Safe railways for Australia

ONRSR's national priorities


A national priority for ONRSR is defined as a rail safety area of regulatory focus that applies to multiple jurisdictions and operators and warrants a sustained period of regulatory attention. ONRSR typically targets its national priorities through operator-centric national compliance projects or industry-wide safety improvement projects.

ONRSR applied a structured, evidence-based risk assessment process to identify the following four national priority areas of regulatory focus for the 2018 calendar year:

Track worker safety

ONRSR was notified of 340 occurrences involving breaches of worksite protection rules and procedures during 2016–2017. An analysis of these breaches found that 93 cases (27% of all breaches of worksite protection rules and procedures) involved a type of failure where adverse consequences were probable under slightly different circumstances. In a small number of instances an accident was averted only through the emergency action(s) of an individual such as a train driver applying emergency brakes or a worker jumping from the path of an approaching train.

Furthermore, inspections undertaken as part of ONRSR’s national compliance project on track work – competency and communication identified recurring issues with the types of worksite protection applied, the identification and definitions of worksite locations and the removal of protection at worksites.

These issues carry significant safety risk and since the rate of serious occurrences has remained high, ONRSR has retained track worker safety as a priority area in 2018. A new national compliance project focused on unplanned and reactive track work activities, together with an industry-wide safety improvement initiative will be progressed in 2018.

Road rail vehicle safety

There were 130 occurrences reported to ONRSR in relation to road rail vehicle (RRV) safety in 2016–2017 at a rate consistent with previous years. Many of these occurrences involved potentially serious collisions, derailments and uncontrolled movements of RRVs. Furthermore, ONRSR’s national compliance project on road rail vehicle safety found a number of common concerns affecting multiple operators particularly in relation to risk management practices for RRV operations.

ONRSR will maintain a heightened level of regulatory focus on this area in 2018, shifting its attention from RRV operators to rail infrastructure managers who must maintain effective management and control of RRV operations on their network.

See the Road rail vehicles and the law page for further information on RRV safety.

Level crossing safety

Excluding trespass and suicide, accidents at railway crossings account for the largest number of railway-related fatalities involving members of the public.

There were 27 railway crossing collisions between train and road vehicles notified to ONRSR in the 2016–2017 financial year, of which 18 (67%) involved passenger trains. The threat of a catastrophic consequence is particularly relevant to passenger trains because of the potentially large number of people exposed.

Industry and governments are taking a leading role in addressing safety risks at level crossings and ONRSR continues to provide its full support. A number of jurisdictions have level crossing committees and ONRSR provides regular occurrence data and information to inform the safety-related decisions made by these committees.

ONRSR will increase its focus on this area in 2018 by scoping a safety improvement project which will support industry and government to promote improvements in level crossing safety nationally.

Tourist and heritage sector, safety management capability

ONRSR has accredited over 70 tourist and heritage operators, with most accredited for rolling stock operations. The nature of operations and rolling stock varies widely but most involve the operation of historical passenger rolling stock hauled by various traction types including steam and early diesel locomotives. Operations range from short duration trips on isolated railways through to longer distance services on mainline networks.

The rate of signals passed at danger (SPADs) and derailments notified to ONRSR involving tourist and heritage trains is significantly higher than the equivalent rate for commercial heavy rail passenger trains. For example, during 2016–2017 there were 17.8 derailments of in-service tourist and heritage passenger trains for every million kilometres travelled. This compares with a rate of 0.03 derailments per million kilometres travelled for commercial heavy rail passenger trains.

Furthermore, through its interactions with the sector ONRSR is aware of the challenges that tourist and heritage operators face with maintaining a safety management system that is compliant with legislative requirements and suitable for volunteer-resourced organisations to administer.

ONRSR will increase its efforts in this area during 2018 by scoping a safety improvement project focusing on tourist and heritage operators involving safety management capability.

Related information

Last updated: 22 January 2018