An operator of last resort is a business in the United Kingdom that operates a railway franchise, on behalf of the government, when a train operating company is no longer able to do so. Since May 2023, there are six such operators in England, Wales and Scotland.
Under the Railways Act 1993, which privatised passenger operations in the United Kingdom, the government is required to maintain continuity of passenger rail services if a franchise is terminated. In some instances, the government has been able to negotiate for the existing franchisee to continue to operate the franchise on a management contract until it can be relet, as happened when GNER defaulted on the InterCity East Coast franchise in 2007.
Should this not be possible, the Department for Transport (DfT) in England (through DfT OLR Holdings), or the Scottish Government (through Scottish Rail Holdings) for the ScotRail franchise in Scotland, and the Welsh Government for the Wales & Borders franchise in Wales, is required to step in as the operator of last resort.
In July 2009, the DfT established Directly Operated Railways (DOR) as its operator of last resort for England. In November 2015, the DfT wound up DOR and appointed a partnership of Arup Group, Ernst & Young and SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit.
Since privatisation in the mid-1990s there have been seven occasions when an operator of last resort has been appointed.