The ATSB conducts ‘no blame’ rail safety investigations in accordance with the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act).

The ATSB does not investigate for the purpose of taking administrative, regulatory or criminal action.

When the ATSB investigates an accident or incident, investigators will seek to determine its circumstances, identify any safety issues, and encourage relevant safety action. The aim of all ATSB investigations is to prevent the occurrence of other accidents and incidents, rather than to assign blame or liability. This approach helps ensure the continued free flow of safety information for the purposes of improving safety in the future.

Does the ATSB investigate all rail accidents?

The ATSB investigates selectively, as do many equivalent organisations overseas. The aim is to concentrate ATSB’s resources on those investigations considered most likely to enhance rail safety. Because many accidents are repetitive in nature, investigating these in any detail may not be justified, given the ATSB’s limited resources. In such cases, the ATSB will not necessarily attend the scene, conduct an in-depth investigation or produce an extensive report.

The ATSB allocates its investigative resources to be consistent with the following hierarchy of rail operation types:  

  • mainline operations that impact on passenger services  
  • freight and other commercial operations  
  • non-commercial operations

Most transport safety investigations into rail accidents and incidents in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria are conducted in accordance with the Collaboration Agreement for Rail Safety Investigations and Other Matters between the Commonwealth Government of Australia, the State Government of NSW and the State Government of Victoria.

Under the Collaboration Agreement, rail safety investigations are conducted and resourced in NSW by the Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI) and in Victoria by the Office of the Chief Investigator, Transport Safety (OCI), on behalf of the ATSB, under the provisions of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003.

Reporting accidents and incidents

As required under the Transport Safety Investigation Regulations 2003 (TSI Regulations), train operating crew, rail and track owners and operators must report accidents and serious incidents (Category A occurrences) that occur as soon as practicable and by the quickest means possible. Telephone all Category A occurrences directly to ONRSR by calling 1800 430 888 (24 hrs/ 7 days).

Further information on reporting obligations is available on the ONRSR website.

Coronial inquests or inquiries into rail safety occurrences

The relevant State or Territory Coroner may hold an inquest into a fatal rail accident. The Coronial inquest and the ATSB investigation are separate but they do interact.

ATSB investigators may be legally required to appear as expert witnesses. A date for an inquest or inquiry is determined by the Coroner.

The Coroner’s Office should be contacted on all matters relating to an inquest. Coronial services can also offer assistance and advice, and some Coronial jurisdictions provide grief counselling and other support for relatives by means of trained professionals.