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Summaries of EU Legislation

Licensing of railway undertakings

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Licensing of railway undertakings

The White Paper on Transport presents a new package of measures to revitalise the rail sector through the rapid creation of an integrated European rail network. The objective is to speed up market integration by removing major barriers to cross-border services, guaranteeing a high level of safety on the railways and reducing costs as a result of greater harmonisation of technical standards in the rail sector.


Directive 2004/49/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on safety on the Community's railways and amending Council Directive 95/18/EC on the licensing of railway undertakings and Directive 2001/14/EC on the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure and safety certification.


Directive 2004/49/EC

The Directive sets out the essential elements of safety systems for infrastructure managers and railway undertakings. The idea is to develop a harmonised approach to safety and harmonised conditions for the issue, content and period of validity of safety certificates.

The purpose of the Directive is to ensure the development and improvement of safety on the Community's railways and improved access to the market for rail transport services by:

  • harmonising the regulatory structure in the Member States;
  • defining responsibilities between the actors;
  • developing common safety targets and common safety methods with a view to greater harmonisation of national rules;
  • requiring the establishment, in every Member State, of a safety authority and an accident and incident investigating body;
  • defining common principles for the management, regulation and supervision of railway safety.

Member States must ensure that safety rules are laid down, applied and enforced in an open and non-discriminatory manner, fostering the development of a single European rail transport system. The safety rules must be published and made available to all infrastructure managers, railway undertakings, applicants for a safety certificate and applicants for a safety authorisation in clear language that can be understood by the parties concerned.

The Commission may suspend the implementation of a national safety rule for a maximum of six months if there are serious doubts as to the compatibility of the rule with Community legislation, or if the Commission considers that it constitutes a means of arbitrary discrimination between Member States.

In order to be granted access to the railway infrastructure, a railway undertaking must hold a safety certificate which may cover the whole railway network of a Member State or only a defined part thereof.

The purpose of the safety certificate is to provide evidence that the railway undertaking has established its safety management system and can meet requirements laid down in technical specifications for interoperability (TSIs) and other relevant Community legislation. The safety certificate is renewable upon application by the railway undertaking at intervals not exceeding five years.

Member States must ensure that train drivers and staff accompanying the trains, as well as infrastructure managers and their staff performing vital safety tasks have fair and non-discriminatory access to training facilities.

The Directive also introduces the principle of independent accident investigation. Each Member State must ensure that investigations into accidents and incidents are conducted by a permanent body comprising at least one investigator able to perform the function of investigator-in-charge in the event of an accident or incident.

Directive 95/18/EC

The Directive concerns the criteria applicable to the issue, renewal or amendment of operating licences by Member States to railway undertakings established in the Community. Railway undertakings whose activities are limited exclusively to urban, suburban or regional services and railway undertakings and international groupings whose activities are limited to the provision of shuttle services transporting road vehicles through the Channel Tunnel are excluded from the scope of the Directive.

The Member States must designate the body responsible for issuing railway operating licences.

The conditions for obtaining a licence are as follows:

  • railway undertakings may apply for an operating licence if they satisfy the conditions laid down in this Directive;
  • requirements relating to good repute, financial fitness, professional competence and cover for civil liability. Explanations are given of the conditions under which these requirements are met.
  • railway undertakings must cover their civil liability in the event of accidents.

Validity of the licence:

  • the licensing authority may regularly review the situation, at least every five years;
  • the licensing authority may suspend, revoke or amend the operating licence under certain circumstances. The licence may thus be revoked where there is serious doubt regarding compliance with the requirements laid down in the Directive;
  • the railway undertaking shall also comply with those provisions of national law which are compatible with Community law;
  • railway undertakings which provide international transport services shall respect the agreements applicable to international rail transport in force in the Member States in which they operate.

The Member States must ensure that the licensing authority's decisions are subject to judicial review.

Directive 2001/13/EC

The Directive is part of the "rail package" defining a trans-European Rail Freight Network (TERFN). Its purpose is to extend the provisions of Directive 95/18/EC to all railway undertakings established in the Community (except for certain undertakings whose activity is limited to particular services, e.g. local or regional), in order to harmonise their operating conditions on a uniform and non-discriminatory basis and to prevent licensing requirements becoming a barrier to entering the market. The validity of licences is extended throughout the European Union.

An independent body responsible for the issuing of licences and for carrying out the obligations of this Directive must be designated by each Member State.

The Commission can be informed at any time of problems of compatibility between national and Community legislation and it is up to it to decide whether the appropriate follow-up to such information leads to an infringement procedure or another measure.Directive 2001/14/EC

The Directive replaces Directive 95/19/EC. With regard to the allocation of capacity, it includes:

  • a clearer definition of the rights of railway undertakings and infrastructure managers;
  • a procedure for resolving situations in which there are conflicting applications for infrastructure capacity, and overcoming problems caused by lack of capacity:
  • provisions to the effect that the body in charge of capacity allocation must be independent of any railway undertaking;
  • provisions on the right of appeal.

The Directive also provides that charges for the use of infrastructure must be based on the marginal costs (costs directly connected with the use of the railways).

The Directive applies to railway infrastructure used for national and international railway services.



Entry into force - Date of expiry

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal




L 164 of 30.4.04

Amending Acts

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 95/18/EC [adoption: cooperation SYN/1993/0488]



OJ L 143 of 27.06.1995

Directive 2001/13/EC [adoption: codecision COD/1998/0266)]



OJ L 75 of 15.03.2001

Directive 2001/14/EC [adoption: codecision COD 1998/266]



OJ L 75 of 15.03.2001


Commission Recommendation of 7 April 2004 on the use of a common European format for licence documents issued in accordance with Council Directive 95/18/EC on the licensing of railway undertakings [COM (2004) 1279 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

The Commission recommends that:

  • licence documents issued in accordance with Directive 95/18/EC should use the standard format set out in Annex I to the Recommendation. When a licence is amended, suspended, revoked or replaced by a temporary licence, a document should be issued and presented in this standard format;
  • proof that a railway undertaking meets national requirements regarding insurance or has made equivalent arrangements for liability cover should be presented as an Annex to the licence document, using the standard format set out in Annex II to the Recommendation.

Commission Decision 2002/844/EC of 23 October 2002 amending Directive 2001/14/EC in respect of the date for changing the working timetable for rail transport [Official Journal L 289 of 26.19.2002].

Directive 2001/16/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 March 2001 on the interoperability of the trans-European conventional rail system [Official Journal L 110 of 20.04.2001].

Directive 2001/12/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2001 amending Council Directive 91/440/EEC on the development of the Community's railways [Official Journal L 075 of 15.03.2001].

Council Directive 96/49/EC of 23 July 1996 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States with regard to the transport of dangerous goods by rail [Official Journal L 235 of 17.09.1996].

Last updated: 25.01.2007