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Safety investigators were directed to undertake an independent review of a controversial $40 billion rail corporation to assess the adequacy of measures dealing with potential risks to rail safety from competing priorities.
Senior officials from Transport for NSW have confirmed that in early August the-then transport minister Andrew Constance commissioned investigators to review the Transport Asset Holding Entity (TAHE).
A report by the Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI) into the state-owned rail corporation was handed on Tuesday to Mr Constance’s successor as Transport Minister, Rob Stokes.
About $40 billion of rail assets including trains are owned by the government’s Transport Asset Holding Entity.CREDIT:LOUISE KENNERLEY
It has prompted Labor to demand that the government release the findings of the investigators’ report into the controversial rail corporation, which was set up to artificially inflate the state budget.
A letter from OTSI to transport officials shows Mr Constance sought a review of the effectiveness of measures put in place to manage “potential risks to safety from competing priorities” and possible conflicts between TAHE’s commercial imperatives and funding for safety and asset management.
OTSI, which is an independent statutory body, sought documents in August from Transport for NSW relating to safety governance arrangements, board operations and any agreements between TAHE and the agency for the “execution of safety and asset management accountabilities”.
The Herald revealed in June that senior transport officials feared that the creation of TAHE could repeat the 1990s carve-up of NSW railways and the resulting gaps in safety and investment accountabilities; key factors in the 1999 Glenbrook and 2003 Waterfall rail disasters.
Under questioning from Labor’s Daniel Mookhey, Transport for NSW secretary Rob Sharp told a budget estimates hearing he had indicated during discussions with Mr Constance that a review of TAHE by the safety investigators would “definitely add value”.
“We’ve had significant change from operationalising TAHE, so there are a number of contractual arrangements that have been put in place,” he said. “I would fully envisage that we will have a number of audits around these processes because they are new.”
Mr Sharp said the review had been handed to Mr Stokes, who succeeded Mr Constance as Transport Minister last month after the Bega MP quit state politics to seek Liberal pre-selection to run for the federal seat of Gilmore. “The report has gone directly to [Mr Stokes],” he said.
Seven people were killed and dozens were injured when a Tangara train derailed near Waterfall station, south of Sydney, in 2003.CREDIT:ANDREW MEARES
A spokesperson for Mr Stokes said the Transport Minister would soon meet OTSI’s chief investigator to discuss the report.
Mr Mookhey said the government needed to publicly release the investigators’ report because it called into question the “very basis of why TAHE was established”.
“A matter this serious needs to be made public, especially when we know there was a high-stakes battle within government last year about whether establishing TAHE increased rail safety risk to the public,” he said.
The state-owned corporation, which controls $40 billion worth of the state’s rail assets including trains and tracks, is under serious scrutiny from both a parliamentary inquiry and the NSW Auditor-General who is conducting two separate reviews.
Andrew Constance requested a review by the state’s transport safety investigators in August when he was Transport Minister.CREDIT:JAMES ALCOCK
The Herald has revealed that TAHE has had a revolving door of CEOs, and that the government considered commercialising the entire public transport and road networks to artificially inflate the budget by shifting billions of dollars of costs off the books and into the state-owned corporation.
It has previously been revealed that former Transport for NSW secretary Rodd Staples raised safety as a key issue last year in the setting up of TAHE during robust discussions with his then counterpart at Treasury, months before being sacked without cause.
Asked why there was a need for the review by the state’s independent safety bureau, Mr Sharp told the hearing on Tuesday that safety risk assessments were a “normal process in terms of an executive being comfortable with the risk profiles, the actions and mitigations”.
Concerns about the safety implications of TAHE were also highlighted in a confidential Cabinet submission in 2016 obtained by the Herald, which warned of “safety risks if maintenance of metropolitan rail track is separated from operations”.
“One concern is that splitting the maintenance of rail assets from operations is contrary to the recommendations of the Glenbrook or Waterfall inquiries,” the joint Cabinet submission from Transport for NSW and Treasury said.
“A second concern is it may be in TAHE’s commercial interest to run down the assets.”
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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