The derailment of a 1.7 kilometre-long freight train with 55 carriages at Inverleigh, west of Geelong, during November, once again exposed the frailties of Australia’s national rail safety regime.
National RTBU Secretary Mark Diamond said rail workers had lost conﬁdence in the rail safety regime, and an urgent review of the Rail Safety National Law was needed.
“Miraculously, there were no injuries to traincrew in the incident at Inverleigh,” Mark said.
“But a derailment like that would be catastrophic if the train was carrying passengers, rather than freight. Rail workers are increasing concerned that Australia’s rail safety regime is no longer ﬁt for purpose, and not enough is being done to ensure that tracks are safe.”
The incident happened after a period of heavy rain and ﬂooding throughout southeast Australia, but Mark said rain should not be used as an excuse to justify infrastructure failings.
“Australia is a big country with a big rail network. It therefore needs a rail workforce that is big enough to ensure that every kilometre of track is appropriately maintained and regularly checked – especially during times of extreme rainfall or heat. It has also been ten years since the adoption of the Rail Safety National Law (RSNL). It’s time that safety laws were brought up-to-date with contemporary practices and standards in the rail industry.”
Mark said the introduction of the Rail Safety National Law in 2012 was a milestone moment for the industry, and a key achievement of the former Labor Federal Government.
“Since then, however, it has become clear that the Regulator needs greater powers in order to hold rail operators fully accountable. There are also inconsistencies between the responsibilities of employers under the RSNL and model Workplace Health and Safety laws and these should be considered and, where appropriate, aligned. A comprehensive review would allow for the Act to be strengthened, ensuring workers have the protection of a world class safety regime.”
Mark said a major problem with the current rail safety regime was the lack of transparency.
“For example, when an individual makes a report to the regulator, they are not provided with any information about what happened with their report – or even advised if any investigation has been conducted. This undermines rail workers’ trust in the system, as they do not know whether anything has been done about the safety issue.”
Data from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator shows there have been 57 deaths on the national railway network since January 2016.
RTBU analysis of rail safety statistics found that in recent years:
- Workplace deaths have increased;
- Derailments have increased; Level crossing incidents have increased;
- There has been no reduction in SPADS (incidents of Signals Passed at Danger); and
- The total number of injuries is most-likely under-reported.
“By any objective analysis, the rail safety regime is failing to do the job it was set up to do,” Mark said.