Any business or individual seeking access to the railway system should apply in writing to the railway owner, seeking information on:
- the available rail track capacity;
- technical information such as track condition, curves and gradients; and other information such as timetables and existing or proposed train paths.
The railway owner must provide this information within 14 days.
Submitting a proposal
Once received, if the access seeker wishes to proceed, a formal proposal needs to be submitted to the railway owner, specifying the route and associated railway infrastructure, the times when access is required, and the nature of the rail operations. It must also show that the proposed operations are within the capacity of the route and that the access seeker has managerial ability and sufficient financial resources.
Within seven days of receiving the proposal, the railway owner must advise when the draft agreement will be ready and provide both ‘floor’ and ‘ceiling’ prices, and the route section costs on which the floor and ceiling prices have been calculated.
Within the next 23 days the railway owner must provide a draft agreement, unless the proposal seeks additional access from that previously indicated.
During this time, the ERA may be asked to approve access if the request results in the track capacity being fully utilised and if so, must conduct a minimum 30 day public process to assess the request.
Once the access seeker has indicated a readiness to begin negotiations, the railway owner and the access seeker must agree to a negotiation period, which must be no more than 90 days, unless both parties agree to extend the time line.
During the negotiation process, the access seeker may ask the ERA to assess whether the price offered is fair in relation to that which other parties are paying.
If the parties are unable to reach agreement within the negotiation period, the access seeker can advise the ERA it wishes to refer the dispute to arbitration. The access seeker may also refer matters to arbitration prior to the negotiation period if a dispute occurs.
On receipt of a request from an access seeker to refer a dispute to arbitration, the ERA appoints one or more persons to act as arbitrators to hear and determine the dispute. Under the arbitration process a preliminary conference must occur within 10 days. During the preliminary conference, both parties will be expected to agree to a timetable for the arbitration.
The arbitrator may ask the ERA for comment or advice during the arbitration process. An arbitrated decision is binding on both parties, except when the access seeker decides not to obtain access under the arbitrated terms.