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The Australian rail industry has lashed out at the train workers' union, accusing it of scaremongering over safety.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has warned that proposed changes to train drivers' working hours and rest breaks pose serious safety risks.
"Uniform legislation across Australia should raise standards across Australia rather than reducing them to the lowest common denominator," the union's Bob Nanva told AM yesterday.
But the Australasian Railway Association, the peak body representing the nation's public and private rail operators, says the new national safety code will not diminish safety on the train network.
"I think the union's claims are definitely scaremongering and I think this is unfortunate," spokesman Bryan Nye said.
The draft proposal by the National Transport Commission (NTC) recommends ditching a 12-hour cap on working hours and letting rail companies set limits on shift lengths and rest breaks.
Mr Nye says regulated shift arrangements are "definitely more unsafe" than the proposed changes.
"It is more important to ensure that the person is fit to work and is safe to work and is monitored to make sure that he is operating the train safely," he said.
"I accept that the longer you work that you have greater risk, but the fact is that there is no train drivers in the networks driving anywhere near 12 hours at the current time because every one of their EBA agreements is a lot less than that.
"What we are saying is we have to get better at what we are doing and it is quite archaic just keep with shift length times."
Mr Nye says safety reforms brought in after rail disasters of the past will not be lost.
"The rail industry has made quantum leaps forward since there were two major accidents in New South Wales, the Glenbrook accident and the Waterfall accident," he said.
"Both of those had nothing to do with fatigue.
"The Waterfall accident was to do with a lack of medical standards.
"We now have incredibly strict medical standards for all train drivers.
"Glenbrook was a lack of communications and procedures in place.
"That has been overcome but nobody is resting in the rail industry until we have absolutely better systems in place to continually improve our safety."
He dismisses suggestions that rail operators will put profits before safety when setting working hours.
"A freight train operator ... if there is a major accident caused by fatigue, the cost of that accident, it could be $30 billion and why would any freight rail operator want the cost of that?" he said.
"It doesn't want to lose lives, it doesn't want its operation determined.
"This is not about taking short cuts.
"That is the last thing the industry wants so they will not allow a train driver to drive in a situation that is unsafe.
"It is just not in our interests to do so."
State and federal transport ministers will discuss the proposed changes next month.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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