With effect from 1 April 2006, The Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (ROGs) introduced major changes to the procedures for authorising new railway infrastructure. The authorisation requirements under the ROGs have caused much vexation for the tram sector. The problems are such that UK Tram has persuaded the Department for Transport (DfT) to grant a partial derogation for trams. This article examines some of the industry's concerns.

ROGs apply where the bringing into service of new or altered railway infrastructure and rolling stock trigger the ROGs' ‘safety threshold’ by creating a significant safety risk. If the safety threshold is triggered, before the infrastructure or rolling stock can be placed into service, it may be subject to a new system of safety verification. It is important to note that where the safety threshold is not triggered (i.e. there is no significant safety risk), ROGs safety verification does not apply.

The ROGs replace the former process for bringing into service new rolling stock and infrastructure that existed under The Railways and Other Transport Systems (Approval of Works, Plant and Equipment) Regulations 1994 (ROTs). However, under the DfT's ROGs derogation for trams, the promoters of tram schemes must continue to apply for ROTs approval until 1 October 2008 and such projects must be built by 1 October 2010.

As a major departure from ROTs approval, Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) no longer has a direct role in the authorisation process. Essentially, safety verification is dependent on self certification by the project promoter. The ROGs require the project promoter to establish a written safety verification scheme and to appoint a ‘competent person’ to verify compliance with the scheme. The competent person could be an in-house appointment from within the project promoters' own organisation.

The removal of the requirement to seek independent approval from a body such as HMRI is a key concern. UK Tram recognises that this raises the potential for commercial pressures to compromise safety standards. Under ROGs safety verification there is no independent arbiter to intervene should this occur.

Tramways differ from other heavy and light rail environments where there are well established standards and procedures. Each tramway system has developed its own bespoke practices and procedures.

Tramways have no equivalent of the Railway Group Standards or London Underground Standards against which the competent persons can verify compliance. Furthermore, if the works fall below the safety threshold, and ROGs safety verification does not apply, the desirability of developing an alternative acceptance process may need to be considered. Such processes, if developed on a bespoke project-byproject basis, may increase costs. UK Tram is currently working with the industry to develop generic tram standards and a standardised procurement model.

In addition, heavy and light rail operate in controlled environments. Where there is an interface with the public, specific control regimes are in place, for example, at level crossings. By contrast, tramways are required to co-exist with pedestrians, other road users and public utilities, each of whom have their own rights and obligations. These factors are added complexities that will need to be factored into the safety verification process for trams.

Under ROGs safety verification, HMRI's main role is to take enforcement action. This is consistent with HMRI's policy objective of withdrawing from safety approvals. This has not been welcomed by UK Tram as ROTs approval enabled HMRI to maintain a strategic safety overview over the entire industry. There is the potential for this to be lost as a result of the lighter touch to HMRI's role.

Taken together, these problems are perceived as a significant risk by the insurers of tram schemes. Insurers are not willing to provide professional indemnity insurance to potential competent persons. UK Tram is working with the DfT and HMRI to develop an insurable safety verification scheme for trams. Peter Adamson (assistant director for implementation at Midland Metro at Centro) is leading UK Tram's discussions with the DfT. He confirms that ‘UK Tram is considering its position in respect of the ROGs regulatory regime as it applies to tramways, and intends to make proposals to Ministers on the way forward later this year.’

The absence of a working safety verification scheme for trams has created some uncertainty in the planning and implementation of future projects. Whilst project promoters could theoretically appoint their own in-house competent person, the set up costs of doing so for a short time-scale will be high, making this an unattractive option. If off-the - shelf experience is sought, project promoters could appoint a notified body. However, according to UK Tram's own research, in practice there is little appetite amongst the private sector consultancies to become involved in safety verification work.

The ROGs are part of the Government's implementation of the EU's Safety Directive 2004/49/EC. The implementation of the Safety Directive goes beyond its strict requirements: EU member states are entitled permanently to exclude metros, trams and other light rail systems from the scope of their national implementation. The EU Commission recognise that these networks may be subject to local requirements or in the case of trams, road safety legislation. If the problems for tramways cannot be resolved, a permanent derogation from ROGs for trams may need to be sought from the DfT.