Safety Regulation for Light Railways

Safety Regulation for Light Railways

Cities around the world are investing in metros, light railways and trams to help reduce traffic congestion and harmful emissions. The systems are very different in scale, purpose and the technologies they employ, but safe operation is always vital to their success. Smaller systems have fewer resources and limited safety performance data, so require different approaches to safety management than their heavy rail counterparts. These differences are reflected in how the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) regulates light railways and tramways in the UK.


For a variety of historical and operational reasons, tramways are treated differently to other railway systems in the UK. Indeed, the definition of a railway in ROGS (the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems Regulations 2006) states explicitly that it “does not include a tramway”. A key differentiator is the fact that trams operate by line of sight but, in practice, most UK trams also operate as light rail systems on dedicated lines.

Light Railways

The ORR defines light rail as “…an urban rail transportation system that uses electric-powered rail cars along exclusive rights-of-way at ground level, on aerial structures, in tunnels, or occasionally in streets. The operation is under full signal control and the current UK systems have full automatic train protection.”

Light railways operating in the UK (all of which opened after 1980) include:

  • The Tyne & Wear Metro and Docklands Light Railway
  • Tramways in Birmingham, Croydon, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield
  • Automated People Movers at Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports.

Relevance of ROGS

ROGS were introduced to implement the 2004 European Railway Safety Directive in the UK, which created a common framework for railway safety across the European Union. The aim was to remove barriers to trade and the operation of international rail services, but ORR extended ROGS to non-mainline railways so that there was a common framework for safety across all forms of guided transport.

Although there are fewer obligations on non-mainline systems, light railways must still:

  • Implement a Safety Management System, including procedures to introduce new/altered vehicles/infrastructure safely.
  • For changes that could introduce significant risk, an Independent Competent Person must be employed to oversee the safety assurance process (ORR calls this ‘safety verification’).
  • Systems operating above 40 km/h must apply for a safety certificate (for train operation) and safety authorisation (for infrastructure operation).
  • Carry out risk assessments and implement necessary safety measures.
  • Cooperate with other Operators to ensure the transport system is run safely.
  • Ensure that people who carry out safety critical tasks are competent and fit to do so.

If you need help developing your Safety Management System, applying for a safety certificate/ authorisation or overseeing the safety verification of an important change to your system, please contact us.