Informa Australia is part of the Informa Connect Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Transport & Logistics

Taking the accountability for a shared responsibility on rail safety

2 Jun 2015, by Informa Insights

Recently appointed chief executive officer of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator Sue McCarrey gave an insightful presentation on her new role as the national regulator, the unique model on which the organisation is based on, and the ONRSR’s priorities and objectives.

ONRSRA shared responsibility

Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) CEO Sue McCarrey established a solid foundation for her presentation at the RISSB Rail Safety 2015 Conference with a comprehensive overview and analysis of the Australian railway network.

The ONRSR head emphasised the importance of knowing that while the industry and the regulator play distinct roles in the national rail system, the network works on a co-regulatory model. As such, the rail industry and the national regulator shares the responsibility of ensuring the productivity and safety reforms. With this co-regulation comes the delegation of tasks with the rail industry being held responsible for managing rail safety and the national regulator, for ensuring this is happening.

The co-regulation arrangement is underpinned by the Rail Safety National Law, which is set and monitored by the government. Essentially, all of the State and Commonwealth federal ministers sit on the ministerial council to oversee the national law for rail safety regulation and the appointment of the national regulator to oversee what the industry does. Both the regulator and the industry directly report to the Australian Transport Ministers.

McCarrey stressed that the National Rail Safety Board is an independent authority but established by statute.  They are not a company for which their service is paid for; rather, they have been put in place by the Australian Government to ensure that the industry’s safety management system is properly and efficiently functioning.

The National Regulator: Know the benefits

Clearly, the biggest advantage of having a national regulator is finally getting consistency on the national level. The creation of the board ultimately brings together numerous entities, database, and systems into one single national law, one set of processes and procedures, one set of guidelines, and one set of rail safety data—all for the entire industry.

The National Rail Safety Board executive reiterated how difficult it was for her working as the executive director of Public Transport Authority. With 7 regulators working with her in trying to be consistent with the decisions they have to come up with, they couldn’t help but be frustrated with all seven regulators more often than not always having different views on how regulations were interpreted. Even when there was a consistent piece of legislation for deliberation, a consensus-based decision was always a strenuous objective.

Safety is the winner when the rail industry and the rail regulator work together on major rail infrastructure and improvement projects.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator

Who Is the National Rail Safety Regulator?
The ONRSR was founded on July 2012 and began their operation on 20 January 2013. A body corporate created under section 12 of the Rail Safety National Law Act 2012 (South Australia), the ONRSR primarily aims to encourage safety across all rail operations, facilitate compliance with the RSNL, and promote and enhance rail safety on the national level.

With the authority vested on the board comes the responsibility to oversee the regulation of the Rail Safety Law in the jurisdictions of New South Wales, South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania, and Victoria. With the approval of an applied or mirror legislation, the ONRSR is looking forward to the reconfirmation of the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland to pass the RSNL.

The ONRSR Structure
Susan McCarrey is the National Rail Safety Regulator (NRSR) and Chief Executive of the ONRSR. The chief executive is being supported by two Non-Executive Members who are appointed by the Standing Council of Transport and Infrastructure Ministers. The Non-Executive Members work together with the Chief Executive to administer strategy, leadership, and governance for the ONRSR. An Executive team likewise reinforces the Chief Executive over an extensive range of disciplines that include Communications, Corporate, Legal, Operations, Planning, Policy, and Technical.

The ONRSR is officially headquartered in in Adelaide.

The ONRSR has three branches:

  • The Central Branch: under which direct employees are responsible for the Northern Territory, Tasmania, and South Australia
  • The New South Wales Branch: which houses employees of the New South Wales State Government and operating under a Service Level Agreement
  • The Victoria Branch: which houses employees of the Victorian State Government and operating under a Service Level Agreement

Eventually, with the passing of the Rail Safety National Law, the other state regulators will form part of additional branches under the ONRSR.

The ONRSR Mission and Values
The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator primarily aims to promote, enhance, and advance rail safety through effective risk-based regulations. As such, the internal culture and the external business of the entire organisation are firmly guided by a solid set of values that are summarised as follows:

  • The ONRSR is an independent authority, separate from any individual, industry, and political influences.
  • The ONRSR fully supports and encourages the industry in terms of safe operation and management and enforces the complete compliance with the Rail Safety National Law.
  • The ONRSR is fully dedicated to working cooperatively with the industry for the implementation, improvement, and advancement of rail safety.
  • The ONRSR actively participates and interacts with the rail industry and its stakeholders and maintains transparency in all decisions they make.
  • The ONRSR is honest and open in everything they do and carry out all their duties and responsibilities with full integrity.
  • The ONRSR is dedicated to build and maintain a positive culture between and among the regulator and the industry to ensure a shared responsibility on safety.
  • The ONRSR upholds respect for everyone at all times, valuing their people, and providing full support for their personal and professional development to maintain the highest quality.

The corporate priorities of ONRSR

Moving forward, the ONRSR aims to set its focus on overarching priorities that include the following:

  • implementation of robust rail safety regulations across the industry,
  • a strict compliance with the Rail Safety National Law,
  • preparation and all-out support for the entry of the other state regulators into the ONRSR,
  • promotion of safety awareness and improvement through various initiatives and research,
  • enabling their people to optimise their internal capabilities while at the same time encouraging organisational effectiveness,
  • and overall improved safety performance in everything that is done under its governance.

Over the course of three years, the ONRSR looks forward to milestones and accomplishment of other relevant goals that include the complete transition of the other non-member states; the substantial reduction of regulatory burden by preventing inconsistencies and duplication; and finally, the establishment of national standards and harmonisation.

In her presentation at the RISSB Rail Safety 2015 Conference, the National Rail Safety Regulator chief executive highlighted the need for the organisation to be proactive specifically when it comes to making propositions for guidelines applicable for the industry.

For a comprehensive overview of the ONRSR’s Corporate Plan, please visit

[slideshare id=46291855&doc=suemccarrey-150325174824-conversion-gate01]


The ONRSR’s top 10 safety priorities

As for the organisation’s safety priorities, Ms. McCarrey has enumerated the following as the most critical:

  •  the underground commuter railways
  •  the arrangements for contractors
  •  engineering management systems, including human factor
  •  safe-working approaches
  •  compliance with safety management systems, including human factor
  •  drug and alcohol testing
  •  guidance on asset management
  •  level crossing safety
  •  road/rail vehicle safety
  •  maturity tool for safety management system

Overview on the guidelines for major projects

CEO Sue McCarrey of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator gave a quick rundown of the board’s guidelines on its major projects, stressing the need for a proactive approach across all of them. To ensure the safe and timely delivery of all infrastructure and assets through major projects, the ONRSR has outlined the following guidelines:

  • Regulatory Requirements
    • Safety Duties for Rail Transport Operators
    • Safety Duties for Designers, Suppliers, Manufacturers
    • Principles of Shared Responsibility and Accountability
    • Duties to Exercise Due Diligence
    • Safety Management System Requirements
    • Risk Assessment Requirements
    • Requirements to Demonstrate Management of Safety
  • Effective Management and Control
    • Establishing Safety Roles and Corresponding Responsibilities
    • Planning the Accreditation Process
    • Establishing a Common Safety Approach
    • Establishing Operational and Maintenance Requirements
  • Safety Assurance:
    • Independent Safety Assessment
    • Quantitative Safety Limits
    • Quantitative Risk Assessment Techniques
    • Integration of Human Factors
    • Standards

Please refer to the complete Major Projects Guideline of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator available here.

The ONRSR and their regulatory approach

The excellent regulatory approach of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator’s sets high-level benchmarks for the industry in terms of regulating rail safety and ensuring high compliance with the Rail Safety National Law. These standards help determine the principles and contributory factors that influence how the board regulates.

The principles helps govern and oversee the entire staff and the transport operators (duty holders) on their approach to safety enforcement, compliance, and improvement. They aim to support the organisation’s efficiency by encouraging a transparent and synergetic relationship with the rail industry and constant improvement in rail safety.

The following principles define the foundation and processes by which the ONRSR regulates in order to achieve their objectives, purpose, responsibilities, and functions:

  • The ONRSR is independent from individual, industry, and political influences and acts with impartiality, keeping in mind the best interest that will serve the rail safety and that is consistent with their purpose and objectives.
  • The ONRSR’s regulatory efforts and compliance activities are commensurate with risk as they appropriately align their priorities and regulatory actions with the highest risk and the most potential for improvement.
  • Through its safety improvement programs, the ONRSR proactively encourages, supports, and cooperates with the industry to allow duty-holders to improve their standards, skills, and knowledge in ensuring safety and preventing accidents and similar untoward incidents.
  • The compliance and enforcement policies of ONRSR are largely based on fact-based results on safety issues comparable to the risks and potential benefits to safety advancement.
  • The ONRSR maintains transparency, integrity, and accountability in all its actions and ensure that all their rail-safety-related actions are proportionate and predictable.
  • The ONRSR ensures that all their risk-based decisions are consistent and that similar situations are treated in the same manner, regardless of where and when they arise.

Before her appointment as ONRSR’s new Chief Executive Officer, Sue McCarrey was Deputy Director General of the Department of Transport in Western Australia (Policy, Planning, and Investment). For more details about the organisation and access to their corporate publications, visit their website:

Related article: Regulating rail | Interview with Sue McCarrey, ONRSR

Blog insights you may like

Get all the latest on Informa news and events

Informa Connect Australia is the nation's leading event organiser. Our events comprise of large scale exhibitions, industry conferences and highly specialised corporate training.

Find out more

Subscribe to Insights

Join Our Newsletter
Informa Insights

Stay up-to-date with all the latest
updates, upcoming events & more.