Parochial interests threatening key rail reforms

By: Jason Whittaker


National rail reforms to reduce the regulatory burden on operators are at risk of being hijacked as state regulators cling

National rail reforms to reduce the regulatory burden on operators are at risk of being hijacked as state regulators cling to parochial interests.

Australasian Railways Association (ARA) Bryan Nye says state agencies are pushing against the Australian Transport Council’s (ATC) decision to move toward a single national rail safety regulator and a national rail safety investigator rather than seven separate ones.

According to Nye, the agencies are intent on preserving regulatory overlaps because they fear for their own positions.

And, in what he deems "a dumb argument", Nye adds the agencies want to go in different directions because they consider their respective jurisdictions "unique".

"The safety regulators are all trying to keep the status quo," he says.

But in doing so, Nye argues the regulators are jeopardising serious reforms which could slash the financial and administrative costs of the rail industry.

Unlike the trucking industry, state revenue does not fund safety regimes for the rail industry, which is forced to pay to meet various safety standards across borders.

Because there is no uniformity, the industry is slugged with significant costs as it must submit to different requirements such as training, occupational health and safety standards and driving hours.

"This is the thing that is really galling. The trucking industry doesn’t pay for its safety regulators; the rail industry does," Nye says.

However, in arguing for reduced cost burden, Nye says the rail industry is not opposed to paying for safety measures as long as it gets efficiency gains in return.

During its May 2 meeting, the ATC agreed to work towards a single national rail safety regulator and a national rail safety investigator. While the ARA welcomed the move, Nye was bemused by the fact it took four years of campaigning to finally have the ATC recognise the issue.

The rail industry will know how much progress has been made after the ATC meets in July. During this meeting, the nation’s transport ministers will consider proposals on how to move to a national regulator and safety investigator.

Following this, the ministers will seek in-principle support from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) when it meets in October.

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