The Norwegian Railway Inspectorate’s work and projects in today’s climate

Posted: 23 January 2009 | | No comments yet

Erik Ø. Johnsen, Director General of the Norwegian Railway Inspectorate looks at their work and projects in the context of today’s safety environment.

Erik Ø. Johnsen, Director General of the Norwegian Railway Inspectorate looks at their work and projects in the context of today's safety environment.

The Norwegian Railway Inspectorate (Statens jernbanetilsyn) was established in 1996 to safeguard public interest with respect to safety and to enforce the railway law and regulations. In Norway, safety is the responsibility of the individual railway companies.

Until 1996, the state-owned railway (NSB) comprised infrastructure management, development and maintenance as well as railway operations. The company was also responsible for the regulations, both development and enforcement. For all practical purposes the NSB was the only passenger train and freight train operator on the national network until then.

To prepare for the opening of the market, the Infrastructure Manager and the Railway Undertaker was separated in 1996, and at the same time, the Norwegian Railway Inspectorate was established. The jurisdiction of the Railway Inspectorate embraces all railway operations in Norway – heavy rail, light rail, metro and tram – infrastructure as well as rolling stock. In general terms, it covers operations and equipment related to public and freight transport running on tracks and the companies authorised for the purpose.

Starting with three personnel in 1996, the Norwegian Railway Inspectorate has been growing ever since, not only with respect to the number of personnel but also the tasks to be focused on. The Railway Inspectorate is an independent authority reporting to the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The Ministry of Transport and Communications has overriding responsibility for issues relating to transport, postal services and telecommunications.

The railway regulations

In Norway, the railway regulations are developed on three levels. The railway law issued by Parliament, a few overall regulations based on the law issued by the Ministry of Transport and Communications and a number of more detailed regulations based on the above issued by the Railway Inspectorate. It is the role of the Railway Inspectorate to enforce the regulations on all levels. The principle is to apply a functional rather than specific railway law and regulation regime. As the regulations are only specifying the functional requirements, the responsibility for the operational and technical solution is left with the operator. This also comprises the responsibility for safety, interoperability and any other requirement from the regulations, including the role and influence from subcontractors, suppliers, maintenance workshops and so on.

Even though Norway is not a member of the European Union, any Regulation, Directive, Decision, Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSI) etc. related to heavy rail is implemented in the Norwegian legislation under the European Economical Area (EEA) agreement. The authority to implement is with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, but the Railway Inspectorate is normally delegated the task to develop and implement the regulations required. The number and extent of Norwegian specific regulations for the national rail network are decreasing as a result of this, leaving a thorough ‘Europe-harmonised’ set of rules. However, there will always be a small number of national specific regulations left. The geography and climate in Norway place certain requirements on railway operations not equalled by many others in Europe. Typically the railway winds through the countryside in narrow curves and steep hills – through scenery filled with forests, lakes, rivers and tunnels, with temperatures 40 degrees below Celsius and a meter or two of snow on the tracks during the winter, or a 100 degrees Celsius warmer on the head of the rails during the summer. This creates a number of challenges that Norway (and only a few other countries in Europe) will have to face, but still with the objective of making the railway as interoperable as possible and the regulations as harmonised and transparent as possible.

The Railway Inspectorate is working together with the Ministry of Transport and Communications representing Norway and Norwegian interests related to the railway on the international arena. When the issues are mainly in the technical and operational field, the delegates are from the Railway Inspectorate only. Contributing to the work streams of the European Railway Agency (ERA) is prioritised, but work with the European Standardisation Organisation also calls for resources.

Licenses and safety certificates

Licences and safety certificates are granted, suspended or revoked based on the principles of the EU directives. Even though the requirements are transformed into Norwegian regulations, the requirements are in principle the same. Any Norwegian company may apply for a license and safety certificate part ‘A’ and ‘B’. Foreign companies may apply for a part ‘B’ certificate based on their licence and part ‘A’ safety certificate from any other member state. The authority to assess and grant, suspend or revoke licences and safety certificates are with the Railway Inspectorate. The focus of the assessment process in Norway will be the safety management/risk management system of the company, rather than the railway technical details. The company will also need rolling stock approved for being put into service in Norway, hence compatible with the Norwegian infrastructure and train drivers knowing the Norwegian language. Access to the national rail network is open to everybody with a valid license and safety certificates for freight traffic. For domestic public transport you will need additionally an access permit from the Ministry of Transport and Communications. However, the market is not yet open, and a newcomer will probably not be accepted in competition to existing operators.

As per today, the number of commercial companies licensed and certified for operating on the Norwegian network is 12. Additionally, a number of companies hold a limited licence and certificate, for instance heritage railways, companies operating solely on side tracks and so on.

Authorisation for putting into service

Authorisation for putting into service of infrastructure and rolling stock is also granted by the Railway Inspectorate. All rolling stock to be used in Norway will need the authorisation for putting into service from the Railway Inspectorate, except the RIV marked freight wagons.

The requirements for this process are outlined in the regulations. To a large extent the Railway Inspectorate will take into consideration authorisation for putting into service from other Member States. As mentioned, there are a number of specific Norwegian requirements, and the operator will need a declaration of compatibility with the infrastructure from the Infrastructure Manager. The applicant will be responsible for demonstrating that the regulations are met. Within the area of the TSIs, compliance should be verified by a Notified Body, but the applicant will still be responsible for demonstrating to the Railway Inspectorate that the specific Norwegian requirements are met. The assessment process by the Railway Inspectorate and the issuing of license and safety certificates are free of charge for the applicant. For the time being, only companies holding or applying for a licence and safety certificates for Norway (certificate part ‘B’ for foreign companies) will be permitted to apply for authorisation of rolling stock to be put into service in Norway. There is a shift ongoing, and at least when the Rolling Stock Keeper regime is decided in the European Economic Area, the Railway Inspectorate will accept applications also from the Keepers.

Authorisation of Notified Bodies (NoBo)

NoBo also falls within the scope of the Railway Inspectorate’s powers. As per today there are two Notified Bodies in Norway. The role of the NoBo is limited to the task of verifying compliance with the TSIs. In principle, the NoBo should not need competence on Norwegian specific requirements or Norwegian specific conditions to perform its task. NoBos are appointed according to the relevant requirements of the EN 45000 family of standards.

The Regulatory Body

This function is also a part of the Railway Inspectorate’s tasks. Very little energy has been spent on this role in the past, not least because there have not been any complaints related to the area of authority of the body. Along with the opening of the market on the railway, and as the number of parties, and with it the competition, increases the workload is anticipated to increase.

National Registers

National Registers related to the railway is operated by the Railway Inspectorate. The National Vehicle Register is just established, and the train driver license register is in the pipeline of being established.

The database of accidents and near misses

This database has however been in operation for several years, comprising more than 50,000 records. Reporting of railway accidents, near misses and incidents that may have safety implications is compulsory. The Railway Inspectorate receives 8,000 to 9,000 reports every year. The database forms a significant source of information for safety mitigations and improvement work. The reporting parties are obliged to use the experience and information from these reports for learning and improvements. The Railway Inspectorate also follows up on the individual reports to make sure lessons are learned, and the trends that might be learned from the accident statistics derived from the database. The accident database forms one of the pillars for the focus of the Railway Inspectorate towards the railway undertakers and the infrastructure managers. The focus is risk based, indicating that the Railway Inspectorate will spend most of its energy on the companies, the operations, the infrastructure and the rolling stock that is associated with the higher risk. Except from the general knowledge there are of course a number of other indicators too, additionally to the accident database, affecting the focus.

Audits and inspections

These are another cornerstone in the Railway Inspectorate enforcement of the railway law and regulations, audits being the more frequent approach. The focal point is on the risk management systems. The basic idea being that if the safety system is adequate and if the system is implemented and adhered to, the safety level of the operations will fulfil the requirements of the regulations. Verifying that the safety management system is adequate, implemented and adhered to, often requires a number of field work and end-user checks. The audited party will be ordered by the Railway Inspectorate to close any deviations from the regulations identified through the audit. By focusing on the system rather than specific technical or operational details, the improvement process will embrace wider and not being focused solely on the specific errors or flaws that the Railway Inspectorate has been able to detect. This is in line with the principle that the operator is responsible for safety and adherence to the regulations in all its activity, regardless of having deviations pinpointed by the authorities or not. If the deviations are not closed within reasonable time (usually agreed between the company being audited and the Railway Inspectorate) the Railway Inspectorate may fine the company, suspend operations or the use of infrastructure/rolling stock, or even suspend or revoke the licence or safety certificate(s).

The Ministry of Transport and Communications will be the appeal body for the decisions of the Railway Inspectorate.

In its field of competence, the Railway Inspectorate is also the technical advisor to the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The Norwegian Railway Inspectorate, also being the National Safety Authority (NSA) of Norway, currently employs 35 staff. The organisation is slightly understaffed, in particular with respect to safety and engineering competence. In a tight market, the Railway Inspectorate has been struggling for years to employ the required competence. If you have the competence, if you would like to work in Norway, and you have a fair knowledge of one or more of the Scandinavian languages (Norwegian, Danish or Swedish) the Railway Inspectorate may need you. Foreign staff is highly appreciated bringing additional competence, values and cultural knowledge to the organisation. As per today, only a few of the staff are not native Norwegian. The vocational competence is pretty evenly distributed among women and men, and approximately half of the staff is women. The average age of staff is approximately 40 years, decreasing during the last year as new staff have been employed. The values of the Railway Inspectorate are grounded on mutual trust and support among staff and a working environment characterised by frankness and incorporation.

You may read more about the Norwegian Railway Inspectorate on the web address:

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