ONRSR was created to administer and regulate the safety of the Australian railway industry under the co-regulatory framework established by the Rail Safety National Law (RSNL). Our primary objectives are to encourage safe rail operations, ensure compliance with the RSNL and to promote and improve national rail safety. We provide regulatory oversight of the RSNL throughout Australia.
ONRSR takes a risk-based approach to regulating rail transport operators (RTOs) across Australia using a combination of industry intelligence, observations of operations and rail safety data. We seek evidence from each RTO to ensure they are fulfilling their requirements under RSNL. The depth and frequency of our engagement reflects the RTOs safety performance, demonstration of compliance with RSNL and transparency.
We aim to add value in every interaction.
We have the dual, but complementary, roles of administrator of the RSNL accreditation regime (a permission giver) and the regulator of a duty based safety management regime (a monitor, facilitator and enforcer). The nature of the RSNL means that we are not a technical regulator (an approver of equipment, services or processes).
In conducting these roles, we seek to engage with operators in a way that directly influences those with the ultimate responsibility for delivery of safe railway operations and environments. We look to take a predominately facilitative approach to regulating safety, with our rail safety officers collectively acting as a safety conscience and compliance coach to our regulated parties, targeting education where necessary and giving opportunity for operators to address safety issues that are identified. However, where this is not effective with individual operators or more immediate, or publicly accountable action is required we will employ the range of enforcement available to us to secure compliance with the law.
We actively engage with industry beyond the one-on-one regulatory relationships established by the RSNL, engaging with industry organisations in strategic initiatives and projects that are aimed at addressing safety issues across broad industry sectors.
Safety has been at the forefront of rail operations in Australia ever since the nation’s first railway opened in Newcastle in 1831. But some 160 years after that first railway rolled out, the widespread social and economic benefits of a national approach to rail safety in this country were beginning to be discussed in earnest. Indeed by 1993, the Australian Transport Council had endorsed a report titled A National Approach to Rail Safety Regulation.
The report also flagged an intergovernmental agreement to establish nationally-consistent regulation which was subsequently signed in 1996. A decade later, in 2006 the National Transport Commission Act was amended to make provision for nationally consistent rail safety legislation while still providing for state-based rail safety laws. These were overseen by a national panel of state based regulators.
Finally, in June 2009, the Council of Australian Governments voted to establish one Rail Safety National Law overseen by a single National Rail Safety Regulator. By drawing on the history, expertise and experience of the seven state and territory regulators, in August 2011, COAG signed the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on Rail Safety Regulation and Investigation Reform to establish the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) in South Australia. In January 2013 ONRSR began operations with Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) having been enacted in South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and New South Wales. Victoria joined in May 2014, the Australian Capital Territory in November 2014, Western Australia in November 2015 and Queensland in July 2017.
Track condition was selected as a national priority after a review of literature and available occurrence data identified a number of higher risk issues with the potential for derailment. These were: broken rails, track geometry (including wide gauge), misalignments (heat buckles), and broken (defective) joints.
Initial concerns were supported by a review of ATSB Investigation reports, which identified poor track condition as the most common causal factor of the derailment events investigated.
To tackle this national priority, ONRSR is reviewing track standards and the inspection regimes applied by rail infrastructure managers (RIMs) across Australia and verifying the implementation of these regimes through compliance inspections. The principal focus of these inspections is on track stability, track geometry/rail management and general track condition.
There has been active engagement between ONRSR and RIMs, which has resulted in improvements being identified and implemented in relation to track stability management.
ONRSR’s recent focus has included compliance inspections and activities on lateral track stability and summertime maintenance. The inspections used a number of factors, such as tight radius curves, opposing gradients and other intelligence to determine the locations to be targeted.
Track work: competency and communication
During the 2014–2015 financial year there were over 400 occurrence reports relating to track work safe working breaches notified to ONRSR, with rail safety worker competence and safety critical communication a recurring theme. An analysis of the data available to ONRSR identified the following common safety factors associated with worksite occurrences:
- protection types being insufficient or incorrect
- protection location being incorrectly positioned (worksite being incorrectly defined)
- protections being incorrectly removed
- worksite location being incorrectly identified.
These issues were considered significant enough to warrant inclusion as a national priority.
Rolling stock maintenance
Rolling stock maintenance was selected as a national priority after a significant number of rolling stock component failures had been reported during 2014–2015. An audit of maintainers (both accredited rolling stock operators and third party organisations) yielded poor results across all sectors. The operating environment is seeing an increasing use of contractors performing maintenance activities rather than the rolling stock operator. It is important to ensure the accredited operators’ systems for maintenance and safety management are fully applied by its contractors, some of which are not accredited under RSNL.
Road rail vehicle (RRV) safety
RRV safety has been a focus for ONRSR for some time. When identifying its national priorities, ONRSR noted that whilst some improvements had been made across industry in regard to RRV safety, the overall level of improvement was disappointing and more work was needed to improve industry wide performance in this area. It was determined that RRV safety would remain a national priority focus for ONRSR during 2017.
In reviewing the outcomes of the focus on RRV safety, it was apparent there was a clear need for further guidance for parts of industry on key issues such as roles, responsibilities and expectations of designers, manufacturers/modifiers, suppliers (vehicles and componentry), certifiers, contractors, operators and RIMs. As a result, the continued focus on RRV safety throughout 2016 saw ONRSR publish A Guide to Road Rail Vehicles and the Law.
A prospective RTO intending to submit an application is encouraged to contact the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator to discuss requirements prior to lodgment of an application. Applicants should also refer to ONRSR’s Schedule of Fees to determine if costs are applicable.
Accreditation under RSNL is required by anyone intending to carry out railway operations unless they are exempted under RSNL.
As stated in RSNL, “The purpose of accreditation of a rail transport operator in respect of railway operations is to attest that the rail transport operator has demonstrated to the Regulator the competence and capacity to manage risks to safety associated with those railway operations.”
Safety regulation of Australia’s rail network is funded using a combination of government contributions and fixed and variable charges paid by accredited and registered rail transport operators (RTOs) and registered siding owners.
Both accredited and registered entities pay a fixed annual accreditation fee. Accredited RTOs and RIMs also pay a variable annual fee. The calculation rates for annual fees are available in the National Regulations and are updated annually. In certain circumstances, some RTOs may undertake work that would attract the major project fee.
ONRSR’s Major Projects Guideline and Fees Policy outline the characteristics of what might or might not be considered a major project. The Fees Policy provides information on when the major project fee might be an applicable and appropriate class of fee. Major projects typically involve significant technical or operational change, e.g. signalling system upgrades, introduction of new classes of rolling stock, significant new railway infrastructure etc. Rail transport operators (RTOs) and industry stakeholders are encouraged to contact ONRSR to discuss the applicability of the Major Project Guideline and whether their project may attract the major project fee.
The ATSB’s role has been enhanced to be the National Rail Safety Investigator and acts independently of the ONRSR to conduct ‘no-blame’ investigations. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been developed with the ATSB to coordinate our roles, particularly in regard to occurrence reporting and data collection.
The ATSB receives Category A verbal reports from rail transport operators, on behalf of the ONRSR, in those jurisdictions where the ONRSR is the responsible rail safety regulator. Rail accident or incident notification requirements for each state and territory in Australia are summarised on the ATSB website.
Voluntary and confidential reports should be made through the ATSB Confidential Reporting Scheme (REPCON). The contact details are on the ATSB website.
Each year ONRSR produces its statistical analysis of rail safety in Australia. ONRSR’s Rail Safety Report is an ideal first port of call for anyone looking for rail safety data or statistics.