Australia’s transport ministers have voted unanimously to approve a national rail reform package, which includes joint audits of level crossing safety risks by road and rail-track owners and operators.
The new laws, developed by the by the National Transport Commission (NTC), require rail operators, rail infrastructure managers, road authorities and the owners/managers of private roads to jointly identify, assess and manage safety risks at level crossings and other road-rail interfaces.
The initiative complements existing government programs to improve level crossing protection and educate road users.
“With about 100 crashes a year between trains and road vehicles, level crossing safety remains a major public safety issue,” NTC chief executive Nick Dimopoulos said. “This approach is about bringing the right parties together to work cooperatively on plans to reduce the risk of a major accident.”
Australia has 9,400 public railway level crossings, of which 2,650 (30%) have ‘active’ protection such as barriers. Additionally, there are numerous private industry railway level crossings.
States and Territories are expected to implement the amended laws by mid-2008 – the revised target date for commencement of national rail safety laws. A three year transitional period (after commencement of the legislation) will apply, with priority on high risk/high incidence level crossings.
Ministers also approved six national rail safety guidelines to support the implementation of the model Rail Safety Bill 2006 and model Rail Safety Regulations 2006.
“National guidelines interpret the new laws and describe in plain English what to do. They are absolutely critical if we are to achieve genuine national consistency ‘on the ground’,” Mr Dimopoulos added.
Other agreements include a national policy for the development of new national guidelines and compliance codes. A maintenance process was also approved to ensure the national rail safety laws remain relevant and effective.