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Laws to prevent fatigue among NSW train drivers could be weakened under proposed reforms, the national rail union says.
The reforms could lead to drivers working for longer than 10 hours at a stretch, according to the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.
The union was responding to the draft regulatory impact statement of new national rail safety laws, which will replace state-based laws.
The states have agreed to the new laws, but the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, won an agreement to retain stronger fatigue management provisions in NSW that were put in place following the Waterfall train disaster.
Both Transport for NSW and the Federal Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese, deny rail safety provisions will be weakened under the new laws.
But according to the national secretary of the RTBU, Bob Nanva, the wording of the draft federal laws by the National Transport Commission threatens the stronger provisions in NSW.
"Through incompetence or sleight of hand, the NTC has drafted a regulation that could see inter-urban train drivers working more than 10 hours straight," Mr Nanva said.
"This poses an unacceptable risk to public and driver safety and it needs to be amended immediately."
The union's submission to the draft regulations cites a number of areas where the state's regulations could be weakened.
Current NSW regulations apply to both long distance and inter-urban drivers, such as those who drive trains between Wollongong and the Central Coast.
But the national laws apply only to drivers of "long distance" trains.
"This proposed wording clearly changes the current NSW arrangement by leaving sufficient ambiguity to argue that inter-urban services are not long distance trains – and therefore not subject to the shift limits that currently apply to those services," the union's submission states.
The submission also raises the issue of freight train drivers who cross borders. The submission says train drivers, limited to working for 10 hour shifts in NSW, could drive for longer if they are driving interstate.
A spokeswoman for Transport for NSW said: "With regard to train drivers who operate across borders, shift limits will apply the same way they currently do, in that an operator must not breach the limits while in NSW.
"The NSW Government has no jurisdiction over shift lengths in other states or territories. However, operators are required to have a fatigue management program which includes principles about shifts lengths and rest breaks."
According to the union's submission, in NSW train drivers are required to have a minimum break of 30 minutes between the third and fifth hours of each shift.
The draft national laws, however, required a "maximum" 30-minute break only to be "scheduled".
But this has since been changed to "scheduled and taken".
A spokeswoman for Mr Albanese said: "All states and territories have agreed to the national rail safety laws which will deliver Australia's first rail safety regulator, national consistency and maximum safety outcomes.
"You will be able to drive a train from Brisbane to Melbourne and operate under the same safety laws and that's good for drivers, passengers and the broader public," the spokeswoman said.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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