Rail chaos looms if harmonised rules introduced
Australian rail safety will drift dangerously towards third-world standards if draft National Transport Commission (NTC) recommendations are approved by state and federal transport ministers, according to new research released by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.
Under an NTC proposal to harmonise rail safety laws, the 12-hour limit on shifts for NSW train drivers (also due to be introduced in Queensland) would be dropped. The shift limits were a crucial recommendation of the McInerny Inquiry into the Waterfall Train disaster.
An analysis of accident risk factors related to rail fatigue by researchers from Monash University and Sydney University describes removing the shift limits as “potentially dangerous”, pointing out that “…there is a clear evidence for i)increased fatigue for 12 hour shifts and (ii) increased accident risk for long work shifts. Working beyond 12 h is a known risk factor to fatigue/sleepiness and accident risk.”
The report also points out that the US Federal RailRoad, European Union, Transport Canada and the UK’s Office of Rail Regulation have all imposed work hour limits.
RTBU national secretary Bob Nanva called on the NTC to abandon its ill-conceived recommendation and prioritise rail safety – both for drivers and the travelling public.
“This research paper blows a massive hole in the NTC’s case for removing shift limits, finding such a move would be potentially dangerous,” Mr Nanva said.
“New national rail safety laws should be an opportunity to introduce the best possible safety standards. Instead, the NTC is engaging in a race to the bottom.
“The NTC should never have put its name to these draft recommendations. They make a mockery of the whole concept of a safety regulator.
“The RTBU would urge the NTC to step away from this negligent and reckless recommendation – while it can still salvage some credibility.”
RTBU wrong on rail fatigue management: ARA
The Rail Tram and Bus Union’s continuing to claim that removing 12-hour shift limits for train drivers will diminish rail safety but the RTBU is forgetting that fatigue management is much more sophisticated than simply limiting hours.
As part of the move towards one National Rail Safety Regulator, the National Transport Commission (NTC) has proposed to nationally harmonise rail safety regulation by removing 12 hour shift limits for train drivers.
Bryan Nye, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO supports the NTC position and says the RTBU claims are wrong.
“The NTC proposal acknowledges that good fatigue management goes beyond hours,” said Mr Nye. “The RTBU is taking a simplistic view of a complex issue.”
Under the new laws, each Rail Operator will need to be able to demonstrate to the National Rail Safety Regulator that their fatigue management program satisfies the onerous requirements stipulated in the two pages of regulations (regulation 29).
“Rail Operators will need to demonstrate that their fatigue management program including driving hours, education, technologies and support systems meet the detailed requirements of the Regulation 29,” said Mr Nye.
Since the early 1990’s, the Australian rail industry has been a world-leader in managing the risk of fatigue for its train drivers and rail safety workers.
“Fatigue was not relevant to either Glenbrook or Waterfall accidents,” continued Nye. “Rail operators use multifaceted fatigue management systems that assess each situation on its own merits and consider factors such as an employee’s quality of sleep, intensity of the work, awareness of managing their fatigue and so on,” continued Mr Nye.
The Australian Rail Industry has worked closely with a number of internationally renowned fatigue management experts at the University of Central Queensland based Centre for Sleep Research.
“Over-prescriptive regulation that limits work hours will stop industry innovation and restrict the industry from the benefits of its work with fatigue experts,” continued Mr Nye.
“As we move towards one National Rail Safety Regulator, we are finally moving away from the red tape imposed by seven rail safety regulators with seven sets of rules operating across eight states,” he said.
“The RTBU needs to open its eyes to the fact that the Rail Industry is well-equipped to manage fatigue without shift limits,” said Mr Nye.
“The NTC has acknowledged this through its proposal to lift shift limits. The RTBU should get on board with national harmonisation that will benefit the Australian Rail Industry and in turn, the Australian public,” concluded Mr Nye.