Railway transport EU issues

The Department has transposed into law in Northern Ireland a series of Directives designed to revitalise the railways and take forward the creation of an integrated European railway area. This is known as the transposition of EU directives on railway interoperability and railway safety.

EU directives on railways

First railway package

The first series of Directives known as the first railway package aims to open up access to the international rail market and to provide for a transparent regulatory regime for the allocation of capacity and charges for access to the rail infrastructure across the EU. The Department (DfI) has transposed the requirements of the First Railway Package in Northern Ireland through one single set of regulations entitled Railways Infrastructure (Access Management, and Licensing of Railway Undertakings) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005. The regulations in Northern Ireland also separately implement parts of the second rail package which opens up the domestic freight market (although there is currently no rail freight market in NI) to competition in each Member State.

Second railway package

The second railway package aims for greater railway safety, interoperability and opening of the rail freight market. The day to day supervision of the health and safety performance of the railway industry in Northern Ireland is undertaken through the Railway Safety Management Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006. The Regulations are aimed at harmonising safety standards on the Northern Ireland railway network, implement the necessary requirements of the EU Railway Safety Directive (RSD) Directive 2004/49/EC and provide for the delivery of an Annual Safety Report to the Department for onward transmission to the European Railway Agency to meet EU obligations.  These regulations also require train operators to hold a certificate approving their safety management systems and for infrastructure managers to hold an authorisation approving their safety management systems.  NIR was granted the appropriate Certificate and Authorisation in June 2008.  The Department may revoke either certificate or authorisation if it is satisfied that the holder is no longer satisfying its conditions.    

The regulations were made under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 as the detail of the Directive applies to the safety of workers and passengers.  This is in line with Government policy to use related domestic legislation, instead of section 2(2) of the European Communities Act, unless there are good reasons to do otherwise. Specifically the new framework for rail safety brings together and streamlines rail safety requirements to secure greater proportionality to risk and reduce costs. Three sets of proposed new Northern Ireland regulations were replaced by one.  This makes safety regulation here more effective, better focused, more coherent, and less bureaucratic; and applies the same principles of regulation to heritage and tourist railways, but only in proportion to risk and the character of the railway operation.

The Department for Transport (DfT) in London has implemented the remaining provisions of the Railway Safety Directive on a UK-wide basis, in part through regulations detailing the functions of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB). The Railway Safety Directive requires Member States to create a regulatory framework for rail safety and a Safety Authority.  In Northern Ireland railway operators are already subject to the general duties in Articles 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978 (HSWO) which set out the level of safety to be achieved for both workers and the public.  

Rail Accident Investigation Branch

Directive 2004/49/EC of the Second Railway Package also introduces a requirement for independent accident investigation in each Member State. In the UK this has been brought forward by the formation of the Rail Accident Investigation Body (RAIB).  

The RAIB established by the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 is established on a UK-wide basis. Its extension to UK-wide coverage was at the request of DfI, to ensure appropriate access to independent investigation.  RAIB is responsible for investigating accidents or incidents on all UK railways.  It is an independent body that investigates in order to improve safety, not to establish blame.  The RAIB must by law investigate all rail accidents involving a derailment or collision which resulted in, or could have resulted in:

  • the death of at least one person
  • serious injury to five or more people
  • extensive damage to rolling stock, the infrastructure or the environment

The RAIB may also investigate other incidents that could affect railway safety, including those which under slightly different circumstances could have led to an accident.  In the Republic of Ireland, the Railway Accident Investigation Unit investigates rail incidents and accidents.  However procedures are in place for close co-operation by both bodies in the event of a railway accident close to the border in either jurisdiction.

Council Directive 2005/47/EC on the Agreement between the Community of European Railways (CER) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) on certain aspects of the working conditions of mobile workers engaged in interoperable cross-border services in the railway sector. The Directive was implemented in Northern Ireland by the Cross Border Railway Services (Working Time) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008.

Third railway package

Further liberalisation of train operations across Europe will come into effect over the nest few years. These proposals - collectively referred to as the third railway package - are the latest in a series designed to revitalise the railways and take forward the creation of an integrated European railway area. The third package is mainly focused on passenger services and certification of train crews and the three main measures in the package are:

  • Directive 2007/58/EC - Liberalisation of the market for operation of international passenger trains. International passenger services within the EU will be opened up to competition from January 1 2010. This latest Directive addresses the opening up or liberalisation of international passenger services within the EU. Its primary effect is to introduce cabotage to international rail services.  Cabotage permits trains undertaking international journeys to pick up and set down domestic travellers on the route of the international service. Effectively cabotage has been in operation on the cross-border Enterprise service since its inception and therefore the change will have no impact on existing services.  However the Department is required to transpose the Directive before 4 June 2009 to avoid infraction proceedings and this was achieved by making a new set of Regulations in Northern Ireland - the Railways Infrastructure (Access Management and Licensing of Railway Undertakings (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009. The Regulations were made on 2 June 2009.
  • Directive 2007/59/EC - Creation of a European licensing system for train drivers.  All drivers will be required to hold a train driver licence stating that they meet minimum requirements relating to medical fitness, basic education and general professional skills. They will also be required to obtain a harmonised complementary certificate desirable from a safety viewpoint on the particular services to be performed by the driver, such as, for example, shunting, maintenance services, passenger or freight services. The Directive was implemented in Northern Ireland by the Train Driver’s Licences and Certificates (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2010.  These regulations require the Department to establish and keep up to date a register containing data relating to each licence issued.  If anyone requires any information in relation to the data contained in the register please write to Mr George Kearns, Department for Infrastructure, Room 301, Transport Policy, Strategy and Legislation Division, Clarence Court, 10-18 Adelaide Street, Belfast, BT2 8GB.
  • EU Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 – on rail passenger’s rights and obligations. The EU Regulation on the rights and obligations of rail passengers was originally intended to apply only to passengers on international journeys but pressure from MEPs extended some rights to passengers on domestic journeys. When the regulation comes into force on 3 December 2009, all rail passengers will enjoy a set of basic rights (covering issues such as train operators' liability for passengers and their luggage, and a basic right to transport for people with reduced mobility. Compensation in the event of delays on cross-border services will be 25% of the fare for a delay of 60 minutes or more and 50% for a delay of 120 minutes or more, provided that the operator can reasonably be held responsible for the delay.
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