the UK.

ORR and rail safety

Britain now has one of the safest railways in Europe – for passengers and for workers. We regulate health and safety for the entire mainline rail network in Britain, as well as London Underground, light rail, trams and the heritage sector. It's our responsibility to ensure that  those responsible make Britain's railways safe for passengers and provide a safe place for staff to work.

Our role includes:

  • providing health and safety guidance and conducting research to promote continuous improvement
  • publishing reports on the rail industry's health and safety performance
  • carrying out inspections to ensure that the train and freight operating companies and Network Rail manage both passenger and occupational health and safety risks appropriately
  • investigating breaches of health and safety regulation on the railways
  • taking informal and formal enforcement action, including improvement notices and prosecutions.

Our team of more than 100 rail health and safety inspectors and professionals are respected across the network and have significant powers of enforcement. Their remit is to ensure that the railway is safe, and is kept safe, at a reasonably practicable cost.

ORR and Network Rail

The railway network needs to be run for the benefit of the whole country. We regulate Network Rail, holding it to account for delivering high levels of performance and service, as well as good value for money – for passengers, the freight industry and taxpayers.

Important changes to the structure of the railways, such as the reclassification of Network Rail as a public track and stations owner, mean we must play a vital role in holding the rail industry to account for public benefit.  It also falls to us to make often tough choices about operator access.

Continued growth presents big challenges and has increased the importance of our role in protecting the interests of users.  A primary role for us is to enforce consumer law and compliance with the conditions contained in Network Rail’s and train operators’ licences, to help ensure that all rail users get the service to which they are entitled.

ORR and HS1

We regulate the High Speed 1 line between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. This line is operated by HS1 Ltd, and is separate to the rest of the national railway network operated by Network Rail, but ORR regulates it in much the same way. This includes holding HS1 to account for its performance, service and value for money for passengers and the freight industry.

Our role includes:

  • Validating the targets for performance and efficiency agreed between HS1 and its customers
  • Monitoring HS1's delivery against performance and efficiency targets
  • Reviewing and approving HS1's spending plans
  • Publishing reports on HS1's efficiency and performance
  • Making sure that HS1 complies with the obligations of its concession from government
  • Monitoring the way in which HS1 looks after the physical railway network
  • Taking action if HS1 is not meeting its obligations

ORR: fair access and fair treatment

Our role is to ensure fair access to a rail network which is becoming increasingly congested.

It's vital that railway customers and taxpayers benefit from competitive railway markets and that passengers are treated fairly. ORR licenses train companies and plays a key role in enforcing competition and consumer law across the railway industry.

Our role includes:

  • licensing the companies that operate Britain's trains, stations, light maintenance depots and networks
  • approving network access agreements for passenger and freight train companies
  • investigating companies believed to be involved in anti-competitive practices
  • protecting passengers from breaches of consumer law

The Department for Transport, Transport Scotland and the Welsh Government are responsible for letting franchises to the train operating companies in England, Scotland and Wales, and for regulating passenger fares.

ORR and customers

Our rail and road networks exist for the benefit of those who use them: rail passengers freight customers, and road users.

While decisions on the structure and funding of the rail industry are matters for government, rail regulation, specifically, needs to adapt regularly to a changing industry, and the changing needs of customers and wider society. Over time, the roads industry must do the same and our role will be to report on this.

The government says that it wants to put passengers at the heart of our railways – and ORR has a big part to play as the independent regulator. We want to see a railway that balances the interests of investors, customers, taxpayers and the industry. Although we do not regulate fares, ensuring that passengers get a safe, high-performing service is extremely important.

Our role includes:

  • holding Network Rail to account for providing a punctual and reliable service to passengers and the freight industry
  • requiring Network Rail to reduce disruption from engineering works
  • making sure that train operating companies provide reliable and timely passenger information for planning travel – and take action when things go wrong
  • ensuring customers have a say in how improvement projects are carried out
  • enforcing compliance with disability regulations
  • carrying out research and publishing information about passenger issues, such as ticketing
  • investigating when passengers say their complaints have not been dealt with properly by the train companies
  • working with independent passenger watchdogs like Passenger Focus
  • looking after the rights of disabled passengers
  • overseeing passenger complaints and investigating when passengers don't feel that the industry has addressed these properly.

We also work to ensure that freight customers benefit from improved safety, efficiency and capacity.

ORR and Highways England

Britain’s roads are attracting increasing traveller numbers which means, more than ever, that road users’ interests need to be protected. Highways England, as the sole strategic highways authority, needs to be monitored accordingly.

Our job as Highways Monitor, is to ensure Highways England delivers its major programme of investment and other performance commitments.

Road traffic is increasing, in line with the wider economy. This will further increase pressure on the network and Highways England is delivering a £15 billion investment programme in England’s strategic road network up until 2019-20. It is our job to report on Highways England’s progress in delivering this investment, on budget and to time.