Australia: Rail safety reforms - Rail Safety National Law (Queensland) Act 2017 (Qld)


  • Anyone in Queensland with an interest in rail.


  • From 1 July 2017 the new Rail Safety National Law will apply in Queensland.


  • Have a plan in place to ensure a smooth transition to the new Rail Safety National Law regime.

This focus alert is the first of three publications outlining recent changes to the new rail safety regime and how it will apply to rail transport operators in Queensland.


The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) was established in 2013 with the Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) initiated first in South Australia, and soon followed by New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Since then, Victoria, ACT and Western Australia have all joined the national regime.1

On 9 March 2017, the Rail Safety National Law (Queensland) Act 2017 (Qld) (Act) received assent with the Act's substantive provisions to commence on 1 July 2017. This will align the regulation of Queensland railroads with other States and Territories by applying the RSNL (with minor modifications) as a law of Queensland, and establishing the ONRSR as Queensland's rail safety regulator.

In addition, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) will take on the role of Queensland's no-blame rail safety investigator.

Immediate impacts of RSNL

The Minister for Transport, Jackie Trad, announced that by 'implementing these reforms in Queensland, we are cutting red tape for industry and making our railways safer.'2 The immediate effect of joining the RNSL means that:

  • the local regulator (being the Department of Transport and Main Roads, rail regulation unit) will become a branch office of the ONRSR, and
  • the national framework will apply such that:
    • existing accreditation and registration will be recognised under the ONRSR and RSNL
    • the notice of accreditation or registration for rail transport operators accredited or registered in multiple jurisdictions will be consolidated into a single notice per entity
    • national policies and guidelines will apply (including the Guideline titled, Duty Holders on Transition to the Rail Safety National Law (RSNL), which was published back in 2013 to assist in transitioning to the RSNL, and
    • there will be a single contact point (being the ATSB) for the reporting of Reportable Category A occurrences.

The Queensland legislation provides for transitional arrangements to apply, preserving the operation of the existing legislation. The transition provisions will be further detailed in the subsequent bulletins.

What stays the same?

Although not excluded in all States and Territories, in Queensland the RSNL will not to apply to monorails and cane trains (provided they continue to meet certain requirements). Also, those accredited under current Queensland regime for railway operations of a particular scope and nature will automatically be taken to be accredited under the RSNL. However, after two years, those existing accredited operators will be required to comply with the conditions of accreditation under the RSNL.

Finally, those parties that were granted an exemption for particular railway operations under the current regime, for which there is an applicable exemption under the RSNL, have a three year transitional period.3

Towards 1 July 2017

Over the coming weeks as Queensland moves towards the RSNL, McCullough Robertson will provide publications with further information on these legislative changes, in particular:

  • an understanding of the transition provisions; and
  • a look at rail automation.


1 The RSNL was introduced to South Australia as a schedule to the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) Act 2012 (SA) and in January 2013, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Tasmania enacted legislation to give effect to the schedule containing the RSNL. In Victoria it occurred in May 2014, in the ACT, in November 2014 and in Western Australia, in November 2015.

2 The Honourable Jackie Trad, 'National reforms to improve rail safety' (Media Release, 28 February 2017).

3 Rail Safety National Law (Queensland) Act 2017 (Qld) s68(4).

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