Road Safety Commission Audit

About this Item
SpeakersBurton Ms Cherie; Scully Mr Carl
BusinessQuestions Without Notice

Page: 4032

    Miss BURTON: I address my question without notice to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads. What is the Minister's response to the independent audit of the New South Wales Road Safety Commission last year?

    Mr SCULLY: Honourable members would be well aware that late last year there were a series of incidents on our railways. By far the most serious and tragic of those was the Glenbrook disaster, in which seven people lost their lives. That accident occurred on 2 December, when a CityRail commuter train collided with the Indian Pacific. I know that the House would join me in expressing deepest sympathy to the families of the victims. It was a terrible tragedy. The Government set up an independent inquiry into the accident the same day. I was able to arrange for the independent inquiry chief, Justice Peter McInerney, to inspect the site on the day of the accident. I made two trips to the accident scene. The Premier; the Minister for the Environment, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Corrective Services; and the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Minister for Women also attended the scene. I had never in my public life been touched by an event as I was that day and subsequently when I spoke to the families of the victims. I attended the memorial service for the local community.

    I have spoken on a number of occasions to the honourable member for Blue Mountains. I know that the Blue Mountains community is closely knit, private and caring. This event touched all mountain towns quite deeply. We might have forgotten that these events reverberate through people's lives for many years after the event. The families of victims want to know how this tragedy occurred. So does the Government. We want to learn from the tragedy, to prevent history from repeating itself. Whatever our political differences, I believe all members of this House would share that view.

    The Government set up an independent inquiry so that the families of the victims and the community could be confident that a thorough inquiry would seek to find some answers to what went wrong on that day. Justice McInerney has clear terms of reference. The first is to determine the causes of the Glenbrook accident. The second is to assess the adequacy of the emergency response, and to make recommendations on any safety measures that could be adopted.

    I advise the House that Justice McInerney has indicated his intention to report on the causes of the accident by 30 April this year. Obviously, I have been following the evidence before the inquiry very closely. However, I do not believe it is appropriate to comment on the causes of the Glenbrook accident before Justice McInerney delivers his report. Justice McInerney must be allowed to form his own opinions independently. Safety is paramount on our railways—paramount to the Government and to the rail agencies. The key areas of safety in relation to rail operations are passenger safety, the safety of rail maintenance workers, the operation of trains around the network and safety systems generally. In respect of passenger safety, most honourable members would be fully familiar with our ambitious and comprehensive upgrade of security, the likes of which no other rail authority around the country is doing—two security guards on every night train, cameras on every station and help points. The program, which is well under way, will cost about $100 million.

    What is the Coalition's record on security guards? What was its policy on security? It had none. When it came to security guards and a comprehensive security-operated railway, it was a policy-free zone—a couple of old, cronky cameras on a few stations, no security guards and no policies. What do members of the Opposition do when we undertake a comprehensive upgrade of security? They just talk down public transport. I can tell honourable members that the reporting of incidents on trains has increased, but the number of incidents has not, despite the spin that the Opposition is trying to put on it. The records of incidents on trains were reasonably static until June 1998, and from August 1998 until the present time they were reasonably static.

    Statisticians asked: What is the explanation for this one-off jump in July 1998? Incidents were reasonably static, then there was a jump, then they were static again. Statisticians said that there must have been an unusual occurrence on the railways in July 1998. Yes, there was—there were 300 pairs of eyes and ears to report breakdowns in communications to police. People were roaming the network, detecting crime, dealing with incidents, resolving them, contacting police and prosecuting offenders. Many incidents occurred on the railways that were never dealt with when the Coalition was in government. Yet Opposition members now have the gall to try to put a spin on this and to say that this project is not a good thing.

    Opposition members have not said that they will remove security guards from trains; they have never said that. They just talk down public transport. Let me put the number of incidents in perspective. Any incident is unacceptable, but incidents are very rare and unusual: in fact, one incident for every 580,000 passenger journeys. There have been other incidents concerning rail safety. Six track maintenance workers were killed on our railways between 1998 and 1999. Such a tragedy should not have occurred. Rail agencies were required to take decisive action to ensure that no more railway maintenance workers were killed while they were working on our tracks. A number of inquiries and investigations were carried out and a number of safety initiatives were put in place to increase the safety of our track maintenance workers.

    Today I want to leave with honourable members one initiative known as Safe Working Order 470. For those honourable members who are not familiar with the safe working of trains, it was found that it was unsafe for people to wander around the track with moving trains. So the rail agencies changed the way in which track maintenance workers inspected the track. When the track was closed no trains could run while maintenance workers were inspecting it. That meant that 40 per cent of our track along the CityRail network was closed at any particular time to the movement of trains. Since that time no track workers have been killed and no track workers have had serious injuries.

    But what has been the impact on on-time running? There has been quite a dramatic impact. If we close 40 per cent of the CityRail network during the day between 10.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m., it is not surprising that a number of trains will not be in position at 3.00 p.m. for the evening peak. A number of commuters have been quite disappointed because their trains have not been on time—because we have endeavoured to make the system as safe as possible. That demonstrates the balance between ensuring that we have a safer environment for our workers and also ensuring reliability. I told the rail agencies that many commuters were disappointed at the impact on on-time running, but that we have to maintain a safe system of work for our workers. We must continue to provide that environment. The rail agencies believe that they can finetune the system to lower the amount of track maintenance and improve on-time running.

    Today I released the findings of the Oliver report, an audit into safety systems across the rail network. A number of initiatives have been taken as a result of the incident at Glenbrook and other incidents, and the Oliver inquiry. Most of the CityRail network currently has implemented collision avoidance systems. Many signals have automatic train-stop facilities. The Rail Access Corporation proposes to extend collision avoidance systems out to Newcastle and Lithgow and down to Wollongong and Picton. That project, which will cost $15 million and will be implemented over the next 18 months to two years, will also concentrate on the Blue Mountains.

    Another issue that has arisen is signal box dark spots. When a signal operator is in a signal box and has the board up on the wall, he or she cannot see some trains as they move across the network in certain spots. I am pleased to announce that the Rail Access Corporation is allocating $8 million to ensure that all those dark zones are removed, concentrating on the Blue Mountains. By about November of this year, from Lithgow to Penrith, those dark spots will be removed. So a signaller in a Blacktown signal box will be able to see all those trains moving in that system.

    Rail agencies have undertaken a number of other initiatives. Driver training is an issue of concern. Hacro Rail, an internationally recognised firm, expert in the selection, training and ongoing management of train drivers, is currently being engaged to supervise and advise on that review. The safe working rules that authorise the movement of trains are being reviewed. The language that is used on telephones and radios has now been changed and, from today, is being implemented over a six-month period. That regulates the words that can or cannot be used in communications between signallers and drivers. A number of other initiatives will be implemented over the next few months as a result of the Oliver inquiry. I expect that a number of recommendations will flow from the Glenbrook inquiry. I await its outcome.