The impact of Brexit on rail transport

Following the withdrawal date, in accordance with the Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom in the field of railway transport will change, especially with regard to:

  1. management and use of railway infrastructure;
  2. railway safety;
  3. railway interoperability;
  4. train driver certifications.

According to Chapter III of Directive 2012/34/EU establishing a single European railway area, railway undertakings providing rail transport services need a licence issued by the Member State in which they are established, valid throughout the territory of the Union. With Brexit, licences issued by the United Kingdom will no longer be valid in the remaining Member States; therefore, railway undertakings holding those licences will have to apply for a new licence in a Member State in order to keep operating in the European Union.

With regard to railway safety, Article 10 of Directive 2004/49/EC on safety on the Community’s railways provides that in order to be granted access to European Union’s railway infrastructure, a railway undertaking must hold a safety certificate released by a Member State. Railway undertaking holding a certificate issued by the United Kingdom will need to apply for a certificate in a remaining Member state. The same rules apply to certificates that entities in charge of maintenance (ECMs) need to hold pursuant to Article 14a(4) of Directive 2004/49/EC.  Moreover, as of the withdrawal date, ECMs may apply for a certificate according to the Convention concerning international carriage by rail (COTIF), to which the Member States with a railway system are parties.

For the placing on the market of railway products, Directive 2008/57/EC on the interoperability of the rail system within the Community requires technical specifications for interoperability (TSI) that set out the applicable conformity assessment procedures. With specific reference to the placing on the market and use of interoperability constituents (any elementary component, group of components, subassembly or complete assembly of equipment incorporated or intended to be incorporated into a subsystem, upon which the interoperability of the rail system depends directly or indirectly), Directive 2008/57/EC requires a certificate delivered by a notified or designated body of a Member State. These are bodies responsible for assessing the conformity or suitability for use of the interoperability constituents or for appraising the ‘EC’ procedure for verification of the subsystems. An interoperability constituent placed on the market before the withdrawal date with a certificate delivered by a UK notified body or designated body can be used in subsystems or vehicles the placing in service of which has been authorised before the withdrawal date. Also the placing in service of vehicles and subsystems requires an authorization released by the Member States. The authorization issued by the United Kingdom before the withdrawal date will retain its validity after the withdrawal date. As of March 2019, authorisations for placing in service of vehicles and subsystems shall be issued by the remaining Member States, while the admission in the EU of railway vehicles and other railway material authorised in the United Kingdom and vice versa will be governed by COTIF.

Finally, with regard to train driver certifications, Directive 2007/59/EC on the certification of train drivers operating locomotives and trains on the railway system in the Community requires that train drivers working in the European Union hold a specific licence and a specific certification. The first one is issued by the competent authority of the Member State, while the second one is issued by the railway undertakings and infrastructure managers. The certificates or licences issued by the United Kingdom will no longer be valid in the European Union after the withdrawal date.  In case of train drivers holding a UK certificate or licence that are working in one of the Member States, they will have to obtain certification documents valid in the European Union as of the withdrawal date. Therefore, railway undertakings in the EU employing them are invited to inform these persons of the need to obtain new certification documents.


Davide Scavuzzo