ONRSR driving a national approach to rail safety

The Australian rail industry will continue to see a more national approach to rail safety regulation, attendees heard at the 20th annual Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) Rail Safety Conference.

Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) chief executive and National Rail Safety Regulator Sue McCarrey said that since the regulator become truly national at the end of 2019 with Victoria joining the program, the body has been working to align standards across states and territories.

Across ONRSR’s four priorities, track worker safety, contractor management, level crossing safety, and control assurance, efforts are being taken to standardise safety approaches with better outcomes for the rail industry.

“There are huge advantages to being truly national,” said McCarrey.

One area where this is currently occurring is in the development of a guideline for fatigue management. By looking at the issues from the perspective of the impact of fatigue on rail safety risk, ONRSR hopes to enable operators to follow one practice across different states.

McCarrey said that these efforts were recognised in the recent Productivity Commission report which identified that ONRSR was the leading Commonwealth transport regulator in delivering a nationally-harmonised approach.

With the national model now established, McCarrey said that ONRSR would look further into encouraging the uptake of more advanced technology, including in cab video and audio recordings.

The adoption of modern technology to improve track worker safety is another area where McCarrey said that a risk-based approach to safety is allowing for innovation in the industry. With technology now costing much less than it did five to 10 years ago, the obligation for rial organisations to ensure safety so far as reasonably practicable is enabling the adoption of new technology.

McCarrey said that ONRSR would also be looking at where it can further develop its own practices and encourage regulatory reform.

“We should constantly be looking at how we can improve,” said McCarrey.

Looking towards 2025, McCarrey said that with the rapid deployment of new technology, the best fit for regulation may need to adapt.

RTBU criticises fatigue management guidelines

The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) is pushing back against a draft fatigue management guideline that it argues undermines regulated maximum shift hours, which apply in Queensland and NSW.

The draft Fatigue Risk Management Guideline, published by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, outlines the steps that rail transport operators should undertake to manage fatigue-related risks of rail safety workers.

The draft suggests that high fatigue risks may be offset through other factors. The draft gives the example of work that must be done at night which increases the risk of fatigue because at these times alertness is reduced and it is not possible to obtain night sleep, which is most efficient for recovery. These factors could be offset by shortening the total length of night shifts, minimising consecutive shifts, or implementing a reset break between sequences of night work to allow time for recovery.

RTBU secretary Mark Diamond wrote in a submission to the guideline that this approach of “offsets” would undercut safety.

“By taking a non-prescriptive approach, the draft guideline pushes the burden risk management assessment onto operators. Ultimately that means people who are untrained in this field, and/or have little exposure to the needs of the working environment, will be required to make subjective judgments about safe practices.”

Under the Rail Safety National Law, transport operators are required to, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure that rail safety workers do not carry out rail safety work while impaired by fatigue or if they may become so impaired. To meet this requirement, transport operators must have a safety management system that includes a fatigue risk management plan.

In NSW and Queensland, in addition to these requirements there are prescribed hours of work for train drivers. In both states, drivers are largely limited to nine hours in one-person operation and 12 hours in two-person operation where the second driver is a qualified train driver.

ONRSR chief executive and National Rail Safety Regulator Sue McCarrey said that safety risks were not affected by more proscriptive regulation.

“ONRSR’s 2018 review of the fatigue risk management arrangements under the RSNL found no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that jurisdictions operating under a full risk-based framework for all rail safety workers pose any greater rail safety risk than jurisdictions which have prescribed hours for train drivers,” she said.

McCarrey said that the draft guideline was developed with expert input.

“As part of the fatigue risk management review, ONRSR engaged two fatigue experts to develop principles of rest and recovery which address key factors associated with the scheduling of work. An essential element of the fatigue risk management process is how the principles interact. If work schedules have an elevated fatigue likelihood, this can be managed via offsetting principles to manage the risk to safety or by introducing other controls to reduce rail safety risks.”

In a recent review of national rail safety legislation the Productivity Commission highlighted fatigue management as one area where efficiencies could be improved.

Diamond wrote that the national standard should follow the regulations in Queensland and NSW.

“Any application of a risk management approach in the Australian rail sector must be done within the constraints of clear, prescribed minimum standards. The RTBU contends that the strict standards regulating hours of work for traincrew in NSW and Queensland should be considered as industry best practice when it comes to fatigue management.”

National risk-based approach to fatigue management needed: Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission has called for the final inconsistencies in the national approach to rail regulation to be removed to improve competitiveness in the sector and increase safety.

The recommendations come from the Commission’s National Transport Regulatory reform inquiry, which examined the efforts since the 2009 COAG reforms to bring together state-based regulation of the transport sector in a national approach.

These reforms led to the creation of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and the Rail Safety National Law, however the Productivity Commission found that state-based differences were still hampering the sector.

One area where there needed to be further national harmonisation is in the area of fatigue management in rail regulation, as state-based differences continue to exist. The Productivity Commission recommended that ONRSR should be empowered to lead a risk-based approach to fatigue management, rather than prescriptive requirements.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed the Productivity Commission’s findings, noting it was up to the states to now ensure that productivity gains could be implemented.

“The Productivity Commission’s recommendation for a nationally-consistent risk-based approach to fatigue management is good news for the rail industry, but support from the New South Wales and Queensland governments will be critical if we are to actually achieve change.”

Overall, the Productivity Commission found that the reforms implemented since 2009 have improved safety in the rail industry and that rail has progressed further than other transport sectors that were part of the reforms, namely the road transport and domestic maritime sectors.

Sue McCarrey, ONRSR chief executive and national rail safety regulator, highlighted that significant progress has been made.

“Measures taken over the past eight years have underpinned a reduction in the regulatory burden on operators that has in turn allowed for a greater safety focus within industry. In fact, while only one of many measures of safety on the rail network, it is worth noting that rail-related fatalities reached a five-year low during 2019-2020.”

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the government welcomed the report.

“We will carefully consider all of the recommendations within the report and undertake vital consultation with regulators, jurisdictions and industry stakeholders to prepare a response.”

Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham welcomed the report and pushed for a further national approach to the harmonisation of regulation.

“ALC has always believed in one rule book for one country allowing road and rail operators to develop consistent national safety systems. This will improve efficiency and consistently and so lead to enhanced safety outcomes.” he said.

In addition to regulatory reforms, the Productivity Commission highlighted processes and practices that could improve the transport sectors. For rail, the various technical standards, operating codes, and procedures set by network owners is identified as a barrier to the industry.

Improved data on compliance costs could balance the requirements for cost recovery in regulation with where regulation is most onerous. McCarrey said that ONRSR is working on a cost recovery model with industry.

“ONRSR is currently using the closing months of 2020 to consult with industry and governments on a model based on operators’ risk profile and the regulatory effort required by ONRSR. The focus here is not on generating more money from fees but rather on ensuring the cost of regulation is recovered from those areas of industry where the most effort is expended.”


Collaboration to drive safer railways

ONRSR, RISSB, and ACRI are collaborating to provide the Australian rail industry with the best track worker safety technologies and systems.

In one of only two prosecutions carried out in the 2018-2019 year, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) brought two charges against Sydney Trains after a track worker was killed while working on the network in 2016.

The rare use of the most severe enforcement tool, besides a revocation or suspension of accreditation, signalled to the industry just how serious the regulator was taking the issue of track worker safety.

CEO of ONRSR and Australia’s National Rail Safety Regulator Sue McCarrey said that currently, the Australian rail industry is not going in the right direction on track worker safety.

“Track worker safety is a continuing priority for us because some of the data and the information that we have says we’re not quite improving as much as we would like to.”

Focus areas are based on inspections, audits, and the compliance activities of ONRSR, and in the case of track worker safety, both the number of breaches and the rate of incidents per thousand of track kilometres has increased since 2015-2016.

“Our rail systems are getting busier and rail is under pressure to keep moving,” said McCarrey. “If you look at the work that’s happening right across the rail industry, whether in Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane, that puts additional pressure on the system, and with many more worksites happening, that does cause an increase in the statistics.”

While few incidents are fatal, with the 2016 Sydney Trains being one of the tragic few, what is frustrating to the regulator, said Peter Doggett, ONRSR chief operating officer, is that all are preventable.

“We see a large number of very significant near misses and when you go into the factors that contributed to them, every single one I’d argue is preventable with really simple changes and processes. It’s simple stuff that is breaking down and leading to these incidents.”

The issue of track worker safety and more work going on within the rail corridor is not only an issue in Australia. According to McCarrey, there is a global push to put the best technology in the hands of rail maintenance workers and network managers to prevent track worker safety incidents.

“It’s an area of concern for rail right around the world. There’s a whole lot of work that’s being undertaken by individual rail companies in Australia and overseas looking at what are different systems, approaches, and, in particular, uses of technology that are being used to keep track workers safe.”

Seeing this work in action, ONRSR, are collaborating with the Rail industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), and have tasked the Australian Centre for Rail innovation (ARCI) to conduct a global survey to provide a baseline reference for Australian operators of global best practice when it comes to track worker safety.

By collaborating and combining insights from government, research bodies, and the rail industry, the project aims to provide useful information that can be applied straight away.

“The idea is that this research will help companies make decisions as to what is the best approach for them,” said McCarrey. “It’s different if you’re a Sydney Trains or a Melbourne Metro, or if you’re in the Pilbara and you’re in a fairly remote part of Australia or you’re the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and your track goes across the Nullarbor. The approach has to be different but everybody’s out there looking at similar systems around the world.”

To be completed before the end of 2020, the research will be a result of collaborating and describe what systems and technology are available, what are the advantages and disadvantages, and where has the system been proven to work in different environments.

Andrew Meier, CEO of ACRI, describes the project as a proactive tool.

“It will be seeking engagement from across industry to find out about those trials that are not widely known and that are underway or have completed and what decisions have been made on those that are safe solutions. Being able to have that information available for industry is vitally important.”

The final report will be made up of a literature review as well as a scan of technologies on the horizon, informed by collaborating with industry through a survey as well as stakeholder workshops.

“ONRSR and RISSB are collaborating and want this to be a seminal tool for industry to use, to say this is what we know, and you can take this from here. It may well be that some of the things that are identified still need a level of development but perhaps someone will want to pick up that trial and take it further. It will give people a baseline of information to immediately know what they can do to keep their track workers safe,” said Meier.

“It’s a tool for now.”

With the adoption of new, safety critical technologies, McCarrey outlines that ONRSR and the National Rail Safety law allows rail operators to adopt new technology, for example in the adoption of driverless trains on the Sydney Metro network and on Rio Tinto’s network in the Pilbara.

“The law actually allows rail companies to introduce new technologies but what we do as the regulator is to have a look at their safety assurance of that,” said McCarrey. “We will work with the rail operator all the way through. We will be looking at where did the technology come from, where has it been used before, how have you tested it in your system, so that we can ultimately see that, so far as is reasonably practical, they have put all the assurance and a governance system in place to ensure that they believe that the system is safe.”

With the adoption of technology to improve track worker safety, the reduction in cost of GPS-based location technology, as well as real-time communication systems which can alert the driver and network operator, it is becoming more important than ever that rail operators look at what can be applied to their network or operations.

Meier also notes that ACRI is conducting research into the application of off-the-shelf robotics technology to remove people from potentially dangerous locations. However, McCarrey stresses that this research project and ONRSR more generally will not select any particular product or technology.

“We’ve got to be really careful as a regulator, we must remain independent, because different companies will implement different things,” she said.

“What the project will develop is a suite of possible solutions. It’s not going to pick a winner of some kind of technology but what it will produce is a table of technologies and techniques around track worker safety. This will cover at indicative costs, time frames for implementation and where they might be useful in different environments. It’s not going to say, ‘This is the best.’”

Instead, noted McCarrey, the research project will be a resource for industry.

Currently, the project is conducting desktop research and is seeking industry feedback. Companies seeking to be involved should contact ACRI.

Inaugural ambassador leads Rail Safety Week activities

Rail Safety Week will this year involve the work of a National Rail Safety Ambassador.

In a first for the yearly awareness-raising week which in 2020 runs from August 10 to 16, Paralympian Vanessa Low will be the face of rail safety around Australia.

In her role as the National Rail Safety Ambassador Low, who was injured in a rail incident, will lead rail safety programs and is highlighting the rail safety pledge that TrackSAFE is encouraging rail staff and organisations as well as members of the general public to take. In 2019, Low was the ACT Rail Safety Week ambassador.

Heather Neil, executive director of TrackSAFE said that being rail safe is not only individually significant.

“Being rail SAFE means Staying off the tracks, Avoiding distractions, Following safety instructions and Encouraging others to be SAFE,” Neil said.

“If each one of us is RailSAFE we will also ensure train drivers and rail staff don’t have to face traumatic events involving fatalities, injuries and near misses.”

Now in its 15th year, Rail Safety Week is being marked by events around Australia and in New Zealand. Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, said that there was an added dimension this year.

“Rail safety is no longer just about staying off the tracks and keeping free of distractions – it is also about wearing masks in states where it is recommended and supporting the rail workers that support us by keeping COVIDsafe,” she said.

Sue McCarrey, ONRSR chief executive and national rail safety regulator, said that as routines may have changed, which necessitated a greater focus on being railSAFE.

“Rail Safety Week falls at a really important time, we have some people returning to work or starting to travel a bit more, and others who will be getting out of routine as their time in lockdown continues. What we are hoping to do is to just remind people of their safety responsibilities,” she said.

“If you work in the rail industry, are interacting with a rail network when traveling or just using a crossing when you are out and about exercising remember the processes, procedures or those daily habits that have kept you safe.”

NZ Transport Minister Phil Twyford said that his government has been installing additional safety infrastructure.

“Since the start of 2018, in Auckland 23 high-risk pedestrian crossings have had barrier gates installed, with 15 more planned. Wellington is seeing upgrades to 12 pedestrian crossings, with improvements planned for at least 27 road crossings in the Wairarapa,” said Twyford.

“On top of that, KiwiRail and Waka Kotahi have also completed upgrades to 17 level crossings around the country, with another 20 to be completed before the middle of next year. They are also looking ahead to what could be in the next phase of upgrades.”

ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that individuals needed to be alert when around the rail corridor.

“Remember, stay behind the yellow line at our light rail stops, wait for the green light and look both ways before you cross tracks or the road, and limit your distractions from devices such as mobile phones when near the light rail tracks.”

NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that trespassing was a particular issue.

“It’s really concerning to see people getting hurt and risking their lives to chase social media likes. We’ve seen 2,689 incidents of trespassing in the last 12 months, many of them reckless acts for selfie stunts.”

As part of Rail Safety Week activities, Wilkie will be leading a discussion with safety leaders from organisations including Sydney Trains and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) on Wednesday, August 12.

Low said that she hoped working as an ambassador throughout this week would lead into ongoing programs.

“While Rail Safety Week is celebrated in August each year, rail safety is a year-round, unquestioned commitment.”

track worker

Global study to provide best practices for track worker safety

Australian rail safety organisations will conduct a global investigation of best practices to inform track worker safety practices.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) have tasked the Australian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) to report to the Australian industry on promising initiatives overseas.

ONRSR chief executive Sue McCarrey said that there is always room for improvement.

“This is about saving lives. Too many track workers have lost their lives in tragic and, on many occasions, avoidable accidents and we must always be exploring what more can be done to prevent them,” she said.

“Track worker safety is a long-standing national priority for ONRSR and together with our partner agencies we have an opportunity to facilitate really effective change.”

Over the next six months, ACRI will explore and identify existing technology and techniques which improve track worker safety. The research institute will then understand how these practices can be applied locally or modified to fit Australian standards, providing insights into how operators can implement the approaches.

RISSB CEO Deb Spring said that the investigation would take a comprehensive look at safety.

“This project will form a critical component of a suite of related RISSB initiatives, offering both engineering solutions and exploring options around planning, communication and culture,” she said.

“This important work will help the Australian rail industry drive improvements in the safety of its most important asset – our people.”

Once a survey of international best practices is complete, ACRI will develop a database of track worker safety technology based on international case studies. A final report based on local stakeholder engagement will enumerate the best options for the Australian rail industry.

ACRI chief executive Andrew Meier said the organisation was proud to work with RISSB and ONRSR on the project.

“Trusted information made readily available is vital to rail decision making,” he said.

ARA represents rail in Productivity Commission Inquiry on National Transport Regulatory Reform

In her column, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie highlights that in current reform discussions the establishment of a national rail safety regulator was a step in the right direction, but there is more work to be done.

The Productivity Commission is undertaking an inquiry into National Transport Regulatory Reform, the reform that established national regulators and national laws for rail, heavy vehicles, and maritime.

Many would be aware that the ARA was a strong advocate for the establishment of a National Rail Safety Regulator. So much so, that the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) recently acknowledged previous ARA CEO, the late Bryan Nye OAM, as both the “agitator” and “architect” of achieving a National Rail Safety Regulator in Australia.

Recognising the significance of the inquiry, the ARA has been deeply engaged in the Commission’s process.

The inquiry terms of reference direct the Commission to investigate the economic benefits that have been achieved through the national transport reforms, to examine the implementation of the three national regulators and identify scope for further reforms.

To appropriately respond to the terms of reference, the ARA initially ran four member workshops around the country, engaging industry safety and regulation representatives to ensure a detailed first submission was provided to the Commission in mid-2019, outlining the industry’s experiences to date and highlighting further reform opportunities that will benefit rail. Following the release of the Commissions’ substantial draft report, the ARA provided a second submission with further member input, supporting many of the draft recommendations put forward by the Commission but questioning the Commissions’ view that road and rail freight are not substitutes and seeking clarity around the funding arrangements for the three national regulators.

In early February, ARA chair Danny Broad, general manager Emma Woods, and public affairs and government relations manager Mal Larsen appeared before the Commission at a hearing in Canberra to discuss the National Transport Regulatory Reforms, the Commissions’ draft report and the ARA’s submissions.

The ARA highlighted the social benefits of passenger and freight rail as quantified by Deloitte in the ARA commissioned Value of Rail Report.

Turning to the reform that has been achieved, the ARA acknowledged that the establishment of a National Rail Safety Regulator has led to some improvements, most notably, the establishment of a single accreditation process for cross-jurisdictional operators. However, reinforcing the position put forward in each of the ARA submissions, the ARA stressed that more is needed to allow the regulatory reform benefits to be fully realised for industry.

The ARA went on to highlight three key issues in response to the Commission’s draft report:

  1. Support to address Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) derogations but concern that the industry has been through this process recently without a national outcome;
  2. The Report’s claims that road and rail freight cannot be substitutes, and the Report’s disproportionate focus on further road productivity and road access reforms, without addressing long standing discrepancies in regulation and access charging that give road freight an unfair advantage over rail freight. The ARA believes this is a detrimental outcome for our national freight task that will make it more challenging for rail to compete in the freight market; and
  3. Clarity around government funding of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), and ONRSR.

The ARA tabled its support for the Commission’s recommendation that the National Transport Commission (NTC) undertake a review of the derogations from the RSNL but highlighted that while there are more than 80 derogations to the RSNL, the three priority derogations that will provide the greatest benefits for industry if rectified are:

1. A nationally consistent, risk-based approach to drug and alcohol management;

2. A nationally consistent, risk-based approach to fatigue management; and

3. The removal of the mirror law legislation in WA.

Noting that ONRSR recently completed reviews into drug and alcohol management and fatigue, both of which were resource- intensive for ONRSR and industry alike, and did not achieve national consistency because the current structure permits state governments to maintain their own arrangements, the ARA supported recommendations for the NTC to review derogations but expressed concerns as to whether this will achieve regulatory consistency.

Before delving into the Commissions’ draft report claims that road and rail freight cannot be substitutes, the ARA was overt to state that it does not perpetuate the old-style road versus rail debate but rather, must take a national approach with all modes working together to deliver an integrated freight market. The ARA then cited several examples where road and rail are clear substitutes, such as Inland Rail project, where the ARTC business cases forecasts two million tonnes of agriculture will switch from road to rail and that 200,000 trucks will be taken off roads per annum from 2050; the Darwin to Adelaide rail link which now has 90 per cent of the market share of freight movements; the Melbourne to Perth and Sydney to Perth rail links which both have 80 per cent of the freight market and the Moorebank Intermodal terminal which will provide a direct link to the interstate freight network and Port Botany and once at full operation, will have the capacity to shuttle more than one million shipping containers annually between Port Botany and Moorebank by rail taking about 3,000 heavy truck movements off Sydney’s road network every day.

Drawing on these examples, the ARA asserted that road and rail freight are proven substitutes on many routes and trades and should be subject to equal treatment in terms of access pricing and the role of productivity in safety regulation.

The ARA also spoke on the issue of fatigue management, productivity opportunities for rail freight, the need to ensure the Australian Transport Safety Bureau provides value by improving the timeliness of its reports, and how to improve interface agreements.

The Productivity Commission will finalise its report to deliver to government by April 2020.