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Safer rail update
18 March 2021


Kia ora and welcome to the Safer Rail Update. This willl be a quarterly update on what's happening in the rail sector from the regulator's perspective but also share stories from around the rail industry to highlight progress and successes in ensuring the rail network is safe for everyone.

If you have any stories or images you feel may be suitable for this quarterly publication, please contact



Industrial forum makes its debut

Bringing the industrial sector together to build on unity and relationships was the key goal of the inaugural Industrial Rail Users Forum on 24 February.

About 30 people attended the forum in Auckland, with representatives from Waka Kotahi, KiwiRail, Fonterra, Silver Fern Farms, Alliance, WPI International, NZ Steel and Toll to talk about issues facing the industry, what we expect from them, and what we can do to help them.

This event was led and hosted by Fonterra and was the result of a year of effort from Waka Kotahi and Fonterra to bring this group together for a face-to-face meeting (by luck, in between heightened Alert Levels).

Over the last several years the Safer Rail Team has been concerned that this part of the rail sector was an underappreciated risk but, being such a disparate group of users, it has been very hard to make significant progress across the board. For all of these organisations, their rail operations are a very small part of their business and so are not always a major focus at the upper levels of the organisation.

This can be to the detriment of good safety outcomes, and we have had some significant injuries, collisions and runaways (including one incident where a wagon encroached onto a main commuter line).

This forum was an opportunity to meet each other and discuss common strategic risks and issues to work on. A big theme of the day was how we, as a group, could help the sector understand their accountabilities and work together to improve joint management of risks – enabling them to be more willing compliers.

A big thanks from us to the team at Fonterra for stepping up to help their whole sector. We’ll soon be meeting with Fonterra to discuss the next steps, but already a number of potential actions have been identified, including educational workshops and getting representatives from this group on the National Rail Industry Advisory Forum that Waka Kotahi initiated in 2019.

Caption: Neil Adams, Senior Manager Safer Rail, presents at the Industrial Rail Users Forum last month.



Payment of fees and charges

It has now been more than a year since the new fees and charges regime for rail safety regulation was brought into effect. While the increases were unavoidable, we understand the impact of these costs on the rail sector so we will look for more opportunities to sharpen our processes and provide further value to you.

Waka Kotahi is required to recover the costs of rail safety regulation from those it regulates. We have no alternative sources of funding to cover these services we provide as the regulator. As a condition of your licence, you are obliged under the Railways Act 2005 to pay any fees and charges due. If you are concerned about your ability to pay, please get in touch with us at immediately to avoid regulatory action and/or debt recovery processes.

The fees and charges we are required to recover are set out in the Railways Regulations 2019 and operate in accordance with Government expectations on cost recovery, including that costs should be borne by those who are subject to the regulatory activity (such as rail licence holders, motorists and pedestrians) and to avoid cross-subsidisation. As mentioned previously, one of the improvements in the present regime has been access to the National Land Transport Fund to ensure motorists and pedestrians also pay their share for the costs their activities impose on rail safety oversight. You can find more information on the rail safety regulatory funding regime (including the preceding consultation process with the sector) on our website.

Waka Kotahi continues to work with the Ministry of Transport on managing these costs impacts and identifying potential enhancements to the policy, and we thank FRONZ's contributions to these discussions with the Ministry.



Glenbrook diversifies its operations . . .

Like many operators in the rail industry, the Glenbrook Vintage Railway (GVR) was hit particularly hard at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The organisation was in a period of considerable commercial, operational and engineering growth that had been in the pipeline back to 2018 but COVID-19 forced GVR to abandon its commercial plans and shift tack into recovery mode.

In order to keep innovating and retain key staff members, GVR needed to diversify its business plan and be creative in generating revenue, while still being nimble to respond to any disruptive effects of COVID-19. This led to GVR investigating running log trains from Fernleigh (a GVR site 6km from its main terminus at Glenbrook) to the GVR/KiwiRail network connection at Glenbrook. A local harvest manager surveyed the local area and found enough supply of logs to make a sustainable log transportation plan using rail from GVR’s site at Fernleigh to Mt Maunganui for export.

“GVR, Waka Kotahi, harvest managers, exporters and KiwiRail have worked collaboratively to set up a twice-weekly log train service of 10 wagons each service and a payload of up to 760 tonnes of logs per week,” GVR General Manager Tim Kerwin says.

“These log wagons are dropped off and picked up by KiwiRail on existing freight services on the Mission Bush Branchline, then transported by GVR locomotive and personnel to the Fernleigh Log Rail Exchange site for loading then eventual return to Glenbrook for pick up by KiwiRail.”

Caption: A loaded log train shunted into the Glenbrook Exchange Siding, a GVR-owned joint operating area with KiwiRail covered by a Joint Operating Procedure, awaiting pick up by KiwiRail for its journey to Mt Maunganui.



. . . with support from Waka Kotahi

This was a departure from GVR’s usual passenger train operations, so this project required innovation and proactive safety steps to ensure the new form of operation was introduced safely.

This is where GVR’s relationship with Waka Kotahi helped its transition into a diversified operation. GVR worked closely with its Waka Kotahi licence manager, Principal Rail Safety Officer Jason Lawn, to review documents, assess risk and put in place the safety case variation.

“Our collaborative relationship with Waka Kotahi contributes greatly to our ongoing ability to respond to the effects of Covid-19 and our ability to continue to improve our operating safety and business resilience.

“This exercise shows how important and beneficial it is to the operator and rail industry in having a strong working relationship with the license manager/regulator and how successful it can be.”

Caption: Wagon restriction testing. This ensures which lines are safe for the passage of both loaded and unloaded log wagons.



Positive response to framework engagement

An initial round of industry engagement on the Rail Regulatory Risk Framework (R3F) has been completed, and the overall response has been positive about the clarity, consistency, and guidance the framework is expected to deliver.

The project team is well advanced with the development of the risk profile tool and the Safety Management System maturity assessment portion of the tool is almost ready to commence testing and validation.

There is still work to be completed on the Inherent Risk and Dynamic Risk portions of the tool but the team is making good progress. To ensure the objectivity of the risk profile tool outputs, the team is applying considerable focus to data requirements and a review of the data we currently hold.

As has previously been indicated, until the tool matures and our regulatory intelligence meets requirements, there is likely to be a degree of subjectivity about some of the initial profile scores generated. This will be further explained during the next round of engagement meetings, prior to rollout, which will demonstrate how the tool works.

Besides ongoing tool development, we are putting effort into creating guidance material for use by both the Safer Rail Team and rail participants, and an implementation plan is in the pipeline. Once the Rail Regulatory Risk Framework goes live and is used by assessors, we’ll use the results to generate additional quality regulatory intelligence. How this is displayed, reported, and otherwise communicated is an important function which is also currently being considered.

We’re excited about how we will deliver our regulatory function in the near future and the benefits and insights R3F will provide for the rail industry as a whole. Questions about the R3F can be directed to



Comings and goings

We said farewell to Ray McMillan, Senior Manager Safer Rail, in January and have welcomed in Neil Adams as the Interim Senior Manager. Neil comes to the Safer Rail team from the same role in the Safer Vehicles sector of Regulatory Services where he oversaw a strong response to the regulatory compliance reviews of Waka Kotahi in the last two years.

Raaj Govinda resigned as Manager Rail Compliance on 9 March. Steve MacMillan, Principal Rail Safety Officer, will be acting in the role until a permanent replacement has been found. He can be contacted on




  • The Safer Rail Team released the inaugural edition of Signal - A year in rail safety in December. If you haven't read it yet, you can find it on the Waka Kotahi website
  • We have recently updated our advice on our website around remedial actions under the providing evidence section of the assessments findings page


More information


For more information about Safer Rail at Waka Kotahi, contact us at If you have any specific concerns or questions, please give your licence manager a call.

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