Regulation of railway activities

The NSW Environment Protection Authority now directly regulates operators of freight and passenger trains, including the locomotives, carriages and wagons (rolling stock operators), along with the operators of railway infrastructure (railway infrastructure operators) and railway construction work through environment protection licences.

The change in regulation follows an amendment to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) to include changes to the way that railway activities are defined and regulated.

What has changed

Rolling stock operators must hold an environment protection licence issued by the EPA.

While railway infrastructure operators and railway construction projects have previously required licences, this is the first time that rolling stock operators have required a licence. This makes all rail operators directly accountable for their environmental performance and provides a consistent approach to regulating the potential impacts of railway activities.

On 5 August 2020, the EPA issued new licences to rolling stock operators. The licences seek to reduce air and noise impacts on the community:

  • by requiring new locomotives in NSW to comply with noise and air emission limits;
  • through operating conditions and pollution studies relating to wheel squeal, idling, braking, bunching and stretching and horn use; and
  • through monitoring and reporting requirements to allow the progress of the rail industry in reducing emissions to be determined over time.

The licences also require the rolling stock operators to provide the community with  a way to report complaints.

In developing the licences for the rolling stock operators, the EPA considered feedback provided by the industry, community and other relevant stakeholders.

The EPA has also updated the licences held by railway infrastructure operators.

All licences are available on the EPA’s public register.

All locomotives approved to operate on a licensed network in NSW are listed on a locomotive class register.

Next steps

As part of its regulatory role the EPA will oversee compliance of the rail industry in accordance with their licence conditions.

The licences are a flexible regulatory tool that can be amended, with consultation, to include revised or new requirements. They provide a framework for progressively reducing the impacts from the NSW operational rail network over time.

The EPA will continue to work with the rail industry to progressively reduce air and noise emissions. To this end, the EPA has established an industry Rail Noise Reference Group to progress noise related matters.


In 2014, the EPA developed and consulted on a position paper (PDF 200KB) which outlined the proposed approach for regulating railway systems activities. The EPA’s response to the issues raised by stakeholder in the 46 submissions received is in the submissions report (PDF 114KB).

In 2016, the EPA again consulted stakeholders on the proposed amendments to railway systems activities under the POEO Act. This work focused on determining the most effective framework for managing the impacts of rail construction work as well as operational rail activities.

Following consideration of the feedback, the EPA amended the POEO Act.

More information

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