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Heritage rail vehicle standards

Flying Scotsman at Sutton Bonnington

​Every year, thousands of tourists travel on chartered excursions by rail on the GB mainline railway using historic steam and diesel locomotives and rolling stock.

The sight and sound of these older trains bring joy to many, but their very nature can trigger challenges to those responsible for their operation and maintenance. In some cases, rail vehicles will still need to meet modern requirements for which they were never originally intended to meet, such as applying modern signalling protection systems like TPWS or the requirements for rail vehicle accessibility. In other cases, allowances and exceptions have to be made to enable older vehicles to run.

Heritage rail vehicles are formally registered as “heritage” in R2 (the Rolling Stock Library), and the term will usually cover locomotives and rolling stock that is to be (re)introduced to the mainline for use on heritage services only. These may have been based away from the national network on a private, preserved railway or museum, or been subject to reconstruction, possibly from scrapyard condition or even as replicas from scratch using historic design drawings.

There are requirements which heritage operators will need to meet in order to run their trains on the national rail network, and some of these will be derived from legal obligations, such as the Railway Safety Regulations 1999.

We are helping people involved in the engineering, operation and maintenance of heritage rail vehicles with a suite of new standards designed to help them meet these requirements for use on the national rail network.

Three new standards with the rail industry and heritage interests underwent consultation and will be published in December 2017: 

  • RIS-4472-RST – Technical requirements for heritage vehicles
  • RIS-2003-RST – Certification of heritage vehicles
  • RIS-3440-TOM – Operation of heritage trains
Flying Scotsman at Sutton Bonnington

60103 Flying Scotsman passing Sutton Bonington - Photo: Tom Clements

A track record of heritage

Britain’s railways have a track record of celebrating their own heritage and history. As early as the 1930s, the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society was running rail tours with a preserved steam locomotive from the 1870s.

By the end of the 1960s steam locomotives had been withdrawn from the mainline network. However, a limited programme of steam rail tours was approved on designated routes in the 1970s and this continued throughout the BR era.

Flying Scotsman at the platform

In the 1990s, privatisation introduced the principle of open access, which gave heritage operators the opportunity to expand mainline charter services further.

Railway Group Standards mandated certain requirements on steam locomotive owners and operators to ensure they had the right certification to prove they were sufficiently rail-worthy (GM/RT2003 Certification Requirements for Registration of Steam Locomotives), and were operated safely and reliably (GO/RT3440 Steam Locomotive Operation).

However, these were not significantly detailed, and in the 2000s, the legislation and regulation underpinning railways was changing, as was the nature of heritage operation, and the old standards became obsolete (and in any case didn’t cover heritage diesel locomotives and passenger vehicles).

Meeting today’s requirements

In order for the railway to allow heritage vehicles to run, owners and operators need to be able to demonstrate that they have met a range of industry-agreed requirements.

By doing this, they can give Network Rail, train and freight operating companies and the regulator, ORR, confidence that they can be excluded from overarching interoperability and safety regulations.

Previously, this was managed by granting derogations permitting all or part of individual Railway Group Standards to be waived. However, this did not fully address the inherent risks associated with heritage rail vehicles in all cases.

Instead, this process will be replaced and improved upon with a dedicated suite of new standards intended to cover all engineering and operational aspects to support safe operation of heritage vehicles and heritage trains on the GB mainline railway.

The new standards give greater recognition to the nature of today’s heritage charter train movement and also help respond to a specific recommendation from RAIB following its investigation into a signal passed at danger by a steam-hauled charter train at Wootton Bassett.

RIS-4472-RST – Technical requirements for heritage vehicles

This provides a set of engineering requirements and guidance for use by owners, restorers and builders of heritage rail vehicles.

It sets out the engineering requirements for heritage rail vehicles (including steam locomotives), using a combination of proven, historic design, compliance with specific standards where required for network compatibility and previously accepted rationale arguments for deviations.

The requirements are broken down into several distinct areas:

  • Requirements for all heritage rail vehicles, including overall vehicle condition (this focusses on the effects of long term fatigue and corrosion which can affect vehicles that are approaching or indeed gone beyond their expected design life), track interaction and gauging, wheelsets and bearings, vehicle ride, speed and braking, external lights and other visible or audible warning devices, the driver's cab and controls, and train safety systems.
  • Specific, additional requirements for steam locomotives, including boilers, cylinders, motion and valve gear and fire safety performance.
  • Specific, additional requirements for heritage diesel and electric locomotives / multiple units, including diesel engines, electrical power supplies, transformers and generators, traction motors and final drives.
  • Specific, additional requirements for heritage passenger vehicles, including reference to the existing exclusions from the Railway Safety Regulations 1999, permitting continued use of Mark I vehicles and ‘slam doors’ without central door locking, the requirements of the Rail Vehicle Access Regulations, passenger interiors and fire and evacuation.
  • Requirements for maintenance arrangements and competency management.

RIS-2003-RST– Certification of heritage vehicles

This document defines the certification and registration requirements for heritage rail vehicles to enable them to be registered for operation on the GB mainline railway.

The requirements cover two distinct types of certification and registration activities:

  • Requirements for heritage rail vehicles already in operation, including periodic independent examination and re-certification according to a recognised certification scheme. This includes a dedicated appendix for steam locomotives.
  • Requirements for heritage rail vehicles that have been subject to a major engineering project leading to either first operation as a heritage rail vehicle or re-introduction as a heritage rail vehicle following a prolonged absence from the GB mainline railway. This includes new build vehicle or types recreated from existing components. Associated appendices include the content of an Engineering Condition Report that the heritage vehicle owner is required to compile and a risk assessment template and guidance for use on major projects.
  • RIS-2003-RST is linked to RIS-4472-RST in that the latter standard contains the principal requirements that RIS-2003-RST seeks to demonstrate compliance against. RIS-2003-RST is also cited as the criteria in the DfT’s exclusion statement for heritage rail vehicles in respect of the Interoperability Regulations.

RIS-3440-TOM – Operation of heritage trains

Flying Scotsman engine

This sets out requirements for managing the planning and operation of heritage train services on the GB mainline railway, including empty coaching stock and light engine movements.

The operator – or Railway Undertaking – has a range of requirements to meet. These cover examination and documentation about the fitness to run, train preparation, fitness for duty of all relevant personnel, crewing arrangements, competence, the personnel in the driving cab, visibility, speed, station working and dispatch.

There are also some requirements on the infrastructure manager around planning movements in relation to the location of overhead line equipment, and managing the risk of fire.

RIS-3440-TOM is linked to RIS-2003-RST in that heritage train services are those formed of one or more heritage rail vehicles, certificated under RIS-2003-RST. RIS-3440-TOM is also cited as the criteria in the ORR’s exclusion statement for heritage rail vehicles in respect of ROGS.

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