British Railway industry organisations and responsibilities

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The derailment of the ScotRail 0638 Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street service on 12 August 2020 resulted in the tragic deaths of three people and injuries to six others. The service was operated by a High Speed Train, made up of two Class 43 power cars and four Mark III coaches.  The response to this incident has highlighted just how many organisations are involved in regulating, managing and providing Scotland’s rail service.   To aid understanding in Parliament and for the wider public this post briefly outlines the roles and responsibilities of these organisations, which are listed below in alphabetical order.

Abellio: The current ScotRail franchise is operated by Abellio, a commercial offshoot of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways). ScotRail operates approximately 95% of passenger train services in Scotland.

Angel Trains: Angel Trains is a major rolling stock leasing company (ROSCO) that owns the High Speed Train, which was leased to Abellio, involved in the derailment near Stonehaven.

Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF): ASLEF is a trade union that represents many train drivers.

British Transport Police (BTP): BTP is the police force for Britain’s railways – D Division, under the command of a Chief Superintendent, covers railways within Scotland.  The Scottish Government decided in March 2019 not to proceed with a proposal to merge the Scottish operations of BTP with Police Scotland.

National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT): The RMT is a trade union which represents many rail staff.

Network Rail: Network Rail operates, maintains, renews, replaces, improves, enhances and develops the majority of rail infrastructure in England, Scotland and Wales.

Network Rail is a public sector, arms-length body of the UK Department for Transport.  Its Board of Directors is responsible to the UK Secretary of State for Transport.  Network Rail is subject to independent economic and safety regulation by the UK Office of Rail and Road (ORR).  The relationship between the UK Government and Network Rail is set out in a framework agreement. The role of Scottish Ministers in Network Rail governance is set out in a Memorandum of Understanding between Scottish Ministers and the UK Department for Transport.

Office of Rail and Road (ORR): The ORR is the economic and safety regulator for the UK rail industry.  Its main tasks are to:

  • ensure that Network Rail manages the network efficiently and in a way that meets the needs of its users
  • encourage continuous improvement in health and safety performance
  • secure compliance with relevant health and safety law, including taking enforcement action where necessary
  • develop policy and enhance relevant railway health and safety legislation
  • license operators of railway assets
  • set the terms for access to the network and other railway facilities by operating companies
  • enforce competition law in the rail sector.

Rail Accident Investigations Branch (RAIB): RAIB inspectors investigate the causes of rail incidents across the UK, independent of Government and the rail industry, with the aim of improving rail safety.  RAIB comes under the remit of the UK Secretary of State for Transport and works with the UK Department for Transport.

Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB): The RSSB is an independent industry-wide body that manages certain mandatory and technical standards for railway assets and railway operations.

Scottish Ministers: Scottish Ministers are responsible for setting the strategy for rail in Scotland and the letting, management and funding of Scottish passenger rail franchises.  These functions are carried out by Transport Scotland, as briefly described below.

Transport Scotland: Transport Scotland, acting on behalf of Scottish Ministers, is responsible for the letting and management of the ScotRail franchise, currently operated by Abellio, and the Caledonian Sleeper franchise, currently operated by SERCO.  It is also responsible for setting the high-level strategy for the maintenance and enhancement of the Scottish rail infrastructure by Network Rail through the High Level Output Specification (HLOS) and associated Statement of Funds Available (SoFA) documents.  In common with other national rail networks, the Scottish rail network cannot cover its costs through fare and freight carriage revenue alone, so the Scottish Government provides funding to Abellio (ScotRail), Serco (Caledonian Sleeper) and Network Rail to allow them to carry out their respective tasks

UK Department for Transport: The Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for GB-wide rail legislation and policy.  It also lets and manages English and cross-border rail franchises (excluding the Caledonian Sleeper franchise), including the east and west coast mainline, cross-country and Transpennine Express franchises which extend into Scotland.  The DfT is also responsible for setting the high-level strategy for the maintenance and enhancement of GB rail infrastructure outside of Scotland by Network Rail through the High Level Output Specification (HLOS) and associated Statement of Funds Available (SoFA) documents.The DfT provides funding to Network Rail for operations in England and Wales and for English and cross-border passenger rail franchises.

Alan Rehfisch, Senior Researcher, Transport and Planning