Safe railways for Australia

ONRSR Chief hails the decade of delivery


24 Jan 2020

ONRSR Chief Executive and National Rail Safety Regulator, Sue McCarrey has reflected on the past decade confident it will be remembered as one of the most telling periods ever for safety and efficiency in the Australian rail sector.

Since the decision to establish a national rail safety regulator was taken by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2009, the following 10 years has not only seen national legislation drafted and passed in all states and territories, but the national regulator itself established and fully operational across the country.

“I’m very confident that Australian rail networks are now safer for the people using and working in railways and while like everyone in this business I’m very keen to see the next reform and to capitalise on the next opportunity, it doesn’t hurt to stop and contemplate what’s been achieved, which is really quite extraordinary,” Ms. McCarrey said.

“To establish national law that facilitates the removal of barriers to safety and efficiency that have existed for more than a century is significant enough. But when you consider we’ve then been able to consistently apply that law right across the country – that’s worth commemorating.”

Following the passage of Australia’s Rail Safety National Law in May 2012, ONRSR has overseen its national application and, in just six years since first opening its doors, the national regulator has delivered outcomes to the Australian rail industry including:

  • Consolidated single accreditation process
  • A risk-based national work program of safety audits and inspections
  • Issuing over 65 guidelines including specialised guidance for major rail projects
  • Nationally consistent data sets and an annual national Rail Safety Report
  • A dedicated ‘safety improvement’ program addressing key rail safety issues
  • A national ‘one invoice’ fee structure
  • Reviews of fatigue and drug and alcohol provisions of Rail Safety National Law
  • Review of more than 80 derogations within Rail Safety National Law with only three remaining that have a major impact
  • The removal of layers of specific requirements associated with the previous regime of seven different regulators
  • A digital ‘portal’ for the exchange of regulatory information and documentation.

As a result the rail industry now enjoys promotion of safety and safety improvements in the delivery of rail transport, improved productivity and efficiencies from consistent national requirements and a decreased regulatory burden.

The core rail safety role has been performed while ONRSR simultaneously managed the transition of jurisdictions into the national fold which started with South Australia, NSW, Tasmania and the Northern Territory in 2012-13 and was followed by the ACT and heavy rail in Victoria 2014, Western Australia in 2015 and Queensland in 2017.

Late 2019 saw a major milestone with full transition of the rail safety regulatory role in Victoria and the removal of the service level agreement, an achievement marked last week when the Victorian Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne, visited the new ONRSR Melbourne office.

“These outcomes have been formally documented in ONRSR’s submission to the Productivity Commission Review and acknowledged through stakeholder feedback,” Ms. McCarrey said.

“There is obviously still plenty of work to be done as we enter a new decade but we are, as a risk-based regulator working under a co-regulatory model, making great progress in delivering on the outcomes and objectives of improved rail safety and seamless national safety regulation.”

Prior to the 2009 COAG decision a study conducted by Synergies Economic Consulting revealed that:

…regulators were seen as behaving in an increasingly prescriptive manner with consequences for investment and safety outcomes, regulations were not seen by many respondents as being the minimum necessary to achieve desired safety outcomes, and regulators were not paying sufficient attention to the business compliance costs imposed by their actions.

That report also referenced a separate study by the Productivity Commission in 1999 that noted problems with:

  • The complexity of accreditation systems and layers of regulation;
  • Confusion between safety and operating procedures and standards;
  • Different interpretations and terminology within the industry; and
  • Complicated mechanisms for progressing reform.

By contrast, among the findings of ONRSR’s fully independent 2019 stakeholder survey (completed by more than half of Australia’s accredited rail transport operators) were:

  • 64% of respondents either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that current regulatory arrangements compare favorably to what was in place before ONRSR was established. (Up from 51% in the same survey in 2016).
  • 60% of respondents believe regulatory processes and procedures for industry are between 60% and 100% better that they were under state-based regulators.

“This is a great platform from which we can approach the new decade,” Ms. McCarrey said.

“Our commitment to safety is what drives us every day and this will not change. But, in carrying out our critical role in the rail transport sector we are also looking at ways to more consistently administer and apply the law across the county.”

“We will also improve our use of data and look at how we can play our part in making our industry as safe, efficient and productive as it can possibly be.”

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