Railway safety

Table of Contents:

Railway safety

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Railway safety


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Transport > Rail transport

Railway safety

Document or Iniciative

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 [See amending act(s)].


The Directive applies to the railway system of the Member States and covers safety requirements for the system as a whole, including infrastructure and traffic management, and the interaction between railway undertakings and infrastructure managers.

In this connection, the Directive focuses on four major aspects:

  • the setting up, in each Member State, of an authority responsible for supervising safety;
  • the mutual recognition of safety certificates delivered in the Member States;
  • the establishment of common safety indicators (CSIs) in order to assess that the system complies with the common safety targets (CSTs) and facilitate the monitoring of railway safety performance;
  • the definition of common rules for safety investigations.

Development and management of safety

Safety rules and standards, such as operating rules, signalling rules, requirements on staff and technical requirements applicable to rolling stock have been devised mainly nationally.

These national safety rules, should gradually be replaced by rules based on common standards, established by technical specifications for interoperability (TSIs). The Commission has the power to suspend the implementation of a national safety rule for a maximum of six months.

In this connection, the Member States will ensure that:

  • railway safety is generally maintained and continuously improved, taking into consideration the development of European legislation;
  • safety rules are laid down, applied and enforced in an open and non-discriminatory manner;
  • responsibility for the safe operation of the railway system and the control of risks associated with it is borne by the infrastructure managers and railway undertakings;
  • information is collected on common safety indicators through annual reports in order to assess the achievement of the CSTs and monitor the general development of railway safety.

In order to coordinate the different rules, a distinction must be drawn between two sets of actors:

  • infrastructure managers, which are bodies or companies responsible, in particular for establishing, building and maintaining infrastructure or a part of it, and safety. In some Member States, however, safety may be delegated to railway undertakings.
  • Railway undertakings, which are public or private undertakings engaged in the supply of goods and/or passenger transport services by rail.

Safety certification

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

For international transport services it should be enough to approve the safety management system in one Member State and give the approval European validity.

Adherence to national laws on the other hands should be subject to additional certification in each Member State.

The safety certificate must be renewed upon application by the railway undertaking at intervals not exceeding five years. It must be wholly or partly updated whenever the type or extent of the operation is substantially altered.

A railway undertaking applying for authorisation to place rolling stock in service in another Member State will submit a technical file concerning the rolling stock or type of rolling stock to the relevant safety authority, indicating its intended use on the network.

In addition to the safety requirements laid down in the certificate, licensed railway undertakings must comply with national requirements, compatible with European law and applied in a non-discriminatory manner, relating to health, safety and social conditions, including legal provisions relating to driving time, and the rights of workers and consumers.

An essential aspect of safety is the training and certification of staff, particularly of train drivers. The training covers operating rules, the signalling system, the knowledge of routes and emergency procedures.

Maintenance of vehicles

Before it is placed in service or used on the network, each vehicle is assigned a maintenance entity (which may be, in particular, a railway undertaking or an infrastructure manager). The entity ensures the working order of vehicles by introducing a system of maintenance in accordance with the vehicle’s maintenance book and the applicable safety requirements.

National safety authority

Each Member State must establish a safety authority which is independent from railway undertakings, infrastructure managers, applicants for certificates and procurement entities. It will respond promptly to requests and applications, communicate its requests for information without delay and adopt all its decisions within four months after all requested information has been provided.

The safety authority will carry out all inspections and investigations that are needed for the accomplishment of its tasks and be granted access to all relevant documents and to premises, installations and equipment of infrastructure managers and railway undertakings.

Accident and incident investigations

Serious train accidents, such as derailments and collisions with fatal consequences, occur rarely, but when they do they attract public interest and the interest of safety professionals all over Europe.

Criteria governing the independence of the investigating body are strictly defined so that this body has no link with the various actors of the sector. This body decides whether or not an investigation of such an accident or incident should be undertaken, and determines the extent of investigations and the procedure to be followed.

Each Member State must ensure that investigations of accidents and incidents are conducted by a permanent body, which comprises at least one investigator able to perform the function of investigator–in–charge in the event of an accident or incident.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2004/49/EC



OJ L 164 of 30.4.2004

Amending act(s) Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2008/110/EC



OJ L 345 of 23.12.2008

The successive amendments and corrigenda to Directive 2004/49/CE been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated versionis of mere documentary value.


Directive 2008/57/EC of 17 June 2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the interoperability of the rail system within the Community (Text with EEA relevance).
This Directive lays down the provisions relating to authorisations for placing in service of railway vehicles. This text recasts Directive 2001/16/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European conventional rail system and Directive 96/48/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European high speed rail system.
The procedures for authorisations for placing in service were previously regulated by Directive 96/48/EC (for the new or renewed parts of the rail system) and by Directive 2004/49/EC (concerning vehicles already in service).

Commission Regulation (EC) 653/2007 of 13 June 2007 on the use of a common European format for safety certificates and application documents in accordance with Article 10 of Directive 2004/49/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and on the validity of safety certificates delivered under Directive 2001/14/EC (Text with EEA relevance).

Directive 2008/68/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 September 2008 on the inland transport of dangerous goods (Text with EEA relevance).

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