AusRAIL, Market Sectors

Government support crucial to rail safety reform

<span class="" id="parent-fieldname-description"> Australia’s rail industry is concerned that maintaining the current good progress on rail safety regulatory reform is proving to be a major challenge for both the commonwealth and state and territory governments, writes Phil Sochon*. </span> <p>Australia currently has seven rail safety regulators each with different regulations and processes, servicing our relatively small population of 21 million and a 38,550km rail network.</p><p>With great foresight the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed on December 7 last year that South Australia would host the new national rail safety regulator, commencing January 1 2013. The single regulator will be based in Adelaide with regional offices in the mainland state capitals.</p><p>The new single national rail safety investigator is also going to be established by that date.</p><p>The single national regulator will operate under the same piece of legislation around Australia, and has the opportunity to match the best staff to the right area of expertise, without artificial state boundary limitations. As a result, more efficient and effective regulation will be delivered than any kind of collaborative venture by regulators each responding to their own jurisdictions.</p><p>Industry understands that the task of amalgamating all state and territory regulators into one integrated new national rail safety regulatory agency is both incredibly important to Australia, as well as being a major challenge for governments.</p><p>Reducing costly red tape through a single interface will allow the rail industry to get on with the job of servicing a growing passenger and freight task. The ability to share data, experience and knowledge across one national body will also support continued improvements in rail safety.</p><p>The rail industry welcomes the good progress being maintained by the Adelaide-based Regulator Project office aided by the National Transport Commission, but we are under no illusion that there are significant pressures acting against this critically important national outcome.</p><p>Clearly for some jurisdictions this major national reform is very uncomfortable and industry is very concerned that ATC and COAG maintains a unified approach to ensure this reform is achieved by the January 1 2013 target date.</p><p>Rail is being engaged in this project via the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) with the assistance of a small working group acting on behalf of the ARA Board. With the very tight timelines at play, industry engagement is proving a major challenge. The wider industry is being kept informed via updates to the Industry Safety Managers Group.</p><p>To date, deliberation has been given to major policy issues that have arisen since the model legislation was developed in 2006 and more recently to the operational aspects that Industry needs from the various regional offices of the future regulator.</p><p>Industry has also been engaged in discussions on national approaches to drug and alcohol and fatigue and this work is on-going. The next steps will see drafting instructions being sent out for comment before then developing a draft National Rail Safety Bill and Regulations and Regulatory Impact Statement for public consultation early 2011.</p><p>The key question is, will governments ensure that ATC maintains its support for this critical nation-building micro-economic reform – or will this be the moment they drop the ball and fail to advocate the reform to rail that Australia needs now – for the good of the environment, for better safety and for less road congestion?</p><p>Rail remains hopeful government will stay the course but in the meantime we will be very actively engaging to ensure that Governments follow through on this vital strategic reform for the good of Australia. <br /><br />* Phil Sochon is ARA director, government relations. <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ara.net.au">www.ara.net.au</a><br /><br />&nbsp</p>