Train Operating Companies
The term train operating company (often abbreviated to TOC) is used to describe the various businesses operating passenger trains on the railway system under the collective National Rail brand. They have existed since the privatisation of the network under the Railways Act 1993.
There are two types of TOC: the majority hold franchises let by the government, following bids from various companies, to operate services on certain routes for a specified duration, while there are also a small number of "open-access" operators which hold licences to provide supplementary services on chosen routes. These operators can run services for the duration of the licence validity. The franchised operators have changed considerably since privatisation: previous franchises have been divided, merged, re-let to new operators, or renamed.
Franchises were initially let by the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (OPRAF). This was in turn replaced by the Strategic Rail Authority, which has since been abolished. For England and Wales, franchising is now the responsibility of the Department for Transport in the majority of cases. In Scotland, it is the responsibility of the Scottish Executive. In two parts of England, local government agencies are responsible: in Merseyside, the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive lets the Merseyrailfranchise, while Transport for London oversees the new London Overground franchise.
The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) provides a commonality for the TOCs and provides some centralised co-ordination. Its activities include the provision of a national timetable and online journey planner facility, and the operation of the various Railcard discount schemes. Eurostar is also a member of ATOC, though it is not itself a TOC.