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Annual Report 2002 - 2003

Chief Commissioner's Overview

The sobering background fact of the work of the Commission is the daily potential of a single transport accident which could destroy hundreds of lives. The Commission must always have sufficient resources to meet its expected responsibilities within the New Zealand broad system of transport safety. Therefore, with satisfaction, we record the fact that the Government provided a significant boost to the Transport Accident Investigation Commission better enabling the Commission to meet its responsibilities to transport safety in New Zealand. The Government provided sufficient resources to address deferred expenditure items, to allow the appointment of 2 investigators (one aviation and one rail), and to obtain professional media and victim communications support for the Commission.

We were very fortunate to have the media relations service on hand because it was almost immediately pressed into service when the Air Adventures Ltd, Piper Chieftain accident happened near Christchurch on 6 June 2003. Eight people were fatally injured and 2 received serious injuries. The communications assistance helped the Commission maximise the investigators’ time on site and at the same time meet the understandable need for the next of kin and the news media to be advised that the Commission had launched an investigation and inform them of the processes that the Commission’s investigation would follow.

New Zealand has no special immunity from accidents involving even larger numbers than the Christchurch tragedy, of people in aircraft, trains or ferries. The Commission looks forward to the completion of the review of accident investigation, announced by the former Minister of Transport in July 2000 and begun later that year which is examining major accident investigative capability. The review is also examining the Commission’s independence, whether the Commission should investigate a wider range of accidents and incidents, accident and incident reporting systems (including confidential reporting) and duplication of roles in safety investigation between the Transport Accident Investigation Commission and the regulators.

The changing environment of transport, both within New Zealand and overseas, means that TAIC must be alert to strategic issues affecting accident investigation and prevention. The rail transport system is facing major changes. There are three issues which the Commission identifies for their potential to impact on the Commission’s ability to investigate effectively rail accidents and incidents:

First, the Commission continues the quest identified in its previous annual report to improve the statutory definitions of rail accidents and incidents and to obtain more comprehensive reporting of these occurrences. The new rail legislation provides an opportunity to fix these long standing problems.

Secondly, the Commission advocates that locomotive event recorders be installed as a mandatory requirement on all main line locomotives including commuter trains. Most freight locomotives have relatively sophisticated event recorders, but currently about 90% of the 170 rail passenger units do not. Locomotive event recorders are as necessary to rail safety as flight data recorders are to air safety.

Finally, and not least, is the issue of recording of train control communications. This important recording function is currently not mandatory. Train control records are similar to Air Traffic Control recordings in aviation and are equally important for finding out what train control instructions were issued leading up to, during and after an accident or incident sequence. The Commission looks forward to Rules under the new rail legislation requiring event recorders and train control recordings, and, if possible, mandating these by other means sooner.

The Commission promotes the constructive reform in these three safety areas at a time when rail transport is in such a state of flux. Lack of reporting, lack of event recorders, or lack of train control records do not contribute to a sound accident avoidance system.

The Commission acknowledges the effective contribution of the Minister of Transport and Associate Minister to securing further resources and their willingness to listen to and respond to the Commission’s concerns. I am honoured that the Minister has recommended my reappointment to the Governor General, and I am pleased that he has also done so for Commissioner Norman Macfarlane. Ms Pauline A Winter continues as Deputy Chief Commissioner.

Hon W P Jeffries
Chief Commissioner

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