RISSB making progress on rationalising, simplifying, and harmonising railway rules

RISSB’s ongoing efforts to harmonise the rail industry are taking major steps forward.

For well over 100 years our railways have debated and discussed but ultimately been disappointed by our diverging rulebooks. Since federation, the rail commissioners from each state would come together annually and share good practice, but rulebooks remained stubbornly immune to harmonisation. You
can trace the origins of RISSB from those meetings, through their production of the Railways of Australia (ROA) manual, the creation of the Defined Interstate Rail Network (the DIRN) and its catalysation of the ROA manual into the Codes of Practice for the DIRN, which was purchased by the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) creating the Code Management Company – a direct descendant of RISSB.

RISSB, now an independent organisation, and industry’s partner in co-regulation, has not given up.

Since its inception, RISSB has managed the Australian Network Rules and Procedures (ANRP) which brought together the disparate train operations and work on track rules from around Australia into a centralised rulebook.

However, for all its successes, the ANRP is a mix of rules as well as lower level procedures, and in many areas, it contains different options on how to achieve outcomes.

In 2018, RISSB initiated the National Rules project, which – in February 2020 – reached a significant milestone with the delivery of the new National Rules Framework. The Framework provides a principles-based platform for rail transport operators (RTOs) in development of their own rulebooks, thereby bringing greater consistency around the country. It is very pleasing to see that there are already several major railways around the country utilising the framework either as a basis for their own rulebook redevelopment, or as an audit check to ensure their existing rulebooks are providing the necessary breadth of coverage.

It is also important to mention that one of the earlier deliverables of the project was to establish and get industry agreement to the Fundamental Operating Principles (FOPs) which would then become the cornerstone of the National Rules Framework. Industry agreed to the following seven FOPs:

  1. Separation of rail traffic
    Principle: Rail traffic must maintain safe separation via an appropriate method of signalling.
  2. Movement authority for rail traffic
    : Before any rail traffic is allowed to start or continue moving, it must have an authority to move that clearly indicates the limit of that authority.
  3. Interface management of transport modes
    Principle: Rail traffic and other transport modes must be separated, or the interface managed.
  4. Conditions for safe movement of rail traffic
    : Rail traffic must be prevented from moving if the infrastructure’s integrity is suspected to be in an unsafe state.
  5. Hazards to safe operation from unsafe rail traffic
    Principle: Rail traffic must be prevented from moving if the rail traffic’s integrity is suspected to be in an unsafe state.
  6. Compatibility of rail traffic and infrastructure
    Principle: Rail traffic shall only operate on compatible infrastructure.
  7. Keeping people away from moving or stationary rail traffic
    Principle: Safe separation must be maintained between people and rail traffic.

The next major phase of this project is to identify those individual rules – not entire rulebooks – where the industry wants harmonisation to improve safety and deliver business benefits consistent with the FOPs. Opportunities to further simplify and rationalise the 56 ANRPs will also be explored in this phase of the project.

To that end, in April this year the National Rules Industry Reference Group, a group of senior business leaders from the railway sector’s 14 largest companies, met and agreed:

  • To proceed in the area of communications,
  • That their organisation will adopt the agreed harmonised national rule/s once developed – effectively self-mandating them, and
  • That once a harmonised national rule is produced, and accepted into RTOs rulebooks, it will be recognised as such, and somehow reasonably protected to prevent future divergence.

The governance structure was also agreed with this group maintaining stewardship and oversight of national rules harmonisation.

It’s been a long road, but we’re making great progress in rationalising and simplifying rules, and helping the railway drive out unnecessary cost and inefficiency. We’re very excited to be entering this next phase of the work.

The National Rules Framework is available at www.rissb.com.au/products-main/national-operations/