Rail News

DATE

November 19 , 2021


Safety investigators warn questions remain over $40b rail corporation

The Sydney Morning Herald 
November 18, 2021 (Australia)

(About $40 billion of rail assets including trains are owned by the government’s Transport Asset Holding Entity.)

Transport investigators have warned that questions remain over what will happen if conflicts arise between Sydney Trains and the state’s controversial rail corporation at the centre of concerns over safety.

A review of the Transport Asset Holding Entity underscores the delays in finalising measures to manage risk more than a year after the corporation took ownership of $40 billion worth of the state’s trains, tracks and other assets.

The Office of Transport Safety Investigations also said it was unclear whether TAHE’s operating licence and other arrangements “will stand up to scrutiny in the event of a major incident”.

The release of OTSI’s two-month review comes three days after former NSW Transport chief Rodd Staples warned of potential safety risks posed by TAHE to the state’s railways in the medium to long term.

Mr Staples told an inquiry into TAHE that the for-profit corporation could present safety risks in the coming years because of potential conflicts over how much is spent on rail assets, such as a new signalling system, versus money invested in property developments which offered higher returns.

While “preliminary indications” were that it should have the desired effect, OTSI said the framework for managing rail assets vested in TAHE had “not yet been fully developed and implemented, making it difficult to understand how well it will deliver in practice on what was intended”.

“The review demonstrates that more time is needed to implement and test the framework,” it said. “Questions remain as to what happens if conflicts arise between TAHE and [Transport for NSW], or TAHE and transport operators and how they will be managed.”

It has listed a range of “issues to watch” including how competing priorities are managed, the effectiveness of governance systems when conflicts arise, and tensions over when to replace rail assets.

OTSI chief investigator Natalie Pelham said the mitigation measures had reduced potential risks, but questions remained about how the new framework would work in practice.

“A lot of these are still under development or not fully implemented, so they need to test how these will work in practice,” she said. “They have carved TAHE out of accountability for rail operations and that is important because that is where the risk is.”

Investigators will carry out another review of TAHE about six months before its two-year operating licence expires in July 2023.

Transport Minister Rob Stokes said the people who looked after safety before the establishment of TAHE were the same people still looking after it.

“We have added an extra layer of assurance and Transport for NSW is still required to meet safety standards set by the national regulator,” he said.

But Labor finance spokesman Daniel Mookhey said OTSI’s findings endorsed Mr Staples’ fears about the dangers that the TAHE model poses to rail safety.

“The risk is that in a worst-case scenario, the confusion about who is responsible for what leads to another tragedy like Waterfall,” he said. “TAHE is no startup – it’s had more than five years to prove it can run the state’s assets safely.”

TAHE chief executive Benedicte Colin said the entity’s new operating licence was “very clear on accountabilities” and its agreements with the rail operators made it “absolutely clear that safety is our number-one priority”.

Ms Colin said she would have asked the same questions as Mr Staples during the development of TAHE, but insisted that she was “extremely comfortable” with the safety measures now in place.

TAHE’s operating agreements with Sydney Trains and NSW Trains came into effect in July, after it was granted a one-year transition period.

The Herald has previously reported that senior transport officials feared the creation of TAHE could repeat the 1990s carve-up of NSW railways and the resulting gaps in safety and investment accountabilities, key factors in the 1999 Glenbrook and 2003 Waterfall rail disasters

Emails tabled at the inquiry have also revealed conflict between Treasury and Transport for NSW over who would have responsibility for maintenance in the months after TAHE was fully established in July last year.

After a meeting with Treasury and TAHE executives in September last year, then KPMG partner Brendan Lyon warned several colleagues “Treasury are dangerously unclear about maintenance”.

Source
https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/safety-investigators-warn-questions-remain-over-40b-rail-corporation-20211117-p599p3.html

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