RTBU criticises fatigue management guidelines

The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) is pushing back against a draft fatigue management guideline that it argues undermines regulated maximum shift hours, which apply in Queensland and NSW.

The draft Fatigue Risk Management Guideline, published by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, outlines the steps that rail transport operators should undertake to manage fatigue-related risks of rail safety workers.

The draft suggests that high fatigue risks may be offset through other factors. The draft gives the example of work that must be done at night which increases the risk of fatigue because at these times alertness is reduced and it is not possible to obtain night sleep, which is most efficient for recovery. These factors could be offset by shortening the total length of night shifts, minimising consecutive shifts, or implementing a reset break between sequences of night work to allow time for recovery.

RTBU secretary Mark Diamond wrote in a submission to the guideline that this approach of “offsets” would undercut safety.

“By taking a non-prescriptive approach, the draft guideline pushes the burden risk management assessment onto operators. Ultimately that means people who are untrained in this field, and/or have little exposure to the needs of the working environment, will be required to make subjective judgments about safe practices.”

Under the Rail Safety National Law, transport operators are required to, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure that rail safety workers do not carry out rail safety work while impaired by fatigue or if they may become so impaired. To meet this requirement, transport operators must have a safety management system that includes a fatigue risk management plan.

In NSW and Queensland, in addition to these requirements there are prescribed hours of work for train drivers. In both states, drivers are largely limited to nine hours in one-person operation and 12 hours in two-person operation where the second driver is a qualified train driver.

ONRSR chief executive and National Rail Safety Regulator Sue McCarrey said that safety risks were not affected by more proscriptive regulation.

“ONRSR’s 2018 review of the fatigue risk management arrangements under the RSNL found no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that jurisdictions operating under a full risk-based framework for all rail safety workers pose any greater rail safety risk than jurisdictions which have prescribed hours for train drivers,” she said.

McCarrey said that the draft guideline was developed with expert input.

“As part of the fatigue risk management review, ONRSR engaged two fatigue experts to develop principles of rest and recovery which address key factors associated with the scheduling of work. An essential element of the fatigue risk management process is how the principles interact. If work schedules have an elevated fatigue likelihood, this can be managed via offsetting principles to manage the risk to safety or by introducing other controls to reduce rail safety risks.”

In a recent review of national rail safety legislation the Productivity Commission highlighted fatigue management as one area where efficiencies could be improved.

Diamond wrote that the national standard should follow the regulations in Queensland and NSW.

“Any application of a risk management approach in the Australian rail sector must be done within the constraints of clear, prescribed minimum standards. The RTBU contends that the strict standards regulating hours of work for traincrew in NSW and Queensland should be considered as industry best practice when it comes to fatigue management.”

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WA to progress business cases for reopening three Tier 3 grain lines

The Western Australian government has committed to developing three business cases for the reopening of three Tier 3 grain lines in the state.

The three lines to be looked at for reopening at, Quairading to York, Kulin via Yilliminning to Narrogin, and Kondining via Narembeen to West Merredin.

The combined cost of upgrading the three lines to narrow gauge standard is $486 million. As part of the investigation the WA government will consider upgrading the Kondinin to West Merredin line to standard gauge at an extra cost of $27.41m.

The three lines were chosen based on an engineering assessment released on September 24 which estimated the cost of reopening Tier 3 lines throughout the wheatbelt.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the report found that certain lines could be reopened.

“While the engineering report confirms restoring the entire network would involve significant costs, there are arguably specific lines where the cost of investment could be offset by ongoing commercial and community benefits such as reduced truck volumes on local roads and cost savings to farmers.”

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the WA freight rail network, said it would support the government and grain growers cooperate CBH Group in the submission of business cases to Infrastructure Australia.

“Arc acknowledges that the government has identified an opportunity for the development of business cases to be submitted to Infrastructure Australia, for rail freight investment proposals on the Tier 1, 2 and 3 rail networks. Arc will support government and CBH in this process,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

CBH Group, which represents grain growers throughout the state, said it would also support the efforts to make grain transport economically viable.

“We will work with the state government to progress those business cases, including providing information on any impacts of re-instating those lines on the grain supply chain or grower freight rates,” said a CBH Group spokesperson.

“CBH supports grain transport by rail where it is economically viable and the least cost pathway to port.”

The government announcement was also welcomed by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), with WA secretary Craig McKinley calling on the federal government to support the reopening of these lines.

“The Western Australian government is supportive of the need to rebuild key sections of track, and the commitment to undertaking business cases is very heartening,” he said.

“We hope that the business case stage can be completed quickly, so we can move on to securing funding and getting construction underway.

“The reconstruction of Tier 3 lines is exactly the sort of project that the Australian government should be investing in.”

Saffioti said the business cases will be developed in consultation with CBH Group and Arc Infrastructure before being submitted to Infrastructure Australia for potential federal funding.

“Significant funding contributions from the federal government – as per other major regional infrastructure projects – would be required for any potential Tier 3 restoration work in the future.”

The Tier 3 grain lines were closed by Arc Infrastructure in 2014, then known as Brookfield Rail. The Tier 3 lines were seen at the time as not commercially viable. With the resultant shift of grain volumes to road, road maintenance costs have increased, and safety concerns have been raised by the local community. These factors led to the WA government investigating the viability of reopening the lines earlier in 2020.

Worker transfer deal maintains train manufacturing jobs in Ballarat

The Victorian government has brokered a deal to transfer manufacturing staff from Alstom’s manufacturing site in Ballarat to Bombardier’s maintenance depot in the same regional town.

The deal was agreed to by the Victorian government, the two major manufacturers, and unions, and will see 27 of Alstom’s permanent manufacturing staff redeployed to work on the VLocity train maintenance program, which will be carried out at Bombardier’s Ballarat workshop.

Alstom workers who have not been redeployed will continue working on other rollingstock projects, said Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne.

“We’re helping keep these highly skilled manufacturing jobs in Ballarat – giving certainty to workers and their families.”

The deal comes after speculation over the future of Alstom’s Ballarat workforce once the final X’Trapolis trains in the current order are completed. While the Victorian government has committed to an order of X’Trapolis 2.0 trains, designs are still being completed, leaving the workforce in limbo. Victorian secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) Luba Grigorovitch said that the jobs could have disappeared altogether.

“There was the potential for these regional jobs to be lost, and I’m really pleased that the state government applied the pressure that was necessary to ensure that the redeployment of the employees has been facilitated.”

The Victorian government has committed $12 million to Alstom to continue designing the X’Trapolis 2.0 trainsets.

Grigorovitch welcomed the investment but said that a confirmed order was needed.

“The investment in the design phase is only the first step and the workers and their families will only truly be secure once they see an order of much needed X’Trapolis 2.0s.”

By redeploying the workers onto the VLocity fleet, maintenance schedules will be sped up, said Horne.

“Alstom workers will gain new experience and skills carrying out vital maintenance on our VLocity fleet – helping to keep services moving across regional Victoria.”

Queensland institutes toughest fines yet for spitting on workers

Queensland is instituting some of the toughest fines yet for those who deliberately cough, sneeze or spit at public officials and workers.

The direction allows for fines of up to $13,345 for those who do so, and includes transport workers including train crews.

The move follows similar fines in NSW, where police can issue anyone who coughs or spits on workers a fine of up to $5,000.

Announcing the directive, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that she wanted to protect workers.

“I was disturbed to hear stories of people threatening to deliberately infect frontline staff.

“It’s disgusting and I want police to throw the book at them.”

The directive covers a public official or any worker at work or travelling for work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

There have been reports of spitting and attacks on transport staff in other jurisdictions in Australian and New Zealand. On April 20, Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison said there were two incidents where essential workers have been spat at.

“A couple were joy-riding on our trains and were told to get off. As they were being escorted from the train, a female spat at three of our staff. Two men and a woman have had to be stood down as a result of this incident and have gone into isolation. This behaviour is totally unacceptable. The incident was caught on CCTV and the police now have that footage.”

Another incident occurred when a security guard was spat at while working for Auckland Transport.

“Our staff and contractors are out there in all weathers ensuring that essential workers can get to their jobs and we cannot tolerate this sort of behaviour. We are working with the police to ensure that our staff can do their job without being assaulted,” said Ellison.

In NSW, a teenage girl spat at a Sydney railway station staffer, and said, “I have COVID” according to reports.

David Babineau, secretary of the Tram and Bus Division of the Rail, Tram & Bus Union of NSW, said that all workers should be treated with respect.

“Frankly, it’s disgusting in any circumstance but in the middle of the current health crisis it cannot be tolerated. Everyone has the right to go home safely from work and not wonder if they are bringing a potentially fatal disease home to their loved ones.”