National rail reform

Since federation, rail managers across Australia have taken different approaches to network development. As a result, rail networks have different standards, infrastructure, systems and training programs. 

Current investment provides an opportunity to resolve legacy issues and prepare for the future. The National Rail Action Plan and current work program support a national vision for a modernised, seamless and safe rail system.

Meeting current and future needs

Governments across Australia have committed more than $155 billion in freight and passenger rail projects to be delivered over the next 10 to 15 years. This pipeline of projects presents both opportunities and challenges. In 2018, industry identified two major risks to the successful delivery of projects:

  • a lack of coordination across states, territories and projects
  • a looming skills and labour shortage in the sector.

In response, the NTC worked with industry and government stakeholders to develop the National Rail Action Plan to address common problems together.

Transport and infrastructure ministers approved the initial plan with 17 actions in 2019. The foundational plan led to the current work program of national rail reform and ongoing collaboration.

About the National Rail Action Plan

The National Rail Action Plan sets out actions for national, state and territory governments and key industry members. Its goals are to:

  • improve safety and productivity of rail operations
  • improve delivery of rail infrastructure
  • create opportunities for manufacturers of rail equipment to supply rolling stock and components.

The plan identifies three critical areas for reform:

  • skills growth and labour availability
  • harmonisation of components and standards
  • interoperability of train control and signaling systems.

All short-term actions have been completed, and actions spanning beyond the two-year plan are well underway.

Read the National Rail Action Plan.

Partnerships with industry and government

Working groups are set up and aligned with the three key reform areas. The groups are co-chaired by representatives from industry and government. Members include representatives from:

  • industry 
  • the Australasian Railway Association
  • the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board
  • national, state and territory governments. 

Growing skills and labour

To deliver the projects planned, Australia needs to grow the rail workforce. This includes:

  • attracting more people to the sector
  • making sure skills are transferable across the country.

Demand for rail workers in all professions is estimated to increase by tens of thousands. While rail networks exist across Australia, bespoke qualifications stop at state and territory borders. This stops many rail workers from being able to use their qualifications outside the state or territory they trained in.

National Rail Skills Hub

The NTC is currently developing a National Rail Skills Hub to help grow a workforce that can move around where and when they’re needed, to meet demand.

The new digital hub will:

  • coordinate state-based academies and industry training initiatives to recognise each other's credentials.
  • improve access and pathways to the rail skills needed to build and operate a national network.
  • reduce duplication and speed up training through 'stackable' common skill sets.

Common standards and rules

Australia’s railways have mostly developed as isolated networks. Each network has developed their own standards and rules. Work has started on harmonising some standards. But there are still many different standards and rules for:

  • rolling stock and components
  • rail infrastructure
  • communications and control systems.

Harmonising standards, rules and components will help rail networks across Australia operate seamlessly. It will improve productivity, interoperability and safety.

Harmonising standards will also help foster an increase in local manufacturing. This would reduce costs, create jobs and strengthen supply chains.

Harmonisation plan and economic analysis

The NTC has engaged the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board to work on a three-year harmonisation plan. Its goal is to drive greater alignment in areas that could support local manufacturing and drive down costs.

To get better evidence on the benefits of greater harmonisation, the NTC has commissioned an economic analysis.

Systems infrastructure that works together

Many of Australia’s rail networks rely on legacy systems that can’t communicate or share data with other similar systems.

The future of rail is digital. Several states are investing in new train control and signalling systems which presents an opportunity.

Mobile phones on different operating systems and networks can talk to each other. Our train network can benefit from a similar approach. Interoperability would allow Australia's 17 different signalling systems to communicate with each other.

The NTC has started work on a national rail interoperability framework.

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, we'd like to hear from you.

You can also sign up to get news on our work in the rail space by email.

Email the project team