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 nations future. 

We're working with governments and industry on a nationally consistent approach to align new digital technology, standards and skills training to make rail more efficient. 

It's all part of the National Rail Action Plan to create a more sustainable and seamless rail system.

National Rail Action Plan - transforming our rail system

In Australia, there are 29 separate rail networks with three railway gauges, 11 separate signalling systems and many different standards and working rules.

Avoiding a repeat of history that led to different rail gauges in the 19th century, the NTC’s National Rail Action Plan aims to create a more seamless, productive and safe national rail network through the shared use of technologies, a national approach to skills and training and by managing key rail interfaces so train control and signalling systems from different networks can talk to each other.

Through the National Rail Action Plan, we bring together network owners, investors, builders, and educators to:

  • deliver a more interoperable national rail system that operates seamlessly  
  • reduce the number of different parts and systems by creating common standards and ways of working
  • create more nationally recognised credentials for rail workers so they can work anywhere, not just on the network they trained on. 

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’ four-year program of work for the NTC also supports the expansion and future-proofing of rail as it undergoes technological transformation. 

Five priorities are to be delivered by the NTC 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

National Cabinet has established rail interoperability as a priority for all Australian governments to maximise investments in rail by taking advantage of digital technologies to create an integrated national rail system. 

There are many different operating systems and safe working rules currently in place. Through the National Rail Action Plan we are working to even out these differences and create a more interoperable rail system that makes the most of new technologies.

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.

Australia's transport ministers have endorsed the NTC's fully costed four-year forward work program to help remove operational constraints on the rail networks, drive interoperability, harmonise standards and operating systems, and tackle the challenge of rail’s skills and labour shortages. 

Developing an interoperability framework

To address the challenges of interoperability, Australia's transport ministers asked the NTC to develop a National Rail Interoperability Framework.

Part of the framework is a National Network for Interoperability across the standard gauge network. It will reduce differences and improve connections between interstate freight and passenger trains, and the major city networks and ports. 

National Network for Interoperability map

The framework also includes: 

  • Interoperability Advisory Group (IAG), a forum for 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
  • The 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.

Aligning signalling on the eastern seaboard

Aligning signalling will be focused on the key network interfaces where trains operating with one signalling and control systems can communicate and work with a different train control system.

We are working with Commonwealth and state governments to gain agreement on key principles for new train control and signalling technologies, and an interoperability pathway between Australian Rail Track Corporation network and eastern seaboard networks.


Rail needs many more workers with all kinds of skills from train drivers to cyber security experts. 

To get there, rail needs to employ more women and people from diverse backgrounds if it is to meet demand.

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

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 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’re developing common standards for train components. 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 National Rail Action Plan, 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.