Cootes Transport receives approval to continue operations

Cootes Transport tankers will be permitted to continue to operate on NSW roads following the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) acceptance of the company’s current and future commitments to bring the maintenance and roadworthiness of its fuel and gas tanker fleet up to satisfactory standards.

NSW Roads and Ports Minister, Duncan Gay, made no apologies for the drastic action that was threatened two weeks ago, when the RMS issued a notice to Cootes asking the company to bring forward reasons why its entire NSW fleet should not be deregistered.

“This unfortunate situation in which we have had to act has been difficult in the extreme for all involved, but I stand firm in my previous statements to the House that I will not compromise the safety of road users in NSW,” Mr Gay told the NSW Parliament.

“The Notice demanded Cootes show cause why RMS should not suspend the registration of each NSW registered fuel tanker. It also required Cootes to demonstrate to the regulator that the company could manage the safety and roadworthiness of its fleet. The company was given 14 days to respond and to take steps to rectify its safety and compliance issues,” Mr Gay said.

Cootes responded with a comprehensive strategy that included the decommissioning of 50 older units including prime movers and trailers and the acquisition of new prime movers and tankers for its NSW Fleet.

In-house maintenance will be reviewed by an independent third party approved by RMS and externally serviced and repaired vehicles will undergo a final check by Cootes’ workshops including checks on brakes, suspension and steering components, and oil leaks.

Cootes also took the initiative of committing to retrofit Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to all vehicles five years ahead of the NSW Environmental Protection Authority deadline for dangerous goods vehicles.

Operational processes include more regular “on-road” checks of vehicles by drivers and operators such as soapy water leak tests on LPG tankers for each shift and the implementation of new training and standard operating procedures to ensure staff are aware of their obligations in detecting and reporting defects.

“The Cootes corrective action plan and commitment means it will be allowed to continue operations within NSW for the time being,” Mr Gay said. “I am encouraged to know the company has taken sensible action to address the issues. I am particularly encouraged by the Board’s commitment to ensuring the company carries out the agreed program of corrective works.”

“But it is not a time to be complacent,” Mr Gay told Parliament.”The company is aware that should compliance issues continue to be detected, action will be reinstated to ensure the safety of all road users.”

McAleese Group, the owner of Cootes Transport, appointed Australian Logistic Council (ALC) Chairman Don Talbot to step in and oversee the restructure of Cootes. Mr Talbot, who joined the McAleese board just two weeks before the Mona Vale incident, told the ALC Forum in Sydney this week that he felt that the tanker operator had experienced a culture that failed to address the importance of vehicle maintenance.

“After numerous owners, the fleet became run down but there was still this culture in the business that you still need to service the customer,” he said. “[But] no one took the safety issue responsibly, particularly the management and supervisors.’ Mr Telford said.

Mr Gay told ABC Radio that the possibility of a fuel shortage in NSW was not a factor in granting Cootes permission to continue its operations.

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