Emphasising the Importance of Rail Industry Standards in Licence Conditions
The Railways Act 1993 requires train operators, infrastructure managers and stations operators to have a licence from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). These licences contain requirements for these organisations to become members of RSSB; comply with Railway Group Standards (RGSs); and comply with the RGS Code which sets out the governance for the management of RGSs.
Being members of RSSB brings these organisations a vast range of additional benefits, products and services. They also have the opportunity to collaborate with peers to share data, sponsor research and capture best practice in standards and guidance documents, such as Rail Industry Standards (RISs).
On 26 February, ORR issued a letter and a statutory notice regarding changes to licence and Statement of National Regulatory Provisions (SNRP) conditions for train operators, asking for responses by 26 March 2019. These changes reflect the changes to Network Rail's licence condition that came into force on 1 April 2019.
A key change is related to the obligation to comply with RISs. RISs are standards agreed by the industry through Standards Committees. Organisations can use them to address hazards, manage compatibility or meet contractual and legal requirements. Currently licences do not explicitly require the use of RISs. ROGS – or to give the precise reference - the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (as amended) Schedule 1 SMS (2) (c) - does require licence holders to have procedures to meet 'relevant' technical and operational standards in their safety management systems. However, these 'relevant' standards are not restricted to Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs) and National Rules in Railway Group Standards (RGSs), RISs and other standards are available for our members to apply so that they can comply with the law.
The problem is, the current licence conditions do not explicitly recognise the existence of other standards beyond RGSs. Changes brought about through the European legal framework restricted the type of requirements permitted in an RGS, so many requirements formerly in RGSs were transferred to RISs. We (RSSB) continued to revise standards and produce new ones as asked by the rail industry, and these were mainly RISs. We witnessed growing industry concern and confusion around the status of RISs. And there were requests for a legal obligation to consider them when designing or operating the railway system.
Working with the ORR, we've done extensive work examining different options. These lead to a proposal to change to the licence conditions. In March 2018, the ORR sponsored a paper with different options to the Industry Standards Coordination Committee (ISCC); ISCC made recommendations to the ORR to address this issue. ORR has since collaborated further with Network Rail and RSSB to finalise changes to Network Rail's licence conditions followed by an industry consultation which supported the changes. The Network Rail licence condition changes came into force on the 1 April. That consultation was about reflecting the relevant changes made to Network Rail's licence in the licence conditions of other parties such as train and station operators.
The proposed change requires licence holders to comply with RISs unless they (after having consulted with affected parties) identify and implement an equally effective alternative to achieve the purpose of the standard. This change will ensure that RISs are considered by licence holders and indirectly their suppliers and other parties as key industry standards with a force of law behind them.
This also means that an increasingly large part of the RSSB and industry's standards portfolio now has clear and unambiguous recognition by the regulator and by extension it ensures that the industry is more likely to adopt and promote standardisation of industry-agreed good practice as opposed to implementing divergent solutions. It will also provide legal clarity to those who are engaged in projects and commercial agreements where the use of different standards is key aspect that needs to be agreed early in the design process.
This requirement to consider adoption of RISs does not mean that RISs are the same as RGSs. RGSs are made compulsory as National Technical Rules via the Railway (Interoperability) Regulation 2011 (as amended). If an organisation needs to do something different to an RGS it must apply to RSSB for a deviation. RISs are not mandated by the state in the same way; they are still industry-agreed protocols, not mandatory rules. For RISs, RSSB already has in place a mechanism for organisations that want to seek views of the standards committee when deviating from a RIS. However, this change does ensure that if an organisation does decide to deviate from a RIS then it has an obligation to implement something equally effective and consult with all affected parties.