The Office of the Rail Regulator was established by the Railways Act 1993 in preparation for the privatisation of the rail network and rail services. The primary functions of the Rail Regulator are to approve all access agreements by which operators acquire the right to use track, stations and light maintenance depots; to grant, modify and enforce licences without which no track, station or train may be operated unless exempt; to grant and revoke exemptions from the access and licensing regime; to fund and sponsor the rail users' consultative committees; to decide on proposals to close passenger services; to enforce aspects of competition law; to keep under review the provision of railway services; to promote the use of the railway network; to promote efficiency and competition in the provision of railway services; and to exercise special responsibilities in relation to safety, the environment and the interests of disabled passengers.
The first Regulator, took up his appointment on 1 December 1993 and began to operate his full powers, duties and functions on 1 April 1994. Until the end of 1996 the Rail Regulator was under a duty to take into account guidance given to him by the Secretary of State for Transport, but apart from this constraint he is independent of government.
The Office's policy and management strategy are determined by the Executive Committee, which consists of the Regulator and four directors: the Director of Network Regulation, the Director of Establishments, Organisation and Public Affairs, the Director of Passenger Services Regulation, and the Chief Legal Adviser.
The Network Regulation Group of the Office of the Rail Regulator is responsible for all regulatory relations with Railtrack, freight regulation and the Office's economic and technical advisory services, and plays the main role in advising the Rail Regulator on the approval of access agreements. It consists of four divisions: Passenger Access Agreements and Network Licensing, Freight Regulation, Chief Economic Adviser, and Technical Director.
The Directorate of Establishments, Organisation and Public Affairs is sub-divided into Administration and Information. The Directorate is responsible for all personnel matters, for finance and office services, and for public affairs, including the library, the press office and the public enquiry point.
The Chief Legal Adviser's team advises the Office on all legal aspects of the Rail Regulator's powers and duties.
On 5 July 2004 the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) was established by the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, replacing the Rail Regulator as the independent safety and economic regulator for Britain's railways. The ORR is a statutory board which is the combined economic and safety regulatory authority for Great Britain's railway network. As a non-ministerial government department it is operationally independent of central government.