REFER was created in 1997, through Decree-Law No. 104/97, of 29 April, as a public company responsible for providing the public service of managing the national railway network infrastructure in Portugal.

On 22 July 2008, Decree-Law nº 141/2008 changed REFER’s name to Rede Ferroviária Nacional - REFER, EPE and also introduced changes to its statutes which were then republished.

REFER is subject to the supervision of the ministers responsible for the area of finance and for the transport sector.