Rail Safety National Law (SA) Rail Safety Work Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 8 April 2020.)

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (16:23): I, too, rise to make a brief contribution on the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia)(Rail Safety Work) Amendment Bill. It is not a long bill or particularly complicated, but it is particularly relevant in relation to safety. The Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) Act 2012 (RSNL) is Australia’s rail safety legislation which establishes a co-regulatory system involving a process by which rail safety operators assess the risks associated with their railway operations and then establish a safety management system to manage those risks.

The Australasian Railway Association raised concerns with the definition of rail safety work in the RSNL. The association’s primary concern was that the definition was to open up broad interpretation, which resulted in workers who have no impact on safety being classified as rail safety workers. As a consequence, there exists unnecessary overlap with work health and safety legislation that results in increased costs and regulatory burden for the industry.

The proposed amendments to the RSNL ensure that the definition of ‘rail safety work’ aligns with the objects of the RSNL and capture only work that could pose a risk to railway operations, current or future, and clearly distinguish between risks from the work and risks to the person performing the work. The amendments also remove risks to workers who are not specific to railway operations and therefore are adequately addressed under work health and safety laws.

It is intended that changes to the RSNL will reduce the rail safety work assessment burden for industry by removing risks to workers who are not specific to railway operations and therefore are adequately addressed under WHS laws.

In June 2019, officers of the National Transport Commission provided instructions for drafting by the Australasian Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee. The responsible ministers of the Transport and Infrastructure Council unanimously recommended the making of the proposed legislation at its meeting on 22 November 2019. As South Australia is the lead legislator of the RSNL, parliamentary counsel has drafted the amendment bill on behalf of the national Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee.

The proposed amendments are broadly supported by industry, jurisdictions, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator and the Australasian Railway Association. It is intended that changes to the RSNL will reduce the rail safety work assessment burden for industry by removing risks to workers who are not specific to railway operations and therefore are adequately addressed under work health and safety laws. Pleasingly, there are no direct costs to jurisdictions that result from the proposed amendments to the RSNL.

As I said, it is not a complicated bill. It is amending an existing bill. There are just five clauses and the bulk of the changes are in part 2, clauses 4 and 5, and really talk about safety, work properly being done and the risk of exposure to moving rolling stock. The member for West Torrens wished it a speedy passage through the house and I am sure it will get that.

I would like to take a moment, if I may, to digress slightly, but still talk about trains. It is just 12 months since the grain train on Eyre Peninsula ceased to run after 102 years of hauling grain and, in recent years and at other times, all sorts of freight, livestock, machinery and people up and down Eyre Peninsula. Viterra, the grain handler with the majority of the work in this state, and Genesee & Wyoming, the rail operator on Eyre Peninsula, failed to reach agreement on their contract.

This was a sad day for many of us on Eyre Peninsula. We came to the realisation that it was no longer economically viable for the train to operate and that it could no longer compete with road transport. We understand that. However, despite that, many people are still nostalgic about the railway operation and what it meant to Eyre Peninsula for more than 100 years.

It began being built in 1906, reached my home town of Cummins in 1907, where it truncated. It continued on in 1909 and reached the mighty metropolis of Yeelanna and then over the ensuing two decades a spur line extended from Yeelanna to Mount Hope. The main central line extended to Penong in the west and the line branched from Cummins to go north-east through Kimba to Buckleboo. There were also at one stage plans to build a spur line out to Mangalo from the Rudall line and also an extension from Buckleboo on to the next siding, the name of which just escapes me at the moment, but obviously it was uneconomic at the time.

When it was first built, there were very few roads across Eyre Peninsula. Many of the hundreds were being surveyed and opened up for settlement at the very same time the railway was pushing north, so it really came with the first settlers and was the lifeblood of inland Eyre Peninsula, primarily bringing water in the early days for the settlers, who needed horses for the farm work at that time. It provided water for the trains themselves, being all steam trains, and moved freight, machinery and people up and down.

Slowly but surely, technology progressed. It probably reached its maximum extent in the immediate postwar years. The decline of the railways, although people do not remember it as such, began in the early fifties when the first of the many sidings on the Eyre Peninsula line began to close. In fact, the siding adjacent to the farm where I grew up, known as Yeltukka siding, was one of the very first to close in 1951. That meant that my grandfather and my father needed to take their grain to the next siding further east, which was Ningana, just one siding west of Yeelanna.

At its maximum extent, the railways employed 650 people on the Eyre Peninsula line—every town large or small had a resident railway gang, many towns had railway cottages and it was a vital part of the peninsula .The maintenance of the track and the operation of the locomotives and trains themselves, including drivers, firemen and guards, was a really important employer on Eyre Peninsula. Some changes began, particularly in the late fifties and through the 1960s.

Up until that point, all the grain harvest had been collected and transported in three-bushel bags or, in the very early days, four-bushel bags, but for most of the 20th century it was three-bushel bags. The grain growers were required to stitch up the bags once the grain had been put into a three-bushel bag, put it onto their dray (in the early days; later, some had small trucks) and take it into their local siding, where it was unloaded from the truck and put into a stack.

Each bag was weighed individually, recorded, tested, graded, all that sort of thing, so traceability was paramount. Eventually, through the ensuing months trains would come north from Port Lincoln, or south from Thevenard if it was in the western division, and the bags were loaded from the stack onto the train and taken to the port. It was extremely time-consuming and required a lot of manpower.

In the late fifties/early sixties, South Australia was one of the last grain growing regions in the world to move to bulk handling. South Australian Co-operative Bulk Handling Limited was formed, under an act of parliament in this very chamber, I believe. That allowed for the first of the terminal port silos, and ultimately up-country silos, to be built, primarily using grain grower funds. Grain growers paid tolls on the grain they delivered, and through that mechanism capital was raised and silos were built.

Gradually, the grain industry transferred from bags to bulk handling. It was a lot of work. A bag of wheat was 180 pounds. Three bushels was about 87 kilograms, about what the member for Mawson is coming in at the moment—looking good, my friend. A bag of barley was a little bit lighter, at 150 pounds, and of course oats were only 120 pounds.

I mentioned Yeelanna earlier—and I remember there were many good Methodists around Yeelanna—and that was the first extension from Cummins up to Yeelanna. It was said that some of the farmers around Yeelanna did not grow oats because they fed it to racehorses and they would not grow barley because they made beer out of it. They only ever grew wheat. Whether or not that is a true story, I do not know, but it is certainly part of local folklore.

We moved to bulk handling, and the trains were critical in the transport of that. They moved from flat-top wagons, which carried bags, to bulk wagons, the most recent of which I have seen carry over 30 tonnes in each wagon. Still the trains were critical, but at the same time roads were improving. Roads were improving around Eyre Peninsula. The highways were being sealed and bitumen was laid, cars were getting better, people were more mobile, transport was easier and trucks were becoming larger, so there was competition for the rail, and motor transport had a flexibility that rail transport did not have. Slowly but surely, that competition ate away at the profitability of the rail on Eyre Peninsula.

Another point is that right from the very earliest times the railway was built on the cheap. It started way back in 1907, and in the ensuing two decades it was built almost entirely out of second-hand materials. The locomotives and the rolling stock were always brought from somewhere else to run on a narrow-gauge railway with, in the very first instance, sleepers laid directly onto the ground with no ballast whatsoever.

Rail safety was not a priority. I am sure they were careful, but there was no shortage of incidents, some accidents, some injuries and even some deaths, sadly. But it soldiered on and eventually they fitted some ballast. Slowly, they upgraded the weight of the rail and the rolling stock got bigger, but still, by the time the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s came around, it was struggling to compete with road transport. Diesel locomotives replaced the steam engines. I am not especially old, I do not believe, but I can just remember the last steam train in Cummins. I understand that the line from Yeelanna to Mount Hope was the last line in the entire state to run a steam engine.

Another interesting transport aspect of the Eyre Peninsula railway line was how we transported our passengers on our passenger line. In the early days, of course, they jumped on the train. There is a classic photograph—in fact, I have a copy of it in my office—of a railway picnic. People embarking from Port Lincoln were all sitting on open carriages, about six carriages, done up in their Sunday best to head out to the Warunda siding for a picnic. It would have been a hot and dusty trip, and they would not have been looking their best when they got home. Anyway, I am sure it was enjoyed by all.

Slowly but surely, conditions improved for passengers. Interestingly, in probably the last three decades of the passenger line operating—it closed in 1965—passengers were transported along the line by a converted bus. It was a petrol-driven fageol bus where the rubber-tyred wheels were taken off and railway wheels were fitted. This bus would drive up and down the railway line, and it was driven just like a bus with a throttle, a clutch, gears and all the rest of it. That is how people got around.

Often people would go into Port Lincoln to do their shopping and come back out. Children who lived in far-flung places and had to go to boarding school would come home from Adelaide to Port Lincoln on the motor vessel, the Minnipa, dock in Port Lincoln, hop on the railcar and travel home. It often took three days to get home, which takes a big chunk out of your holidays when you are a week travelling just to get to another part of South Australia, but I am sure much fun was had by all.

Eventually, as more and more people had motor cars, motor cars were better and roads were much, much better, the demise of the railcar finally came about in 1965. The railway limped along. Viterra, through its various incarnations—SACBH first, and AusBulk was in there—did their best to upgrade the silo systems, but essentially it is a system that was built 50 years ago and did not have the capacity or flexibility to move a lot of grain quickly.

We are growing more and more grain each and every year despite climate variability, which is much talked about. It has always existed. Seasonal variability is one of the great challenges for South Australian grain farmers, but we are getting better at what we do. We passed a bill today in this house that will give us another tool in the toolbox, that being GM crops. We will continue to make better use of the water that is available to us, so we will grow more tonnes.

Up until last year, the train was in the end carrying about three-quarters of a million tonnes on the Eyre Peninsula railway. That was all into Port Lincoln because just a few years earlier the line had been truncated both at Wudinna and Kimba, which meant that no grain was being taken by train to Thevenard. All the grain travelling to Thevenard to be exported was taken there by truck already. That three-quarters of a million tonnes on average is going to have to go onto road transport and that current road freight task is more than adequate to do that.

The challenge will be when we have a bumper harvest, which we always know is just around the corner. Farmers are ever optimistic. We have had a reasonable start to the year. Although I am ever sceptical of the long-range weather forecast, if it proves to be correct then we should have bountiful rains this year and a bountiful harvest and that is when we will see our roads get busy on Eyre Peninsula.

Some still hope that the rail might come back. I can say now that that is not going to happen. It had reached a point where there had been so little investment into the rail over a long period of time that it had become quite dilapidated. The rolling stock was old. It was reliable and it did a great job, but it was old and competitive forces came into play.

I want to mention briefly the Eyre Peninsula Railway Preservation Society, which is probably an unusual name for a society for a railway that no longer exists. Essentially, they are an historical society and they have been active for a number of years and have situated themselves in the old Port Lincoln railway station, which is a beautiful old heritage-listed, duck pond stone building. What they have done over recent years is collect an enormous amount of memorabilia, an enormous number of photographs and stories from a hundred years of rail on Eyre Peninsula. There have been some great characters who have worked and been involved with the railways.

I think I have said in this place before that my maternal great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather arrived on Eyre Peninsula to work in the railways. There is barely a family on Eyre Peninsula now that does not have a link in some way to the railways. They are times past now. I was as sorry as anyone to see it go. Competitive forces come into play. As Margaret Carr famously said in The History of the Karkoo District on Eyre Peninsula, ‘Life is never still.’

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