Stonehaven crash: rail chiefs outline plans to improve response to extreme weather

Officials at Network Rail have outlined plans to improve how railways deal with extreme weather events - in the wake of the Stonehaven train crash.

Three people died in the tragedy on August 12 - after a ScotRail service hit a landslip and derailed. It followed a period of heavy downpours hitting the region.

An interim report was commissioned by UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps immediately after the event, and it has now been published.

The report assesses the current controls and management of thousands of miles of earthworks - the sloped ground beside railway tracks - and sets out how the industry plans to reduce the risk of landslips on the network in the future.

The report highlights the need for an increased focus on deploying technology across the network to predict failures, and investment in better forecasting to enable local decisions for imminent weather events.

Key findings also suggest that industry rules for reporting and responding to adverse rainfall will be improved and strengthened, helping signallers better manage services during bad weather.

Other plans include discussions with meteorologists to understand how real-time information can be better used to inform train operations about unpredictable extreme weather.

Network Rail says hundreds of sites across the country have been inspected over the last three weeks by engineers, specialist contractors and supplemented by helicopter surveys to identify any significant issues requiring emergency intervention.

It follows the launch of two independent task forces, which will be led by distinguished experts in their field - Lord Mair and Dame Julia Slingo - to help Network Rail better manage its vast number of cuttings and embankments and its response to severe weather events.

Meanwhile, Mr Shapps is also writing to Police Scotland's chief constable, Iain Livingstone, to recommend that PC Liam Mercer - one of the first emergency workers on the scene - is commended for his bravery.

Mr Shapps said: "The incident at Stonehaven was a tragedy, and my heart goes out to the friends and family of Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie, and Christopher Stuchbury.

"We owe it to those who lost their lives, were injured, and were affected by this incident, to learn and act on every possible lesson to ensure this is never repeated. The independent investigation will enable us to understand exactly what went wrong, and make sure it does not happen again.

"We cannot delay learning the lessons. That is why I immediately commissioned this report and am making the interim findings available.

"I welcome the work setting out the challenges in adapting our rail infrastructure to cope with increasing extreme weather events caused by climate change. The task is now to overcome those challenges.

"We will use the findings of this interim report to improve, shape and accelerate our work to build a more robust and resilient rail network, so that our railway continues to be one of the safest in the world."

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said: "My thoughts remain with the families and friends of the three people who lost their lives, those who were injured and everybody affected by the tragedy at Stonehaven last month.

"We owe it to them, and all our passengers, to make sure we understand what happened and what more we should be doing to reduce the risk of it ever happening again.

"We are all aware that we are increasingly seeing more incidents of severe weather and as the report published today shows, earthworks and drainage infrastructure– some of which are more than 150 years old – prove to be a real challenge as the country experiences more heavy rainfall and flooding.  

"Our railway is one of the safest in Europe and tragic accidents are incredibly rare, but something went wrong on August 12 near Stonehaven and it is a stark reminder that we must never take safety for granted.

"We are improving and accelerating our resilience work and will do everything we can to minimise the impact of weather on the safety and reliability of the railway as our climate continues to change."

A full report giving more details on work planned for the rail network will be published in due course.


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