Thursday, May 18, 2023

Safety message: Managing your track infrastructure assets

ONRSR is highlighting good practices and requirements for effective management of railway track infrastructure

Safety message: track infrastructure

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 track – a key piece of rail infrastructure that many Rail Transport operators (RTOs) are required to manage and maintain 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).

In relation to effective management of rail track infrastructure, a good safety management system should contain:

  • Asset details
  • Indicative risks and controls
  • Track infrastructure standards
  • Systems and procedures for inspections
  • Inspection records
  • Defect management

> Asset details

Asset details (such as an asset register) provide information about the track infrastructure itself. Information that can be covered includes, but is not limited to:

  • Rail corridor name or ID with a method of locating assets along the corridor (rail kilometrage).
  • Rail corridor configuration, number of tracks, operational directions, track curve register (horizontal and vertical), register or longitudinal plans of the location of major rail assets with a brief description of those assets (stations, bridges, level crossings, turnouts, crossing loops).
  • Track infrastructure description including rail size, fastening/sleeper type, ballast depth/profile/material.
  • Current operational railway loading details e.g., showing maximum axle loads, load and typical operational rollingstock type in use.
  • Current operational speed and temporary speed restrictions (if any).

> Indicative Risks and controls

Documenting the risks and controls for track infrastructure demonstrates that key risks are being monitored and managed effectively. A non-exhaustive list of risks includes:

  • Track infrastructure failure due to:
    • overloading of the track infrastructure (rail breaks, fastener/sleeper failure, ballast/formation failure).
    • deterioration of the track infrastructure due to the operation of rollingstock traffic (rail wear, rail surface/internal defects, track geometry defects).
    • deterioration of the track infrastructure due to seasonal environmental changes (track stability, curve slack/pull-ins and buckles).
    • deterioration of the track infrastructure due to an external event (scour at track/ballast profile, landslip, wind event, flood or earthquake damage.
  • General public and passengers interfacing with the track infrastructure at station platforms, pedestrian crossings and level crossings.
  • Railway staff accessing and maintaining rail infrastructure.
  • Track inspection staff or repair crews struck by train.

Each of these risks should have controls in place to ensure safety so far as is reasonably practicable. A non-exhaustive list of controls includes:

  • Design based on appropriate standards, performed by a qualified engineer. Design is verified and construction certified.
  • Track design load capacity and current train configurations approved for the rail corridor.
  • Current track infrastructure condition is checked by routine and special inspections. Defects are recorded, risks evaluated, repairs are undertaken and monitored with interventions made before defects become safety critical.
  • Special engineering inspection to confirm adequacy of structure or initiate necessary repairs in the event of extreme weather.
  • Maintaining the track and rollingstock to standards.
  • Adequate design clearances, signposting, line marking, barriers and active pedestrian/level crossing warning systems (as required by risk analysis).
  • Workplace safety procedures and worksite protection for road and rail traffic.

> Track Infrastructure Standards

Standards define the criteria for how track infrastructure should be maintained. Information that standards can cover includes, but is not limited to:

  • Australian Standards (e.g. AS 1085 Track Infrastructure, AS 7642 Turnouts and other Special Trackwork, Track Geometry and relevant material standards).
  • RIM asset management systems, track infrastructure inspection standards and procedures.
  • RIM track infrastructure maintenance procedures.
  • RIM track infrastructure defects management process.
  • RIM and road authority Safe Working Standards.
  • Clear and defined defect acceptance and rejection criteria.
  • Priority ranking system for defects with corrective action timeframes.
  • Technical maintenance plans.
  • Interface Agreements with councils and other stakeholders at pedestrian/level crossings and other interfaces as required.
  • Risk assessment procedures.

> Systems and procedures

Procedures underpin the overall process for maintaining track infrastructure. Information that procedures can cover includes, but are not limited to:

  • Competency requirements for track infrastructure inspectors, and track engineers.
  • Identified competent person(s) within the railway to make decisions with regard to these assets.
  • Defined responsibilities of inspectors and engineers.
  • Inspection types, frequency and methodology.
  • Clear accept/rejection criteria for all defects.
  • Previous report details of defects on site to ensure consistency and capacity to review any deterioration.
  • Notes of all track infrastructure sections and areas to be inspected.
  • Prompts for defects to be checked for deterioration and repair (depending on structure/configuration type and materials) including their priority rankings, defect criticality limits (with triggers for higher inspection type) and defect removal/repair timeframes.
  • Defined safety critical track infrastructure defect limits.

> Inspection Records

Undertaking inspections of track infrastructure helps to understand its condition and what repairs or maintenance may be required. A non-exhaustive list of the information inspection records can cover includes, but is not limited to:

  • Type of inspections:
    • Level 1 (Track patrols & routine visual inspections).
    • Level 2 (Monthly, quarterly, 6 monthly inspections, detailed inspections, and testing). Frequency is dependent on the track infrastructure asset, rollingstock frequency and axle loading.
    • Level 3 (Annual detailed engineering inspection to gather information for longer term asset management).
    • Special engineering inspection triggered by external events.
  • Triggers for L2 and L3 inspections (e.g., significant defects, deteriorated track infrastructure condition).
  • Special inspection report triggers (e.g., seasonally high/low temperatures, storm damage, train derailment, landslip, proposed increased loading or changes in operational speed or rollingstock type).
  • Previous inspection reports (L1, L2 and L3).
  • Timing for inspections e.g. when next inspections are due (L1, L2 and L3).
  • Inspection forms to be used.

> Defect Management

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

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

  • Itemised current defects as per Corrective Action Register (CAR) or Technical Maintenance Plan (TMP).
  • Related defects to specific corridor ID, Asset ID and track infrastructure element as per description/numbering system adopted in standards.
  • Key details about the defect including:
    • date found, inspection type (L1, L2, L3, or special), defect type, detailed location, photographs (if required).
    • current criticality assessment, priority rating and proposed remedial action date.
    • programmed future action (monitoring frequency, correction date, more detailed inspection if nearing intervention limits).
  • Due dates of next inspections due (if L1 and L2).
  • Documented changes made by track infrastructure manager to inspector’s draft defect criticality and draft correction date, with reasons and any additional risk controls deemed relevant.
  • Records of repairs made, ensuring these can be related and traceable to the relevant defects and non-conformances.


Implementing these processes can have additional benefits beyond improved operational safety including:

  • Better use of resources, with more programmed repairs and fewer reactive repairs.
  • More efficient management of track infrastructure assets and understanding of on-going resource requirements including future asset replacements.
  • Fewer overdue inspections or repairs.
  • Better risk-based responses to repairs.

Further to 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 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: Nov 23, 2023, 3:14:33 PM