National Rail Action Plan

Australia's rail system is being transformed. With $155 billion of new investment in trains, tracks and technology underway, rail will play a bigger role in our nation’s future. 
We are working with governments and industry on a nationally consistent approach to align new digital technology, standards and skills training. This will make rail more efficient and maximise the safety and productivity benefits of new investments. 
It is all part of the National Rail Action Plan to create a safer, more sustainable and seamless rail system.
 

National Rail Action Plan - transforming our rail system

In Australia, there are 18 separate rail networks with three railway gauges, 11 separate signalling systems and many different standards and working rules.

The National Rail Action Plan (NRAP) aims to reduce these differences. We are harmonising standards, technology and operations to make Australia’s rail system more competitive and sustainable.

Central to this reform will be a new national approach to rail standards.

Through NRAP, we are bringing together network owners, investors, builders, and educators to:

  • reduce the number of train control systems from 11 to a few
  • reform how standards are developed and adopted to decrease differences across Australia’s rail system
  • grow Australia’s rail workforce with nationally recognised skills needed for existing and new  high-tech rail systems.

Rail reform - a national priority

National Cabinet - a meeting of all Australia’s first ministers and the Prime Minister - recognised the importance of creating a more seamless rail system by including rail interoperability as one of eight national priorities.

Australia’s transport ministers approved a four-year program of work for the NTC supporting the expansion and futureproofing of rail as it undergoes technological transformation. 

Five priority areas of work are underway to support national rail reform:

  1. Aligning train control and signalling technology on the eastern seaboard
  2. Identifying the best mechanism for codifying a small number of critical standards and complementary rules to make rail more competitive
  3. Reducing the interoperability burden from a driver, crew and maintenance perspective
  4. Streamlining rollingstock approval regimes 
  5. Creating workplace solutions to meet the rails skills demand of the future with a focus on digital skills.

Rail interoperability

There are many different operating systems and safe working rules currently in place across Australia’s rail networks. Through the NRAP, we are working to reduce these differences and create a more interoperable rail system that makes the most of modern technologies. 

The NTC's fully costed four-year forward work program endorsed by Australia's transport ministers will help:

  • remove operational constraints on the rail networks
  • drive interoperability
  • harmonise standards and operating systems
  • tackle the challenge of rail’s skills and labour shortages. 

While many trains have similar components, there are currently few shared standards. Standardising some components will create scale for local manufacturers and make rail more efficient. Common standards will also help to harmonise how people work and are trained, and ensure their skills are recognised across networks. 

Developing an interoperability framework

To address the challenges of interoperability, the NTC has developed a National Rail Interoperability Framework.

The framework will reduce differences and improve connections between interstate freight and passenger trains, and the major city networks and ports. This will create a single integrated National Network for Interoperability (NNI) across the standard gauge network. 

To help achieve this, Australia’s transport ministers have asked the NTC to work with states and rail infrastructure managers which operate on the NNI to develop a plan for the rollout of train control and signalling technology. 

National Network for Interoperability map

The interoperability framework also includes: 

  • Interoperability Advisory Group (IAG) of Australian rail investors, owners, network builders, rail infrastructure managers and rail operators to provide independent advice to ministers
  • Future technologies forums to learn from international developments
  • A memorandum of cooperation between ministers and industry committing to advancing interoperability.

Memorandum of Cooperation for Interoperability

A memorandum of cooperation (MoC) has been developed for the rail industry, operators and governments to consider interoperability when investing in the rail network.

First signed by Australian Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Hon. Catherine King MP, Victoria’s then-Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Hon. Jacinta Allan MP and the Australasian Railway Association, the MoC has now been signed by all Australian state and territory governments and many rail operators and industry participants.

Read the MoC and see the full list of signatories.
 

Streamlining rolling stock approval processes

Australia has 18 separate rail networks, each run by a different rail infrastructure manager (RIM).

Every RIM has its own unique set of approval processes and testing regimes that rail operators must follow to get approval to operate their rolling stock on the network. These processes can be costly, complicated and take months, even years, for network approvals to be granted.

If a piece of rolling stock operates across more than one network, the challenges multiply. And if it is sold, the whole approval process must be repeated by its new owner.

This is inefficient, expensive and a major deterrent to investment and innovation.

Through the National Rail Action Plan, the NTC is working with the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) to:

  • harmonise testing requirements and test locations
  • develop guidance that will help rail operators, regulators and RIMs through the safety assurance process and meet their obligations under the Rail Safety National Law

By creating a more efficient rolling stock approval regime, we can save Australia’s rail industry $30 million a year. And encourage operators to invest in new, innovative rolling stock and technology.

Our fleets will be faster, safer, with less carbon emissions and able to take on a larger share of Australia’s freight market.

Locking in standards

To drive rail interoperability the NTC is taking a new national approach to standards. This includes identifying a few critical mandatory standards that will help to:

  • align digital train control technology
  • adopt a single onboard interface for drivers and crew
  • streamline rolling stock approvals processes.

We are exploring mechanisms to implement these standards and the legal and regulatory changes needed to mandate them in law.


 

Skills

To build, run and maintain a modern interoperable rail system, rail needs 70,000 more workers with all kinds of skills. From train drivers to cyber security experts. 
Rail needs to employ more women and people from diverse backgrounds if it is to meet this demand.

  • Women make up only 21 per cent of the rail workforce.
  • 89 per cent of enrolments in rail related training are male.

As part of the NRAP we are working with the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and Industry Skills Australia (ISA) to attract a broader group of workers into the rail sector. And to make it easier for people to start and progress a rail career.
 

Where are rail workers learning their skills? 3% of all rail enrolments are being delivered by TAFE. 22% of enrolments are delivered by enterprise providers, mainly by companies delivering bespoke in-house training. 75% of training for rail skills is delivered through private training providers.

Through NRAP’s National Rail Skills Hub, we are collaborating with industry and educators to support the development of national credentials that will see training recognised no matter who you are employed by or where your work is located.

As it is, if you train on one network your skills may not be recognised on another network.

National Rail Skills Hub research shows that 40 per cent of jobs in rail will be touched by technology, changing the way rail operates and the way people work. Through NRAP, we are developing a road map for the digital skills rail needs for its future.

This includes future skills and technology forums that bring together leaders in the industry to agree on approaches to tackling the current skills and labour shortages and to prepare for the modern technologies.

Through the National Rail Skills Hub, we are collaborating with industry and educators to support the development of national credentials that will see training recognised no matter who you are employed by or where your work is located.

As it is, if you train on one network your skills may not be recognised on another network.

National Rail Skills Hub research shows that 40 per cent of jobs in rail will be touched by technology, changing the way rail operates and the way people work. Through the National Rail Action Plan we are developing a road map for the digital skills rail needs for its future.

This includes future skills and technology forums that bring together leaders in the industry to agree on approaches to tackling the current skills and labour shortages and to prepare for the new technologies.

Building scale for local manufacturers

As part of the National Rail Action Plan, we are developing common standards for train components. This will be a key part of a new national standards framework.

At the moment, the arrangements are informal and on an “opt in” basis.

Each State and Territory currently has the same types of rollingstock components like seats, air conditioning units, glass and brakes. If jurisdictions agree on the same type of rollingstock components and localise their production, it could generate economies of scale and drive domestic volumes creating local manufacturing opportunities and making us less reliant on international supply chains.

Harmonising working rules and systems

Different working rules apply on different networks. It can be confusing for those working on our rail network including train drivers who travel across different networks.

Through the NRAP, we are working with operators and government to harmonise these arrangements making our rail system safer and more efficient.

How to participate

If you'd like to express interest in the National Rail Action Plan and program, or ask us a question about our work, send us an email as we'd like to hear from you.