Development of a single source of reliable national rail safety information is a step closer following the release of a new data roadmap for the Australian rail industry.

It is often said amongst academics and analysts alike that if data is the answer, what is the question? It’s that very conundrum that has united Australia’s many varied rail safety stakeholders in pursuit of what they all agree is a missing piece in the safety puzzle – the development of a new Rail Safety Data Strategy.

“As an industry we’re no different to many others, new sources and uses of data are being identified almost every day,” Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) Chief Executive and Australia’s National Rail Safety Regulator, Sue McCarrey, said.

Sue McCarrey, Chief Executive, Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and Australia’s National Rail Safety Regulator

“But if you’re not strategic in the way you adopt and apply the information then you will never capitalise on the opportunities it creates, and that’s the reason the rail safety community has put a lot of stock in the development of this strategy.

“As the document itself says, better focused national safety data will support good rail safety decision making.”

Reflecting rail industry changes

The Rail Safety Data Strategy 2018-2022 is the first of its kind in more than a decade (the original was developed by the National Transport Commission in 2008) and reflects the many changes that have been made to Australia’s rail safety landscape over the subsequent 10 years.

More than six months in the making, the strategy’s development was overseen by a steering committee, co-chaired by ONRSR and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and comprising members from a range of industry bodies, and rail transport operators from all corners of the country.  

It is underpinned by a refreshingly simple vision; to have consistent, quality and accurate rail safety data that is readily available to stakeholders when making decisions relating to rail safety. Importantly, the new strategy builds on the three overarching themes of the 2008 plan: better focused national data, better data quality, and better consistency and comparability.

“So much has happened in the world of data and analytics in the last ten years and in many ways, this is the first real opportunity that we have had, as an industry, to develop a strategy like this,” ARA Chief Executive, Danny Broad, said.

“What we’ve tried to do is to recognise that many of the themes first identified in 2008 still have a great deal of currency today. But in developing the new strategy we have looked at these themes through the lens of the current issues or problems that our industry faces in relation to data, whether it be identification, reporting, collection or analysis.

“We’ve asked ourselves and our wider stakeholder groups a lot of questions, key among them being what data do we need holistically? Who should collect it? Are we sharing it effectively? And are we getting the balance right between what is reported by the industry versus what is required by law?

“All of these questions are fundamental to delivering on the vision we’ve developed within the strategy.”

Putting the plan into action

Delivery is anything but an afterthought where this project is concerned with the release of a comprehensive action plan accompanying the strategy itself. The action plan maps out how the needs of individual industry sectors (such as tourist and heritage, passenger and freight operators), safety authorities, industry bodies and governments will be recorded. It breaks down even further the overarching themes into itemised projects that are assigned to the relevant lead agency and scheduled over the next few years.

Among these projects, and arguably the most eagerly anticipated and highest value undertaking of the more than 30 individual initiatives listed in the action plan, is to identify a single national data set that can meet the needs of all of Australia’s rail safety stakeholders.

It is envisaged that the development of such a consolidated resource will provide not only significant administrative benefits but also greatly improve the access to, and quality of, data that could translate into game changing rail safety enterprises and practices.

“This is where the maximum benefit can be delivered, not only for the industry but most significantly for what is collectively our major stakeholder — the Australian public,” Ms McCarrey said.

“Not surprisingly though, identifying and documenting this single national data set is also where the really hard work lies in meeting the needs of a range of stakeholders, all with different interests, priorities and processes.

“There is no doubt it will be challenging but I know everyone is genuinely enthused by the opportunity we have here to clearly map out how data can play a part in making the Australian rail system as safe as it can possibly be.”

Assigning responsibility

Danny Broad, CEO, Australasian Railway Association

While identification of the single data set is seen by many as the panacea, it will only be as effective as the systems and processes that maintain it. In fact, just as important as developing this long-awaited single source of information will be establishing who is responsible for managing it. A key part of that process will be addressing the question of whether the national data set can be administered in parts or if it must be maintained at a holistic level.

Once again careful and considered teamwork will be crucial.

“We have worked really well as an industry to get to this point and I think everyone understands the broader benefits of overhauling rail safety data to ensure what is reported and in what timeframe meets the needs of the industry,” Mr Broad said.

“The consistent message from our members is ensuring that industry receives information in return for its data; industry trends, contributing factors or severity of occurrences and so the ARA will work with its members, ONRSR and other stakeholders to ensure we achieve this.

“The wider rail industry will work together over the next three years to deliver not only the national data set, and an effective management and maintenance structure but to actually execute all the elements of the action plan and the broader strategy.”

It is expected that the implementation of the National Rail Safety Data Strategy 2018-2022 will necessitate changes to Australia’s Rail Safety National Law and these will be the subject of widespread and timely consultation.  

To download a copy of the National Rail Safety Data Strategy and Action Plan visit

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