Inverleigh derailment shows need for urgent overhaul of rail safety

The derailment of a 1.7 kilometre-long freight train with 55 carriages at Inverleigh, west of Geelong, has again exposed the frailties of Australia’s rail safety regime.


RTBU National Secretary Mark Diamond today 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. But yesterday’s derailment could have been 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.

“While the cause of yesterday’s derailment will be the subject of an investigation, rail workers are already aware of the failings in the rail safety system, and they want to see action.”

A big rail network needs a big workforce

Mark Diamond said heavy 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 Diamond 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 is also a grey area between the responsibilities of employers under the RSNL and model Workplace Health and Safety laws.

“A comprehensive review would allow for the Act to be strengthened, ensuring workers had the protection of a world class safety regime.”

Transparency and accountability

Mark Diamond 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 a report back on the outcome of any investigation which arises – 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 Rails Safety Regulator shows there have been 57 deaths on the national railway network since January 2016*.

Mark Diamond said that RTBU analysis of rail safety statistics had 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.”

*excluding deaths from suicide and trespass, figures from ONRSR safety data –