Our functions

Our safety and economic functions are driven by EU and UK legislation – and we are accountable to Parliament and the public.

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 the UK section of the Channel Tunnel.

ORR and rail safety

Britain 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. We want to make sure that our railways are safe not just a safe mode of transport but also a safe place 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 safety inspectors and professionals are respected across the industry and they have significant powers of enforcement. They 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, means we must play a vital role in holding the rail industry to account for public benefit.  It also falls to us to make 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’ licenses, 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 keep adapting 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 that Highways England delivers its major programme of investment and other performance commitments. 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.

ORR and Northern Ireland

The Railways Infrastructure (Access, Management and Licensing of Railway Undertakings) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (the NI Regulations) implement European Directives, which open up access to networks and service facilities. They contain provisions relating to access, infrastructure management and allocation of capacity, and charging.

ORR is not the safety regulator in Northern Ireland.

Our role in Northern Ireland includes:

  • ensuring that the charges imposed by the infrastructure manager (NIR Networks Ltd) in Northern Ireland for the use of its railway infrastructure comply with the requirements of the NI Regulations.
  • monitoring the rail services markets, which we will do through reviewing the Northern Ireland infrastructure manager’s annual network statement and ensuring it addresses any deficiencies we may identify.
  • ensuring that there is accounting separation between the infrastructure manager and the railway undertaking (NIR Operations Ltd), which is in accordance with the NI Regulations.
  • acting as the appeal body for applicants who believe they have been unfairly treated, discriminated against, or are in any other way aggrieved or against a decision made by an infrastructure manager, service provider or railway undertaking, in relation to certain matters.

Regulation 31 of the NI Regulations sets out the various duties to which ORR must have regard when carrying out its functions under the NI Regulations.

ORR and the Channel Tunnel

We regulate the Channel Tunnel together with ARAFER, which has economic regulatory functions in relation to railways in France and the half of the Channel Tunnel that is situated in French territory. The Channel Tunnel is operated by the private companies France Manche SA and The Channel Tunnel Group Limited, which trade jointly under the name of Eurotunnel.

Our role in in relation to the Channel Tunnel includes:

  • ensuring that the charges imposed by Eurotunnel for the use of its railway infrastructure comply with the requirements of the GB Regulations
  • monitoring the rail services markets, which we will do through reviewing Eurotunnel’s annual network statement and ensuring it addresses any deficiencies we may identify
  • ensuring that there is accounting separation in accordance with the GB Regulations
  • acting as appeal body for applicants who believe they have been unfairly treated, discriminated against or are in any other way aggrieved or against a decision made by Eurotunnel, a service provider or railway undertaking in relation to certain matters.

The Railways (Access, Management and Licensing of Railway Undertakings) Regulations 2016 (the GB Regulations) implement Directive 2012/34/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 establishing a single European railway area (recast) in Great Britain (i.e. England, Wales and Scotland). The GB Regulations open up access to networks and service facilities, and contain provisions relating to access, infrastructure management and allocation of capacity and charging.