The Essential Services Commission is the Regulator for South Australia's Intra-State Rail Access regime as set out in the Railways (Operations and Access) Act 1997 (ROA Act) and Tarcoola-Darwin Rail access regime as set out in the AustralAsia Railway (Third Party Access ) Act 1999.
The Commission assumed the role of regulator of the SA Rail Access Regime from March 2004. This role had previously been assigned to the Executive Director, Transport SA.
The South Australian Rail Access Regime applies to railway services as defined under the ROA Act. This covers the Adelaide Metro broad gauge network within metropolitan Adelaide, the Genesee and Wyoming (GWA) lines in the Murray-Mallee, Mid-North and Eyre Peninsula, railway yards and sidings (excluding private sidings) and the Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions passenger terminal at Keswick.
The Railways (Operations and Access) Act 1997 assigns the following specific functions to the Commission:
- monitoring and enforcing compliance with Part 3 (general rules for conduct of business) of the Act;
- monitoring the costs of rail services under the Act;
- making an application to the Supreme Court for appointment of an administrator where a rail operator becomes insolvent, ceases to provide railway services or fails to make effective use of the infrastructure of the State;
- establishing pricing principles;
- establishing requirements for information about access to rail services and determining the price to be charged for such information;
- conciliation of access disputes and referral of disputes to arbitration;
- fulfilling any other functions and powers conferred by regulation under the ROA Act.
The Commission has released guidelines, explaining the principal features of the Access Regime under the Act and communicating the access information and pricing principles, and reporting and compliance requirements established by the Commission.
Operation of the 1,420 km Alice Springs-Darwin railway began in January 2004. The railway operator also controls the pre-existing 830km Tarcoola-Alice Springs railway. Together, the Tarcoola-Darwin railway connects Darwin's East Arm Port to Australia's interstate standard gauge rail network.
Arrangements for access to the Tarcoola-Darwin railway are provided under the AustralAsia Railway (Third Party Access) Code (the Code), which is a Schedule to the AustralAsia Railway (Third PartyAccess) Act 1999 (SA & NT). The access regime in the Code has been certified as an effective State regime in accordance with Part IIIA of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). Details of the certification process can be found on the National Competition Council (NCC) website.
Clause 5 of the Code appoints the Commission as the regulator under the Code. In particular, the clause authorises the Commission to exercise and perform the powers and functions of the regulator under the Code for the purposes of both the law of South Australia and the law of the Northern Territory.
The Code applies to the whole of the railway between Tarcoola and Darwin, pursuant to a joint Ministerial notice published in January 2004. The Commission has the power to conciliate an access dispute and/or arrange for arbitration.
The Commission has developed four guidelines under the Code.