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Rail licensing

Our responsibility for ensuring safety on New Zealand's rail networks includes licensing all organisations that operate on and/or provide access to rail networks. If your organisation is considering applying for a licence, this section covers the criteria you need to meet, as well as the fees you'll need to pay.

New Zealand rail licence holders

More than 90 organisations operate on and/or provide access to New Zealand's railways.

There are two main types of licence holders:

  • those who control the use of railway lines (access providers) – every organisation whose railway has one rail, or a set of rails with a gauge of 550 millimetres or greater between them, must hold a rail licence
  • those who provide or operate rail vehicles (railway operators) – they also are required to have rail licences.

Most of New Zealand's rail organisations are both providers and operators. They comprise three broad groups:

  • Network – larger organisations with extensive route kilometres or those operating on the national rail system, including some tourist and heritage organisations.
  • Tourist and heritage – those with rail vehicles operating on short, dedicated railways.
  • Industrial – organisations with railways serving factories or stores, usually on localised sites with connections to the national rail system.

Each organisation has its own safety requirements, depending on its size, nature and operational objectives.

Read the full list of licence holders in New Zealand

Rail licences

A rail licence is a licence to carry out the rail activities set out in a rail organisation's approved safety case. It is granted under the Railways Act 2005 (external link) , which is administered by us.

If you're not sure whether you require a rail licence, or have any other questions, please contact our national office.

Essential reading before applying

If you're planning to apply for a rail licence, we recommend that you read the Rail safety licensing and safety assessment guidelines. They describe the requirements of a safety case, the rail licence, safety assessments and the application form. 

Make sure you allow at least six weeks for your licence application to be processed.

Rail licence exemptions

An organisation is exempt from requiring a rail licence if it's:

To find out whether you're exempt from requiring a rail licence, please contact our national office.

Applying for a rail licence

In preparation for gaining a rail licence, each access provider and rail operator in New Zealand is required to develop a 'safety case'. This describes:

  • what it does (its activities)
  • the risks its operations pose to safety (what could be unsafe)
  • how these risks will be minimised (how the organisation will keep things safe).

The safety case has to be approved by us before an organisation can get a rail licence. The Rail safety licensing and safety assessment guidelines outlines the safety case requirements. 

Download the rail licence application form.


We charge an initial $119.60 (including GST) to process your application for a rail licence.

Once your licence has been issued we charge an annual fee, payable quarterly, which depends on the size and nature of your rail activities.

Licensee typeCategoryUnit cost ($, inc GST)Unit
Access provider Network 175.52 Per km
Other 5.43 Per km
Passenger operator Metro 14.51 Per 1000 pass
Cable car 1.02 Per 1000 pass
Heritage and tourist 1.78 Per 1000 pass
Long distance 21.31 Per 1000 pass
Freight operator   96.25 Per $1m freight revenue
Annual safety fee component   399.92 Each operator

Safety assessments

All rail licence holders are required to be safety assessed regularly – usually once a year – to make sure they are complying with their safety cases. Safety assessment reports document a licensee's performance in adhering to their safety management systems and show us whether a licensee is continuing to conduct their rail activities safely. Licensees are required to respond to the report findings.

Safety assessors, approved by us, conduct the safety assessments. We usually pass on the assessment costs to the licensees.

Find out more about the safety assessments that can be undertaken and the steps involved in the process

Read the Rail safety licensing and safety assessment guidelines