Background to operator licensing

Operator licences

Licences help ensure operators are 'fit and proper' to run a railway - applicants must satisfy requirements as to good repute, professional safety competence, financial fitness and insurance cover for civil liabilities. Through licensing we promote effective and efficient working relationships between industry parties and we can hold individual operators to account in the public interest.

European licences

The Railway (Licensing of Railway Undertakings) Regulations 2005 require most people who want to operate passenger trains or freight trains in Great Britain to hold an appropriate European licence. We can issue these licences following a statutory consultation process and in principle they are valid in any EEA state.

We grant two types of European licence:

  • European passenger licence: Authorises a railway company to run passenger trains. This type of licence is typically held by passenger train operators who run on the mainline.
  • European freight licence: Authorises a railway company to run freight trains. This type of licence is typically held by freight train operators who run on the mainline.

Statement of National Regulatory Provisions (SNRP)

A European licence holder operating in GB must also have and comply with a Statement of National Regulatory Provisions (an SNRP) that we issue. We use the conditions in an SNRP to bring consistency with operators granted a Railways Act licence and to promote effective and efficient working relationships between industry parties. For example, conditions can bind operators into common arrangements and standards for ticketing, complaints handling, disability policies and passenger information that we can enforce.

Railways Act 1993 - licences

Section 6 of the Railways Act 1993 makes it an offence to act as the operator of a railway asset without holding a Railways Act licence or licence exemption. These licences cover some operations not covered by the 2005 Regulations.

This applies to all railway asset operators regardless of the scale of operations and includes operators of privately owned freight terminals and other minor networks. Railway assets are trains, networks, stations and light maintenance depots. An operator is "the person having management of that railway asset for the time being".

Railways Act licences are issued on the same criteria as European licences. However, the conditions are in the licence itself rather than in a separate SNRP.

Types of licences

There are five different Railways Act licences, one for each category of railway asset:

  • Network licence: Authorises a person to be the operator of a network, and trains being used on a network for any purpose comprised in the operation of the network.
  • Passenger train licence: Authorises a person to be the operator of a train being used on a network for the purpose of carrying passengers by railway.
  • Non-passenger train licence: Authorises a person to be the operator of other trains being used on a network. This is the type of licence held by some rail maintenance and renewal companies.
  • Station licence: Authorises a person to operate one or more specified stations.
  • Light maintenance depot licence: Authorises a person to operate one or more specified light maintenance depots.