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World-Class Rail Systems: Safety & Quality

SHEQAfrica spoke to Jacintha Naidoo, Senior Manager: Regulations and Standards at the Railway Safety Regulator about her role in the rail industry and the challenges the Regulator faces.

The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) came into effect with the National Railway Safety Regulator Act, No. 16 of 2002 being promulgated, to oversee railroads and train safety in South Africa. It is an agency within the Department of Transport.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

JN: I have a qualification in Analytical Chemistry, but my career path soon took me into the field of QA and  Risk Management. I managed the SHEQ system, in addition to other functions, in the Monitoring Programme division at Umgeni Water, Kwa-Zulu Natal, before taking up a position as Risk Manager at Metrorail. From there, I joined the Railway Safety Regulator as Senior Manager: Regulations and Standards. I have just completed my Masters Degree in Safety and will soon commence my MBA studies.

Q: What is your role in the bigger railway SHEQ picture?

JN: The RSR oversees rail safety in South Africa. My role is to develop standards and rail regulations to support the NRSR Act as well as to manage stakeholder relationships.

Our approach is internationally benchmarked against the Canadian model, and to some extent the Australian standards, but the unique conditions in the South African rail industry require that the regulations and standards be adapted.

In this respect, my role includes extensive liaison with the Canadian authorities and other international stakeholders, as well as our local operators to ensure the rail regulations and standards are relevant to and practical in the local circumstances.

In addition to the rail regulations and standards mandated by the Act, we also develop rail regulations and standards to address the specific needs identified by the industry.

The two regulations mandated by the Act have been completed. They include regulations pertaining to the development of a safety management system for rail operators in the rail industry; as well as the development of rail regulations for national, industry and local standards.

I am also responsible for concluding co-operative agreements on behalf of the RSR with various organs of state as per our Act, as well as the constitution.

Q: How will the new regulations and standards affect the industry?

JN: We have gone to great lengths to involve the industry in the process of developing the rail regulations and standards to ensure they are customised to the needs of the local operators and the resources they have available.

We hold workshops on an on-going basis with the rail industry role players to investigate the problems and challenges they face and to obtain their input and harness their expertise. This is done to ensure that the rail regulations and standards are practical and can be implemented in the local rail systems.

There are around 300 permits issued to rail systems operators nationally. Our workshops include representatives from the bigger operators including Metrorail/SARCC, Transnet Freight Rail and Gautrain, as well as the industry association, the Rail Road Association (RRA). The standards and regulations are also published for public comment before publication.

As a result, when the regulations and standards are published, there will be no surprises for the rail industry, as they were involved in the development thereof.

Q: What challenges are you facing?

JN: One of the most pressing challenges in the rail industry is a shortage of skills and the loss of rail expertise. There is an urgent need to develop capacity in the rail transport environment, particularly in the technical fields.

The challenge is two-fold: firstly, we need to retain the existing skills within the industry and the country and secondly, we need to train and develop more people. Rail operators also need to find creative ways of retaining the skills already in their organisations. While there are training courses available on rail through educational institutions, the real need for skills development can only be addressed by on-the-job, in-house training and exposure.

My recent trip to Canada as a Rotary International Ambassador provided me with a great opportunity to exchange ideas and investigate their rail transport systems and procedures. In general, we face the same challenges as our Canadian counterparts such as level crossings, trespassing, and so forth. However, what was obvious from the experience is that we cannot merely implement the same solutions as the Canadian rail authorities. We need to customise and adapt the solutions to local conditions.

Another challenge is the concluding of co-operative agreements with state organs, however good progress is being made here. It can be a very protracted process, but since the NRSR Act overlaps to a certain extent with the SAPS in terms of security and with the Department of Labour in terms of occupational health and safety, we need to work together to avoid duplication, as well as clearly demarcate our roles and responsibilities. We also interact extensively with the Department of Minerals and Energy with regard to the railroads and trains safety of the mine surface rail networks. We also have to liaise with, for example, the National Nuclear Regulator Authority, who regulates all issues around nuclear material.

Q: What does the future hold?

JN: We are currently busy with a project to address the railroads and trains safety issues at level crossings. At the moment, level crossing issues are addressed in the Road Traffic Act. We are in the process of working with the Department of Transport – Roads to make certain recommendations with regards to level crossings.

In terms of the standards that we are developing, we have an excellent working relationship with the SABS, who are in the process of accrediting the RSR as a Standards Developing Organisation. In essence, this means that the RSR develops the standards and then hands the standards over to the SABS for the publication process.

Three suites of standards being developed are the technical standards that will address issues such as rolling stock, infrastructure and rail signaling equipment, standards that address human factor issues, and standards that include issues around occurrence management.

Another major project in the pipeline is the harmonisation of railroads and trains safety standards across the SADC region. The RSR is currently working with SARA, which is the technical arm of SADC, to implement the applicable SADC protocol.

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