Brexit and the Rail Industry: Findings of the Lords Report

On 21 May the European Union Committee from the House of Lords published its report entitled ‘Brexit: road, rail and maritime transport‘.

Crossrail is one of the major rail infrastructure projects in the UK
Crossrail is one of the major rail infrastructure projects in the UK © Network Rail

The UK rail network connects with the EU at two points: via the Fixed Link between England and France, and via Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In the case of the former, more than 22 million passengers travelled through the Channel Tunnel in 2018, which is equivalent to 60,000 passengers per day. In addition, the Fixed Link carries around 26 percent of trade in goods between the UK and continental Europe, amounting to 140 billion euros annually.

Post-Brexit UK-EU Arrangement

The UK government has always maintained that it wants to strike bilateral agreements with countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands. These, it says, would preserve existing services. Such bilateral agreements do not, however, take into account future developments. For example, a new one would be needed if Eurostar wanted to start operating direct services between London and Frankfurt (Germany).

Regarding rail freight, the FTA said it felt that limited bilateral agreements were not the most desirable outcome.

Beyond actual passenger and freight services, there are also uncertainties around UK-certified exports, e.g. rolling stock components. Stakeholders might have to re-apply for EU licences after a UK departure, depending on the nature of the agreement (if any) reached.

The report states:

“While bilateral agreements would ensure the continued operation of international rail services, such agreements would not support the recognition of UK operator or train driving licences in the EU generally nor UK certified components placed on the market in the EU. The extent to which the UK’s continuing obligations under the Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail (COTIF) could alleviate these effects, if at all, are unclear. The Government should provide clarity on this matter.”

Regulatory Alignment

The report states:

“Unlike for other EU transport agencies, the [UK government] White Paper did not envisage any ongoing UK participation in or cooperation with the ERA after Brexit. This was met with disappointment by our witnesses. The Railway Industry Association (RIA) was clear and unambiguous in its call for the Government to “negotiate membership of the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) as part of a Brexit deal, mirroring its approach to the EU aviation, chemicals and medicine agencies” RDG held that the absence of UK participation would “significantly reduce any ability to influence TSIs and Common Safety Methods (where the UK has successfully provided significant influence)”.”

With regards to standards, HS1 and the FTA saw no benefit to any divergence in standards following Brexit. RIA said EU standards had been positive for the UK rail sector because UK products could be sold in the EU without modification, thereby keeping costs and red tape low. The House of Lords Committee agreed:

“We agree with the weight of evidence that large-scale divergence would decrease the UK’s attractiveness as a base for overseas manufacturers.”


Currently, around 20 percent of the workforce employed in the rail sector are non-UK EU nationals. The House of Lords Committee said it welcomed all initiatives that would improve training opportunities in Britain. These would then form part of the solution to maintaining a supply of skilled workers after Brexit.

The RDG said the government had to work with the industry to ensure that there would be a sufficient supply of skilled workers, either from the UK or from the EU. RIA, meanwhile, said it was working closely with the National Skills Academy for Rail, which was “generating new apprenticeship courses to fill that gap”.

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