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.[1]

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.[2] In November 2015, the DfT wound up DOR and appointed a partnership of Arup Group, Ernst & Young and SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit.[3]


Since privatisation in the mid-1990s there have been seven occasions when an operator of last resort has been appointed.




  1. ^ "East Coast to be re-franchised". Railway Gazette International. January 2007. p. 6.
  2. ^ "About DOR". Directly Operated Railways. 2009. Archived from the original on 27 October 2010.
  3. ^ Leftly, Mark (18 January 2016). "Government accused of 'contracting out' emergency train franchises to private firms". The Independent. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022.
  4. ^ "East Coast train line to be put into public control". BBC News. 16 May 2018.
  5. ^ "Troubled rail firm Northern brought under government control". BBC News. 29 January 2020.
  6. ^ "Welsh Government takes control of franchise". The Railway Magazine. No. 1436. November 2020. p. 6.
  7. ^ "Southeastern: Government takes over services after serious breach". BBC News. 28 September 2021.
  8. ^ "ScotRail goes back into public ownership". BBC News. 1 April 2022. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  9. ^ "Transpennine Express to be brought into operator of last resort". GOV.UK. Retrieved 11 May 2023.
  10. ^ "TransPennine Express loses contract over poor service". BBC News. 11 May 2023. Retrieved 11 May 2023.
  11. ^ "Serco bids a fond farewell to the Caledonian Sleeper". RailBusinessDaily. 23 June 2023. Retrieved 25 June 2023.
  12. ^ "Connex sacked from South-east franchise". The Railway Magazine. No. 1229. September 2003. p. 10.
  13. ^ "East Coast rail change confirmed". BBC News. 5 November 2009.