Coronavirus advice

It is a difficult time for the industries that we work with, and for those that work in them. This page contains our current coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for the railway industry, and a summary of our own working arrangements at the present time.

Advice for the railway industry

Medical fitness and competence assessments for train drivers and other safety critical staff

Updated 2 April 2020

ORR recognises that recent public health advice from the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, may restrict the industry’s ability to meet its safety management arrangements to monitor at normal intervals the competence and fitness of employees who carry out safety-critical work. This may arise from, for example, the need to adhere to advice on restricting face-to-face contact, or from self-isolation causing a reduction in the availability of staff who would normally carry out this monitoring.

ORR has considered the impact of this advice for the railway where a person has duties under Part 4 of the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations (ROGS) in relation to employees carrying out safety critical tasks and has produced this guidance in response. This includes train drivers affected by the Train Driving Licence and Certificate Regulations 2010 – specific additional guidance is included here for employers of these drivers.

Our guide to who has the duties to manage safety critical work is available.

Our guide to train driver licensing and certification requirements is also available.

Our view is the duty to have suitable and sufficient arrangements to monitor competence and fitness remains in place during the COVID-19 outbreak and the assessments for monitoring should be carried out where it is practical to do so. However, ORR also recognises the overall benefits to society of continuing to transport freight and key workers safely throughout these unprecedented circumstances.

Where advice regarding COVID-19 issued by Public Health England, or other advice based on this, means the usual process for carrying out medical examinations cannot be followed at this time, employers of those carrying out safety critical tasks may adjust these systems where necessary while ensuring that staff remain fit for duty.

If a reduction in business activity means that not all safety critical workers are needed for normal operations, then consideration should be given to ensuring that rostering and monitoring arrangements prioritise those who remain required to carry out safety critical activities.

Where an employer is unable to carry out the usual monitoring of competence and fitness (either under ROGS or the TDLCR), the employer should take a risk-based approach and:

  • consider the risks from the individual continuing their role beyond the normal medical/competence review process for a limited period;
  • carry out an assessment of the likely effectiveness of any steps taken to minimise any increase in risk, including:
    • self-declaration by the individual of any changes in their fitness and suitability;
    • any other remote medical/competence assessment methods (questionnaires, telephone interviews etc) which can reasonably be carried out to minimise the potential reduction in risk control necessitated by the public health advice;
    • likely duration of any extension, and arrangements for carrying out the usual medical/ competence monitoring as soon as reasonably practicable; and
    • conditions and arrangements for any further extension, should this appear necessary.
  • Consider the risks likely to arise from the individual being unable to continue their work, including;
    • the criticality of the role in terms of potential impact on safety and the provision of train services; and
    • the availability of other suitable competent and fit staff.

Employers should ensure that any changes to their arrangements for ensuring the medical fitness of staff carrying out safety critical work during the outbreak are informed by advice from competent medical professionals, and include a mechanism for review.

We encourage the industry, where practical, to take a consistent approach to managing the delivery and validity of medical assessments. Mainline operators are encouraged to take into account the processes for safety critical workers and train drivers developed by the Rail Delivery Group for use during the this time.

Employers should consider the arrangements for monitoring safety critical workers who are on enhanced monitoring plans, for example as post-incident mitigation, to maintain an appropriate level of support and assurance.

We expect employers to record the information from any such process and the resulting decision, as is required for any risk assessment.

When employers recruit persons into roles that carry out safety critical work during the virus’ outbreak, a person should not be employed to undertake safety critical tasks until such time as a medical examination is able to be carried out.

We may ask employers to provide evidence of any adjusted monitoring process. ORR inspectors may request documentary evidence of the interim arrangements employers put in place.

Additional guidance for mainline operators relating to licensed train drivers only

Updated 2 April 2020

In addition to the arrangements described above, licensed train drivers are subject to specific requirements concerning the periodicity of medical and competence assessments in order to maintain the validity of their documentation. Where it is not practical for assessments to be carried out and passed within the regulated timescale, employers must notify ORR about those drivers who are being retained on driving duties where they have not passed the medical examinations or maintained competence at the intervals required under the regulations.

ORR will maintain the validity of affected licences provided operators notify us that affected drivers are subject to the monitoring requirements of the regulations and that there is no reason to call into question their competence or fitness to hold a licence.  Employers should also notify ORR and give reasons where drivers have been removed from driving duties.  The purpose of these notifications is to support our monitoring of the industry’s management of this issue and to ensure the register of licensed drivers remains up to date. All notifications referred to in this paragraph should be sent to us by email at TDL.Applications@orr.gov.uk.

As the public health advice changes about the COVID-19 outbreak we will update this guidance accordingly.

Engineering standards requirements for periodic inspection and maintenance

ORR recognises that recent public health advice from the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, may restrict the industry’s ability to meet their normal inspection and maintenance requirements contained in their engineering standards. This may arise from, for example, the need to adhere to advice on restricting face-to-face contact, or from self-isolation causing a reduction in the availability of staff who would normally carry out this monitoring.

If transport bodies need to move away from normal periodicity for inspection and maintenance due to lack of staff then a competent person will need to carry out a risk assessment and record their findings.

The following principles should be applied:

  1. Apply a risk-based approach to reviewing and conducting inspection and maintenance activities.
  2. Prioritise inspection and reactive maintenance activities most critical to maintaining safe operation of the railway and the safety of passengers, public and workforce.
  3. Record work that hasn’t been done, any mitigation, and when a further review is required.
  4. Any proposed changes to inspection or maintenance activities should be validated by another appropriate competent person in line with the organisation’s safety management system.
  5. Record all variations to standards.
  6. Keep all changes under review, to take account of changing railway operating characteristics, asset condition, and resource availability.

Practical guidance for operators on implementing COVID-19 public health advice on trains, trams and stations

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and the Rail Delivery Group have worked together on practical guidance for on-train and station activities to minimise the health risks to staff and passengers from COVID-19, supporting the public health advice from the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in response to the pandemic.

We expect operators to take every opportunity in their communication with passengers, the public and other stakeholders to discourage all non-essential travel in line with current public health advice. This advice may change frequently, and further restrictions introduced, so operators should ensure information is kept up to date. Operators should also communicate information about busy train times for those making essential journeys which they may wish to avoid.

Train operators should take the following measures where practicable. We recognise that some specific steps may be more challenging in certain operating environments, but it is vital that all operators do their utmost to support the key principles of cleanliness, social distancing and prioritising essential travel only:

On trains

  • Practise and facilitate social distancing, encouraging passengers and staff to keep 2m (or 3 steps) apart where possible. Approaches to this should take into account that, if a train is crowded, passengers may become unsettled by regular announcements about social distancing.
  • Drivers should be alone in the cab, unless there is an essential operational reason for another person being present, for example an emergency track inspection or essential training. Alternative arrangements for in-cab assessments of drivers should be introduced. Where train crew need access to other cabs in the train, they should do so alone.
  • Consider train crew opening and closing all platform facing doors during station duties to minimise passengers having to operate door controls. Train managers should only undertake door duties and emergency actions.
  • On-train revenue protection should be minimised to reduce contact between staff and passengers. Cash payments should be discouraged.
  • Stop providing catering and close buffet counters on all services. Operators are encouraged to ask displaced staff to support additional cleaning activities.
  • Ensure regular cleaning - with a substance that kills the virus - of surfaces that staff and passengers are likely to touch. Pay particular attention to driving cab controls, door controls, grab handles and toilet door handles.
  • Passengers exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 – persistent cough and/or a high temperature - on board should be isolated in a carriage, or else placed at least 2m away from other passengers, as soon as can be achieved. Assistance should be provided for passengers with symptoms to alight the train if necessary. In this situation assisting staff should thoroughly wash/sanitise their hands as soon as possible, the assisting staff should then self-isolate in accordance with Government advice. The coach should be cleaned before re-entering service.

At stations and on platforms

  • Train operators should maintain an appropriate level of staffing to ensure suitable and sufficient levels of security and control at stations.
  • Remind passengers about the Government guidance on travel restrictions, by way of visual and audible messages.
  • Staff should discourage passengers exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 from entering the station and travelling, but should not compromise social distancing in doing so.
  • Encourage passengers, unless in family/household groups, to sit or stand 2m apart. Poster graphics may help to illustrate spacing on trains.
  • Discourage cash payments at booking offices and retail outlets. If staff must handle cash, hands should be washed or sanitised immediately afterwards.
  • Consider closing waiting rooms, opening them only during inclement weather if absolutely necessary and considering any additional supervision measures that may be needed to support effective social distancing.
  • Operators should maintain customer assistance arrangements. Passengers should be encouraged to contact the relevant train operating company as soon as possible to discuss their requirements. However, pre-booking assistance is still not required.

Supporting staff

  • All staff should be reminded to wash their hands frequently, ideally with soap and water or alternatively using a hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Vulnerable staff should be protected – this will be all those with the conditions identified in the Government’s COVID-19 guidance. They should all be self-isolating and you will need to consider how you support staff who live with someone who is vulnerable and self-isolating.

We advise operators to keep the above measures in place until the Government instructs that COVID-19 controls can be relaxed.

RIDDOR reporting and COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus)

General information on reporting RIDDOR incidents and occupational diseases is available on our website. This note provides supplementary details specifically for COVID-19.

Advice for rail passengers

  1. The government has advised people against non-essential travel: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
  2. If your journey is essential and you need to go by train, please check your journey before you set out as train services have been reduced and may be subject to change: http://ojp.nationalrail.co.uk/service/planjourney/search
  3. Keep 2m (6feet) away from staff and other passengers;
  4. Buy tickets before travelling at ticket offices or purchase from ticket machines where possible;
  5. Payment by contactless card is encouraged in all circumstances;
  6. Catering on trains has been ceased or significantly reduced – buy any food or drinks you require before travel;
  7. If you require assistance to travel you are not required to book ahead but are recommended to contact your train operator before travel to discuss your journey. Train operators are contacting anyone with an existing booking to discuss how they can help with your journey;
  8. You can claim a fee-free refund* on all Advance tickets purchased before 7am on the 23rd of March. Check with your train operator or ticket retailer for further details and how to claim;
  9. You can receive a refund* on your season ticket but the administrative fee and refund calculation remain unchanged. Check with your train operator or ticket retailer for further details and how to claim;
  10. All companies are processing a high volume of refund claims at this time and it may take longer than usual for responses. This applies to ticket refunds, claims for delay compensation and complaints.

*If you are travelling with an open access operator or a concession operator such as Eurostar, Grand Central, Heathrow Express, Hull Trains, Transport for London or Merseyrail - please check their websites for specific details.

We will update this page if travel information or advice changes. For further UK transport and travel advice please visit GOV.UK guidance.

ORR working arrangements

To protect our staff and to help reduce the spread of the virus, most of our staff are now working remotely, in line with government advice.

This will not affect our ability to work effectively, as ORR is well set up to do most of our work online and via mobile.

In practical terms it does mean we will communicate more frequently by email and will conduct meetings by phone and video, instead of face-to-face.

We do not expect there to be any large-scale disruption to our core processes, and our health and safety teams will continue to carry out their role.

We recognise that there will be considerable pressures on those within the rail and road industries during this period. We want to assure stakeholders that we will be as pragmatic as possible in how we work, given the challenges faced. We will provide support and advice wherever we can.

Further information