Stonehaven rail crash: Tragedy was caused by Network Rail and Carillion failures

Three people were killed when a ScotRail train derailed after hitting gravel and other stony material washed out from a drain.

10 March 2022

Failings by Network Rail and collapsed outsourcing giant Carillion caused the Stonehaven rail crash, an investigation has found.

Errors in the construction of a drainage system by the construction firm meant it was unable to cope with heavy rain which fell in Aberdeenshire on the morning of the crash on 12 August 2020, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said.

Three people were killed when a ScotRail train derailed at 9.37am after hitting gravel and other stony material washed out from the drain.

They were the driver, Brett McCullough, 45; the conductor, Donald Dinnie, 58; and a passenger, Christopher Stuchbury, 62.

Train derailed at Stonehaven
Investigators at the scene near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, following the derailment of the ScotRail train which cost the lives of three people (Jane Barlow/PA)

The other six people onboard were injured.

The train smashed into the side of a bridge, causing its power car and one of its four carriages to fall down an embankment.

The drainage system was built during 2011 and 2012 to address a problem with ground stability.

RAIB deputy chief inspector, Andrew Hall, told the PA news agency: “The sad irony of the accident is that a fairly modern drain that was put there to reduce the risk of a landslip on a cutting slope was in fact the thing that brought the risk to the railway.”

The most significant difference between the design of the drainage system and its construction was the addition of a bund – a structure to protect against leaks – which significantly altered the flow of water.

On the day of the crash, this caused a large amount of water to be diverted into the drain at one location, increasing the likelihood of gravel being washed out.

Train derailed at Stonehaven
A carriage is lifted by crane from the site of the Stonehaven rail crash in Aberdeenshire, following the derailment of the ScotRail train (Derek Ironside/Newsline Media/PA)

The RAIB concluded that if the system had been built in accordance with designs, it was “highly likely to have safely accommodated the flow of surface water”.

Carillion, which went into compulsory liquidation in January 2018, failed to inform Network Rail it was adding the bund.

Investigators found no evidence that Network Rail carried out any inspection of the upper parts of the system between when it viewed the completed work in March 2013 and the accident.

They stated that the Government-owned company failed to add that section of the structure to an internal programme which would have triggered routine inspections and maintenance.

The inquiry also noted that the owner of the land where the system was installed took a photograph showing “slight erosion” in December 2012 which he passed on to Carillion or Network Rail.

This was “clear evidence of a problem requiring action”, the report stated.

Between 6am and 9am on the morning of the accident there was near-continuous heavy rain.

The 51.5mm which fell at the crash site was close to the average monthly total for the month of August in that region.

The 6.38am service from Aberdeen to Glasgow was returning towards Aberdeen at the time of the accident due to the railway being blocked.

It was travelling at 73mph, which was just below the normal permitted speed for that line.

The RAIB said no instruction was given by railway controllers or signallers that the train should run slower, with one signaller telling the driver the line was “fine”.

The inquiry found the controllers had not been given the information or training they needed to effectively manage “complex situations” such as the one they were encountering on the day of the crash.

Network Rail’s management processes had not identified or addressed weaknesses in the way it mitigated the consequences of extreme rainfall.

The organisation also failed to implement measures following previous severe weather events.

Train derailed at Stonehaven
The drain from which gravel was washed out leading to the derailing of the train and the loss of three lives (RAIB/PA)

Mr Hall said Network Rail “hadn’t moved far enough to eliminate” the risk of heavy rainfall.

The RAIB found that the refurbished HST train involved in the crash was designed before modern safety standards came into force.

It concluded “it is more likely than not that the outcome would have been better” if a train built to current regulations was involved.

Some 20 safety recommendations were made to improve railway safety, many of which were directed at Network Rail.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it would be a “disservice” to the men who died if lessons were not learned.

He said: “I fully expect the rail industry to ensure all the recommendations of this report are actioned and that the vital work to make our network safer and more resilient continues, so no other families have to experience what theirs tragically did.”

Neil Davidson, partner at law firm Digby Brown Solicitors, which represents injured passengers and the relatives of one of the people killed, said the report highlights “a catalogue of failures within Network Rail”.

He went on: “Many now hope further action will be taken against Network Rail.”

Kevin Lindsay, Aslef’s full-time organiser in Scotland, said Network Rail and ScotRail “must be held to account” as they “failed the staff and the passengers who were on the train”.

He also called for Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, a group of Government and rail industry organisations, to resign.

“Given his involvement in both Network Rail and Abellio ScotRail, his position is untenable,” Mr Lindsay said.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “We must do better and we are utterly committed to that.”

He added: “We have invested tens of millions towards improving the general resilience of our railway and how we predict and respond to such events.

“But this remains a multi-generational challenge and there is still much to do.”

The crash was the first involving the fatality of a passenger onboard a train in Britain since the Grayrigg derailment of 2007.

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