Up close with Australia’s National Rail Safety Regulator
As part of the most crucial reform in our country’s rail history, Australia now has its first National Rail Safety Regulator (NRSR) with the appointment of Rob Andrews in May. Rail Express spoke with Andrews about how this historic reform is progressing and what his views are of the industry so far.
REX: You bring a wealth of experience from the rail industry in the United Kingdom. Can you provide details of your background in rail safety regulation?
Andrews: After a period of involvement as a senior engineer with the design and build of the Sizewell B reactor as well as being a nuclear installation inspector I moved into rail safety policy for government. This covered the period of the Ladbroke Grove accident [An incident that occurred on October 5 1999 at Ladbroke Grove, London, that saw 31 people killed and more than 520 injured] until I became technical director and deputy chief inspector of the Railways Inspectorate. I have also held roles as safety director for the Strategic Rail Authority, executive director for Rail Safety Policy for ORR – the economic and safety UK Rail Regulator – and I have been a Board member for RSSB. I was also the project director of Crossrail for London Underground . This is the biggest rail project being undertaken in Europe and is a £16bn project that will pass underground through 37 stations and run 118 km from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, through new twin-bore 21 km tunnels, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
REX: You have only spent a small amount of time in Australia, what are your initial impressions of our rail industry?
Andrews: So far I have had three weeks in Australia and I have been made to feel most welcome. I am struck by the vast size and diversity of the country. During this time I have visited Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne twice – just over 5000km which is almost eight times the length of England and I have only seen a fraction of the country. While my regulatory accountability and responsibility as the NRSR under the Rail Safety National Act (South Australia) does not come into play until January 2013, I have already spent time meeting stakeholders, specifically, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of senior rail industry operators as well as officers from most of the current rail regulators officers. Everyone that I met have impressed me with their dedication to running a safe operation and are looking for ways to make further improvements. There are obviously a number of challenges and opportunities facing both the industry and the NRSR, particularly with increasing ridership and tonnage and a co-regulatory approach to improving safety on a national scale.
REX: How do you view the work that has been undertaken to date to establish the Office of the NRSR?
Andrews: The work that has been undertaken by the Project Office and Rail Safety Regulation Reform Project Board is extensive. I understand that industry and union representatives have played a critical role in developing the new Rail Safety National Act (South Australia) that will govern the operation of the new Office, and an enormous amount of supporting documentation. It is encouraging to see all parties support the national reform and the establishment of a single regulator based on the principle of co-regulation. I’m looking forward to working with our project director, Julie Bullas, and her team, and the wider rail community over the coming months to complete the establishment of the Office of the NRSR. I am very comfortable with the direction that the work has proceeded to date: so no significant changes, but a lot of working in tandem to get the Office fit for purpose to meet its responsibilities. There is still much to do.
REX: What is your top priority right now?
Andrews: There are a lot of priorities, but through the Project Office we are commencing the recruitment process to ensure we have the right team of professionals in place when the regulatory functions commences in January 2013. The most pressing of these vacancies will be advertised on 11 August 2012 and I encourage people to frequently check the project office website www.nrsrproject.sa.gov.au as all vacancies will be placed on that website. We are looking to recruit a small number of high calibre people working across a very wide spectrum of disciplines. I really do believe that the Office of the NRSR is going to be a very exciting place to work and it is a unique opportunity for individuals, working as part of a team, to influence and implement a major national reform of rail in Australia. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of the first NRSR.
REX: What are your short and long term plans for regulating the rail industry in Australia?
Andrews: In the short term, the Office needs to present a smooth transition process to remove the burden on operators of multiple accreditations when their business crosses state borders. In the longer term, we need to establish a risk-based proportionate approach to regulation across all states. This requires a very clear understanding of the rail risk profile and I will be urging industry to work together to develop and benefit from this understanding. My initial impressions are that industry and the regulatory community alike, share this view, so I am looking to develop relationships with the industry stakeholders across the country to that end. This will take some time and energy but will result in both improved safety and overall economic benefits.
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