Rail at 'an historic moment' with safety law proposal

NTC releases proposal to bin multiple rail safety laws in an "historic" move to deliver $73 million in benefits

Rail at 'an historic moment' with safety law proposal
Rail at 'an historic moment' with safety law proposal

By Brad Gardner | July 19, 2011

The rail industry faces "an historic moment" on regulatory reform with a proposal to streamline multiple safety laws capable of delivering up to $73 million in savings.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) today unveiled its draft proposal to replace the existing seven state and territory rail safety laws with a national system it claims will cut administrative costs and improve safety.

Similar to what has been proposed with the national heavy vehicle law, the RIS argues a uniform model will end the need for interstate operators to hold multiple accreditations.

The document, which will be open for industry feedback throughout July and August, claims reform will reduce duplication in auditing, monitoring and inspecting across borders and lead to national standards for recording, sharing and managing data.

According to the document, adopting a single rail safety law will lead to benefits of between $29 and $73 million over 10 years.

The RIS shows the largest financial gains will stem from reforming drug and alcohol testing and management schemes, which currently differ between jurisdictions.

"The need to comply with varying state and territory rail safety laws increases the regulatory burden and operating costs to the rail industry, as well as the cost to policy makers and rail safety regulators," the RIS says.

"This adversely impacts on the competitive position and efficiency of interstate rail operations in particular. This inefficiency also diverts resources from achieving best practice outcomes."

A single safety law is due to begin in January 2013 and will be enforced by the national rail regulator, which will be based in South Australia.

NTC Chairman Greg Martin says the reform is "an historic moment and unique opportunity to achieve a truly national system of rail safety regulation".

"It comes at a time when rail transport has been increasingly identified as a key means of servicing the growing nation-wide demand for safer, more productive and environmentally-friendly transport services and infrastructure," he writes in the RIS.

NTC CEO Nick Dimopoulos says a national approach will lead to greater clarity about requirements for assessing worker competence and lead to consistency in communication requirements between train drivers and network control officers nationwide.

"With a third of the rail industry operating across state and territory borders, it’s time Australia developed a truly national system of rail safety regulation," he says.

The document recommends retaining co-regulation under national laws, which puts the onus on industry and the regulator to share responsibility for regulation.

Rather than meeting prescribed standards, the existing system allows rail operators to assess risks and develop their own safety plans to manage them.

The regulator oversees operators and assists them to comply, which the RIS says might involve providing advice, information, education or training to make sure standards are met.

"The Regulator must also review an operator’s safety management system and its implementation, and work with them towards making any necessary improvements," the RIS says.

The NTC says co-regulation is the best method to address the different operating environments of each jurisdiction.

"However, in some circumstances, rail safety regulators have reported that the process of negotiating with rail transport operators on how to achieve compliance has proven to be protracted, inefficient and even unfruitful," the RIS says.

It says there is a risk that finite resources mean the regulator might not be able to identify and address non-complaint operators. Operators can also haul the regulator to court to appeal a decision.

"It is conceivable that the court may arrive at a different conclusion to that of the Regulator," the RIS says.

"The problem lies not so much in the risk of a court contradicting the judgement of the Regulator, as it does in the protracted and resource-intensive process of resolving the dispute."

The NTC says a final RIS will be sent to the Standing Council of Transport and Infrastructure to vote on in November.

The proposal is part of a government commitment to develop national regulations for the heavy vehicle, rail and maritime sectors.

Speaking upon the release of the RIS today, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) says it is pleased the industry is a step closer to a single regulatory model.

ARA CEO Bryan Nye has urged the rail sector to provide feedback on the proposal. He says the group will provide a submission by August 4.

The NTC will run public briefings between July 22 and August 5.

"It is important to note that this consultation period will not address outstanding policy material regarding fatigue, and drug and alcohol which are still very much works in progress for completion before the end of this year," Nye says.

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