Rail interoperability framework

The National Rail Action Plan identified a lack of interoperability between Australia's passenger and freight train networks. Different trains, rail gauges, rules and signalling can make seamless travel difficult and inefficient.

Investments in modern signalling and train control systems have the potential to significantly enhance the safety, capacity and competitiveness of rail networks, if new and upgraded systems can ‘talk to each other’.

Read more about the National Rail Action Plan.

A fragmented network

The 29,000km of interconnected rail on mainland Australia is made up of many isolated freight and passenger networks. In 2021, there were over 500 daily and 2100 weekly services on the intermodal freight and regional passenger networks alone. Across the country there are multiple rail infrastructure managers and train operators, each making project decisions based on their own needs.

The National Rail Action Plan is supporting nationwide action on interoperability by bringing governments, industry, operators and builders of the network together to help overcome historical challenges.
 
For example, there are 11 different signalling and train control systems in use across Australia. Operators incur significant costs in training drivers and crews to understand multiple rules and systems. 

A lack of interoperability means that:

  • Trains are fitted with multiple sets of onboard equipment.
  • Complex and expensive track-side equipment is duplicated.
  • There are extra costs in management, maintenance and training
  • Productivity is decreased as fewer trains can run on shared tracks.
  • Safety risks are increased as there is more room for human error because of the different systems.

Interoperability framework

To address the challenges, transport ministers approved the development of a National Rail Interoperability Framework to drive national consistency. The framework is being developed by the NTC and is made up of four key elements:

  • An Interoperability Advisory Group will advise senior government representatives on interoperability. Advice will centre on impacts and opportunities from proposed rail investments that touch on the national rail network. It will also advise on the development of national standards.
  • A national network for rail interoperability will define critical routes and key interfaces where the framework applies. It will include passenger and freight networks that interconnect with ports, major cities and regional centres of national importance. Learn more about who manages key rail routes across Australia on the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) website. 
  • A memorandum of cooperation will be developed between ministers and rail operators and builders. Its purpose is to help make sure interoperability is considered earlier in the planning of projects before final decisions are made.
  • A Future Rail Technologies Forum will bring together governments and industry to learn from international experts. The forum will focus on technology and innovation that can help Australia improve interoperability.

The Interoperability Framework will support a modern, safer, integrated and productive rail network that works as one interoperable system. It will bring decision makers from different networks together to advance interoperability benefits ahead of investments. 

Benefits

An interoperable national rail system will mean:

  • More passengers and larger volumes of freight move seamlessly and safely between major cities and regions.
  • Productivity is increased as rail becomes a more competitive option for freight and passenger travel.
  • The human factor safety risks associated with operating different types of communication equipment are reduced.
  • Training costs are lower, and skills are more portable, with fewer differences between networks.
  • Less trackside infrastructure is needed if investments in modern train control systems are coordinated and can ‘talk to each other’.
  • Australia’s supply chains and exports flow better through uninterrupted rail services that connect with the nation’s ports and passenger terminals.

Current work program

The NTC is currently establishing the Interoperability Advisory Group to give advice to governments on the best ways to advance interoperability through future rail investments.

We’re also working with our industry partners to facilitate the sharing of international knowledge and experience through the Future Rail Technologies Forum.

Contact us

Project manager Dominic L’Huillier