This guidance explains how leaving the EU without a deal would affect rail travel and what it would mean for:

  • rail passenger and freight operators
  • rail passengers

For rail specifically, as set out in the government’s recent White paper on the future economic partnership, we are seeking bilateral arrangements with France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as Ireland, to facilitate the continued smooth functioning of cross-border rail services.

Beyond those cross-border services, we will have the flexibility to shape our own domestic railway legislation to meet the needs of our passengers and freight shippers, and reflect the unique characteristics of the rail network within the UK.

In any scenario, most of our services are domestic, so much will continue as it always has in practice. Above all the UK’s exit from the EU will not affect railway safety, which will remain the number one priority.

As with all of our EU exit work so far, we remain committed to working closely with the industry and other stakeholders. This is an essential part of planning for all eventualities.

There are a number of cross-cutting issues and we know from our engagement with industry that these issues are of particular importance to them. This notice should be read in conjunction with the technical notices on:

This notice is not designed to cover border infrastructure or checks.

Before 29 March 2019 (may also apply to new exit date on 31 December 2020)

EU law sets out:

  • rules for how the rail market can be structured, for example, the procurement of rail franchise contracts
  • the rights that passengers have when travelling by rail

Much of this law has been informed by the UK’s experience over the past 25 years – as the UK has led the way on areas such as competitive tendering of franchises. In addition, UK industry has shared its knowledge and expertise with European partners.

In order to operate a service legally, either domestic or cross-border, an operator must obtain certain licences, certificates and authorisations from an EU rail regulator and, in certain cases, from the safety authority in an EU country.

In the UK the safety authority is the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), or the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland, or the Intergovernmental Commission for the Channel Tunnel.

For market access purposes, the most important document is a European operator licence issued by the ORR under rules set by the EU.

After March 2019 if there’s no deal

In the event of ‘no deal’ on leaving the EU, we would still be able to pursue bilateral agreements with EU countries to maintain cross-border services. We are seeking mutual recognition of all necessary documentation so that operators from the UK and the EU can continue to operate cross-border services without disruption after exit. Given the large amount of trade and citizens travelling on these services it is in both sides’ interests to agree to such arrangements. Passengers using cross-border services are responsible for ensuring that their insurance and ticket terms and conditions are sufficient to cover possible disruption.

Through the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 we will bring EU law onto the UK statute book on exit day. The act, and some minor amendments we are making to the retained legislation, will ensure that the statute book works effectively after exit day. We would also continue to meet our obligations as a member of the Convention concerning international carriage by rail (COTIF) in all scenarios.

The vast majority of domestic passenger and freight services operating in the UK or the EU have subsidiaries in the relevant country and an operator licence issued there under EU law. Operators can also use documentation issued in one EU country to run services in another.

The technical notice issued by the Commission indicates that, if there’s no deal, operator licences issued by the ORR (as the UK’s licensing authority) to operators currently operating in the EU would not remain valid in the EU after EU exit.

We want to give businesses greater clarity and continuity and are therefore proposing to recognise operator licences in the UK that have been issued by another EU country for 2 years following exit day in a ‘no deal’ scenario. At this point an operator wishing to run services in the UK would need to apply to the ORR for UK documentation. We are already aligned with EU law in this area, so we anticipate that this would have a minimal impact on business and we would work with the ORR to ensure the application process is reasonable and proportionate.

Arrangements for cross-border services would be subject to any bilateral arrangements that the UK negotiates with individual EU countries. In the absence of any bilateral or multilateral arrangements between the UK and relevant EU countries before 29 March 2019 (may also apply to new exit date on 31 December 2020), cross-border operators would be subject to the same recognition principles in relation to operator licences as outlined in this notice.

What you would need to do

Operator Licences

For GB-based domestic operators operating on ORR-issued licences, there will be no impact from a ‘no deal’ scenario. This also includes subsidiaries of EU and non-EU owned operators where they use ORR-issued licences.

For operators in GB using licences issued by another EU country, your licenses will remain valid for up to 2 years from exit day. At this point you would need to apply to the ORR for a GB licence to continue operating, although you would not need to be established in the UK.

For operators running domestic services in another EU country who hold an ORR-issued licence, the Commission’s technical notice states that you would need to re-apply for an operator licence in an EU country. This also applies to UK-based operators seeking to run new domestic services in an EU country.

In order to ensure certainty, we encourage those who need to re-apply for an operator licence to begin this process as soon as possible.

Arrangements for operators of cross-border services would be subject to bilateral arrangements that the UK negotiates with individual EU countries. In the absence of any bilateral or multilateral arrangements between the UK and relevant EU countries before March 2019, cross-border operators would be subject to the same recognition principles in relation to licences covered in this notice.

Rail passenger rights

As a rail passenger in the UK, using either domestic or cross-border services, your rights would remain unchanged.

Most of your rights as a UK domestic rail passenger come from requirements set out in domestic franchising and licensing arrangements. These domestic protections will not change when we leave the EU. Passengers on cross-border services will continue to be protected by the EU regulation on rail passengers’ rights, which will be brought into UK law by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

Rail freight corridor

A rail freight corridor (RFC) is constituted of railway lines, linking 2 or more terminals along a predefined principal route crossing more than one EU country. For each RFC, a dedicated governance structure is established. The UK will no longer be a member of the North Sea – Mediterranean rail freight corridor. The impact of this, however, will be minimal as the corridor has only ever been used once in the UK.

More information

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The department would like to thank all our stakeholders for all their engagement and input to date. We value the rail supply chain in the UK and we will continue to work closely with them and all our industry stakeholder regarding the appropriate preparations.

We will publish more information in the coming months. We aim to give businesses and individuals as much certainty as possible as soon as we can, and to ensure that any new requirements are not unduly burdensome.

This notice is meant for guidance only. You should consider whether you need separate professional advice before making specific preparations.

It is part of the government’s on-going programme of planning for all possible outcomes. We expect to negotiate a successful deal with the EU.

The UK government is clear that in this scenario we must respect our unique relationship with Ireland, with whom we share a land border and who are co-signatories of the Belfast Agreement. The UK government has consistently placed upholding the Agreement and its successors at the heart of our approach. It enshrines the consent principle on which Northern Ireland’s constitutional status rests. We recognise the basis it has provided for the deep economic and social cooperation on the island of Ireland. This includes North-South cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which we’re committed to protecting in line with the letter and spirit of Strand two of the Agreement.

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