The establishment of Railcorp has left the fate of a new safety investigation and audit system covering NSW passenger rail services and the state's track infrastructure in limbo.
NSW State Rail released a tender for a Safety Incident and Injury Management System (SIIMS) in March 2003 -- just two months after the state government opened the Waterfall disaster inquiry which was launched in response to failing public confidence in the safety of the NSW rail network.
According to the NSW Department of Commerce, work on the new project was expected to commence 30 April 2004. However, a month after the original tender release, the then NSW transport minister, Michael Costa, announced that State Rail would merge with the Rail Infrastructure Corporation (RIC) to form Railcorp, which came into being January 1, 2004.
The NSW government boasted on the Railcorp site that the merger was the second stage of its transport reform agenda to improve "the safety, security, reliability and cleanliness of the rail network".
Railcorp now says it will abandon the tender as "the scope of the work has changed," meaning it must now encompass the needs of both the RIC and State Rail.
However, it hasn't given any firm indication of whether it will launch a new tender to replace the system and it's unclear whether an IT-based system, such as that which State Rail was calling for, will be part of its new integrated safety regime at all.
"An integrated and more proactive risk based assessment 'model' is now being sought as a risk management support tool. Investigations into this new system are currently underway," said a spokesperson for Railcorp.
Railcorp says that until the new arrangements are put in place, it will rely on the old system that StateRail had sought to replace at the peak of the of NSW rail crisis.
"A number of legacy systems that were being used before the original tender was issued have been and will continue to be used in the interim," said Railcorp's spokesperson.
Railcorp's safety auditing and investigation system could play an important role in its upcoming bid for full safety accreditation from the NSW government's new transport regulator in December. At that time it will put its case to be granted full accreditation by the newly formed Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator (ITSRR).
As part of its agenda, the NSW government has granted ITSRR power to force rail operators to comply nationally established accreditation standards.
Currently ITSRR is unsatisfied that the newly merged rail operator's overall Safety Management System (SMS) -- which extends well beyond information technology use -- is sufficiently coherent and unified to warrant full accreditation.
The authority's accreditation model is complex but roughly speaking involves a co-regulatory system which gives operators a free hand in how they meet the standard.
A spokesperson for ITSRR told ZDNet Australia Railcorp's technology decisions were ultimately matters of concern to its board but conceded that the system could play an important part in the accreditation process.
"Obviously the way that they manage information about incidents that happen on the network is of great importance to them and its obvious interest to us too," said the spokesperson.
It's hard to see how SIIMS was expected to impact on State Rail's safety performance. Railcorp has ignored ZDNet Australia's request for a copy of the original SIIMS tender document.
Around 20 companies including CSC, IBM, Unisys, Infosys and LogicaCGM responded to the SIIMS tender. But none that ZDNet Australia spoke to were prepared to discuss it on the record or provide a copy of the public document that detailed the tender's requirements.