Amendment to railway systems activities

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) has been amended to include changes to the way that railway systems activities are defined and regulated.

The EPA has reviewed the way that railway systems activities are regulated under the POEO Act. As a result, the EPA is instigating a number of changes including environment protection licensing requirements for rolling stock operators and altered threshold levels for construction work which require licenses. The review determined that the existing regulatory framework had not achieved the intended safeguards to environmental and community values.

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 the feedback and issues raised, the EPA has now amended the POEO Act. The amendments include changes to the way that railway systems activities are defined and controlled. Under the revised regulatory framework, railway infrastructure construction (above certain thresholds), railway infrastructure operations, and rolling stock operations are all activities which now require Environment Protection Licences (EPLs).

What has changed?

Licensing for rolling stock operations

The Protection of the Environment Operations Legislation Amendment (Scheduled Activities) Regulation was passed on 5 July 2019. This amendment identifies three specific railway activities that require an EPL from the NSW EPA:

  • railway infrastructure construction
  • railway infrastructure operations
  • rolling stock operations.

Whilst railway operations and construction work have previously required EPLs, this is the first time that rolling stock operations have required a licence.

Environmental impacts from rail activities can arise from the multiple sources. Sources include the condition of fixed infrastructure such as the track or the condition and operation of the rolling stock, including wheels. Impacts can also arise from the interactions between the fixed infrastructure and the rolling stock.

The new licensing provisions enable the EPA to regulate, and thereby manage, a greater range of environmental impacts from the operational rail network and deliver better environmental outcomes. 

Railway construction thresholds

Previously all railway construction work occurring on networks greater than 30km in length required an EPL, regardless of the scale or impacts on the environment or community or the construction work proposed.   

A key intent of the POEO Act is to identify and regulate activities which have the potential to create significant environmental impacts. The Scheduled Activities Regulation (PDF 224 KB) amendment introduced quantitative thresholds for railway construction work which cover both materials extraction and the length of new railway track constructed. 

Licences are now required for construction of more than 3 km of new track in metropolitan areas, or 5 km of new track outside metropolitan areas. Licences are also required for extraction or processing of materials of over 50,000 tonnes or 150,000 tonnes, depending on the geographic location of the works.    


Previously all railway activities requiring a licence incurred the same licence fee, regardless of the scale of works or potential environmental impact, and did not reflect the costs to effectively regulate rail construction activities. Licence fees for railway construction activities are now scaled to the length of new track and quantity of material extracted or processed.

Next steps

The EPA will be working closely with stakeholders to develop the focus and content of EPLs over the next few months. Rolling stock operators and companies and agencies with existing rail-related licences will be directly contacted by the EPA in the coming weeks. Information will be provided about how these changes may impact their licensing requirements.  

This page will be regularly updated with details about opportunities to participate and talk with the NSW EPA.

Page last updated