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Massive rail reform on the way

by Rail Express last modified Apr 18, 2012 12:38 PM
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Australia’s first-ever National Rail Safety Regulator is one very significant step closer to being delivered at the end of this year with the recent passage of critical legislation through South Australia’s lower house.

Massive rail reform on the way

Courtesy RailGallery

The Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) Bill passed the South Australian House of Assembly, and will now head to the Legislative Council for approval.

The Rail Safety National Law establishes Australia’s new National Rail Safety Regulator (NRSR). South Australia is the first state to pass legislation and implement the NRSR. The other jurisdictions are now expected to do so over the course of the year.

The new Rail Safety National Law is a major safety, regulatory and productivity reform. It replaces the previous model Rail Safety National Law, which was implemented by states and territories in different ways, leading to confusing red tape and duplication.

The new law will replace seven separate regulatory authorities and 46 pieces of state, territory and Commonwealth legislation. In this sense, it will overcome the multiple sets of rules and laws which Australian railways have been governed by for over 110 years.

However, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) director government relations, Phil Sochon, emphasised to Rail Express that there was still the temptation for some jurisdictions to make “tweaks” to the new law.

“There has been a massive amount of work being undertaken in the last two years where the NTC and NRSR project office have engaged with government and industry to review the model law we already have in place around the country," Sochon explained.

“The task has been to settle on what is effectively a revised version of the model law that is now both current and more appropriate for today, having learnt I suppose, from the implementation of the model law by the various jurisdictions in the past.

“The ARA welcomes the strong support of the states to keep moving forward with the new Rail Safety National Law. However, noting that one or two states have already varied from the consistent national model by instituting service level agreements, we urge all states and territories to move forward with this incredibly important reform and approve the law that had just been passed by South Australian House of Assembly.”

From January 1, 2013, for the first time in Australia’s history, Australian railways will come under one single NRSR with one set of national regulations. The NRSR will be based in Adelaide with a presence in all other locations where regulators currently function and will have regulatory oversight of the Australia’s entire passenger, freight, bulk and heritage rail operations.

Rail operators will be able to get national accreditation instead of having to apply in each state and territory.

Sochon said the “knock-on” positive effects stemming from this include consistent, appropriate, efficient and effective rail safety regulatory practice throughout Australia delivered in a co-regulatory manner.

“This will assist industry as it continues to expand to meet the growing freight and passenger task,” Sochon said.

Under the new rail safety law, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) will become the national investigator of all rail accidents. Furthermore, the ATSB will be establishing a new confidential reporting scheme as already exists in the aviation sector.

The new NRSR, along with Australia's new maritime and heavy vehicle safety regulators, will boost national income by up to $30bn over the next 20 years by ending the need for mountains of paperwork and multiple fees on Australia’s transport industry.

Project director of the NRSR project, Julie Bullas, told Rail Express she is "very pleased” to have seen the rail safety legislation pass through the House of Assembly in South Australia on April 3 and debate scheduled for the Legislative Council in early May.

“This will then allow all other jurisdictions to commence the process of having the law introduced into their Parliaments,” Bullas said.

Through the commitment and support of every jurisdiction, Bullas said she is confident that all efforts will be made to ensure that legislation will be in place for the NRSR to commence by January 2013.

For an in-depth Q&A with Julie Bullas, project director of the NRSR project, see the June print edition of Rail Express. This edition's Safety focus will also feature the views of both the ARA and Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) on how the process of  implementing the NRSR and new Rail Safety National Law is unfolding. Other features for the June edition include Below Rail Infrastructure, Freight Rail, and Sustainability and Environment, all now available online for Rail Express readers to view electronically.

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