Monday, July 24, 2023

Safety message: Managing your signalling assets

ONRSR is highlighting some of the key good practices and requirements for effective management of railway Signalling, Communications, Electrical and Control Systems (SCE&CS).

Safety message signalling assets

ONRSR conducts regulatory activities, including audits, inspections, and site visits, across multiple operators and sectors. In conducting these regulatory activities, ONRSR often observes and identifies both good and poor safety practices.

In this safety message, ONRSR highlights some of the good practices for maintaining rail signalling and control systems – a key piece of rail infrastructure that many rail transport operators (RTOs) are required to manage safely, so far as is reasonably practicable as per the Rail Safety National Law.

While not exhaustive and given the range of operational environments within the Australian rail industry, the following should be noted.

RTOs must consider a range of factors, including the likelihood of the hazard and the degree of harm to determine what management practices are reasonably practicable to implement.

Refer to the ONRSR Guideline – Meaning of duty to ensure safety so far as is reasonably practicable SFAIRP for more information.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of key aspects and information a good safety management system should contain regarding effective maintenance of SCE&CS assets:

  • Asset details
  • Risks and controls
  • Systems and procedures
  • Standards
  • Inspections records
  • Defect management

> Asset details

Asset details (such as an asset register) provide information about the SCE&CS which includes level crossings, signals, train detection, points equipment, power supply and distribution equipment, radios, object controllers, structures and cables.

These details can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Equipment/component name, ID / serial number, description, manufacturer.
  • Location and layout arrangement/schemes.
  • Asset classification, type within classification and/or configuration within classification.
  • Dates and records of installation, testing and decommissioning and/or disposal, if relevant.
  • General arrangement and component drawings, plans, manuals.
  • Site surveys and detailed site surveys e.g., level crossing detailed site plans and light focussing diagrams.
  • Installation and maintenance manuals.
  • Site, component and asset condition photographs.
  • Asset failure modes, historical faults and defects, maintenance, refurbishment or renewal, and test records.
  • Current operational condition and temporary or permanent issues which affect/restrict the asset’s normal operational status (if any) including the requirement for additional inspections or maintenance.
  • Software management including processes to manage system application and component factory software including storage, security, version control and updates, testing, roll-out and fault management.

> Risks and controls

Documenting the risks and controls demonstrates that key risks are being monitored, managed and mitigated effectively.

A non-exhaustive list of risks related to SCE&CS includes:

  • Asset or component failure malfunction including ‘wrong side’ failures.
  • Overloading e.g., mechanical, electrical or exceeds system software or hardware capability.
  • Deterioration e.g., breakdown of insulation, corrosion, fatigue, insect/rodent attack, component over temperature, lightning, flooding or high temperatures.
  • Road vehicle or rolling stock striking the asset.
  • Injuries to staff or repair crews including from collisions with road vehicles or rolling stock.
  • Injuries to public or staff due to asset malfunction.
  • Wrong side failures

Each of the above risks should have controls in place to ensure safety SFAIRP of SCE&CS and those who interface with it.

A non-exhaustive list of controls includes:

  • Risk evaluation and monitoring including potential for a “wrong side” event leading to a train derailment or collision.
  • Inspection, testing and maintenance complying with the safety management systems (SMS). This includes any special engineering inspections to confirm adequacy of infrastructure or initiate any necessary repairs.
  • Road vehicles actively protected at level crossings.
  • Active monitoring and warning systems which identify and manage system or component faults.
  • Workplace safety worksite protection procedures.
  • Position of trackside and other high-risk infrastructure assets consider safe access for inspection and maintenance.
  • Identification and assessment of hazards and safety risks, implementation, and review of relevant controls.

> Systems and procedures

Systems and procedures provide a clear and consistent approach in managing and conducting the inspection and maintenance of SCE&CS assets.

Information systems and procedures should cover includes, but is not limited to:

  • Clearly defined competencies, accountabilities and requirements for engineers, inspectors and maintainers e.g. who is authorised to carry out inspections and maintenance and make decisions regarding SCE&CS assets.
  • Inspection types, frequency and methodology.
  • Previous inspection/maintenance reports, data and photographs.
  • Details of inspection aspects, e.g., components, asset age, condition number of operations, rail traffic type and frequency, risks and hazards (including mitigations).
  • Testing processes including the tests and test parameters used.
  • Defect recording and reporting requirements.
  • Actions, mitigations and interventions taken when asset condition falls outside the approved parameters and tolerances.
  • Replacement and renewal processes including approval and authorised documentation used e.g., work instructions, work orders, test records covering the asset/component installation, testing and certification.
  • Disconnection and isolation of equipment for maintenance or repair, including equipment which is defective or unavailable for use.
  • Processes for updating asset registers to reflect the replaced/renewed/updated asset or component.
  • Overall management and monitoring of compliance, and review of compliance to requirements.
  • All of the above documented in network procedures and SCE&CS standards/procedures.

> Standards

Standards define the criteria for how assets should be maintained.

Relevant standards that can apply include but are not limited to the following:

  • Applicable Australian Standards.
  • RIM assets management systems and network rules.
  • RIM maintenance standards and procedures.
  • RIM and road authority safe working standards and procedures.
  • Technical asset maintenance plans that include service schedules and frequencies tailored to meet the network’s safe reliable operational requirements.

> Inspection Records

Undertaking regular planned inspections of assets assists in providing an understanding of their condition and what repairs or additional maintenance may be required.

Information inspections / maintenance activities can include but is not limited to the following:

  • Type of inspections:
    • Level 1 (routine visual inspection, servicing and reporting).
    • Level 2 (detailed inspection, testing and reporting - also includes Level 1 requirements).
    • Level 3 (detailed engineering inspection and reporting) utilised for:
      • independent monitoring of inspection/maintenance quality.
      • asset condition review and future planning.
      • mentoring opportunities to improve the quality of inspection and maintenance activities/tasks.
    • Special engineering inspection triggered by external events including:
      • asset specific areas which should be assessed.
      • safe access to infrastructure.
      • specified standards and asset condition parameters.
      • additional L1, L2 and L3 inspections e.g., significant defects, asset condition deterioration.
    • Additional inspections and/or testing due to operational changes such as increased asset or asset type failures, changes to traffic levels, increased axle loadings or changes to operational speeds.
  • Processes for using previous inspection reports (L1, L2 and L3) for benchmarking asset changes including replacement, renewal and/or upgrade.
  • Timing for inspection service schedules i.e., when inspections are due (L1, L2 and L3).
  • Test record forms and checklists used to record information captured during inspections.

> Defect Management

Defect management is about ensuring defects or non-conformances are accurately recorded, criticality assessed, tracked, monitored and actioned from defect identification to rectification.

Information defect management can cover includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Itemise, log and manage current defects (as per TMP and SMS).
  • Defects are related to specific signalling asset, asset elements or component as per description/numbering system adopted in defect management standards and procedures.
  • Key details about the defect including:
    • date found, inspection type (L1, L2, L3, or special), defect type, detailed location, including relevant photographs.
    • current criticality assessment including:
      • criticality limits (with triggers for additional and/or higher level of inspection/maintenance); and
      • safety critical defects that would result in restriction to, or suspension of railway operations.
    • programmed future action (monitoring frequency, correction date, more detailed inspection if nearing intervention limits).
  • Next inspections due (L1, L2 and L3).
  • Processes to document any changes made by the responsible engineer to the inspector’s draft defect criticality and/or correction date with reasons and any additional risk controls deemed relevant.
  • Mitigations identified and prioritised according to their rankings.
  • Recording of repairs made and ensuring these can be related and traced to the relevant defects and non-conformances.


The implementation of these recommendations can have operational safety and reliability benefits such as:

  • Better use and programming of resources with fewer reactive repairs.
  • More efficient management of assets and understanding of on-going resource requirements including future asset replacement/renewal.
  • Fewer overdue inspections or repairs.
  • Better risk-based responses to repairs including improved hazard and risk management together with higher network reliability and availability.

As a result of this safety message, operators may benefit from reviewing their SMS.

The following list includes, but is not limited to, those systems and procedures likely to be most relevant for review:

  1. Technical Maintenance Plans
  2. Management of change process
  3. Monitoring processes and procedures
  4. Defect management systems
  5. Competencies and Training processes
  6. Corrective action systems and procedures

Please see ONRSR Guideline - Safety Management System Guideline for more information.

The Safety Management System Guideline provides accredited rail transport operators, and those seeking accreditation, with guidance on the legislative requirements for safety management systems and what the National Rail Safety Regulator (NRSR) looks for when assessing safety management systems, and how to prepare a safety management system that complies with the legislative requirements.

All RTOs managing railway track may benefit from reviewing this guideline.

A comprehensive collection of ONRSR Safety Messages is available to view here.

Last updated: Dec 14, 2023, 9:11:12 AM