Scottish court hands down multi-million pound fine to Network Rail
Network Rail, the government agency responsible for the maintenance and development of the railway infrastructure in the UK, has been fined 6.7 million pounds (7.78 million euro) following the Stonehaven crash verdict. Three people were killed when a ScotRail passenger train hit a landslide at Carmont, just south of Stonehaven, and derailed into a river gorge. Faulty Network Rail Instalation was blamed on the crash, for which the agency pleaded guilty to all related charges. The court case, heard in Aberdeen on Thursday and Friday of this week (7-8 September), was brought after the matter was reported to the Procurator Fiscal, the office of prosecution under Scottish law.
The landmark court case concluded today, Friday with Network Rail facing a hefty 6.7 million pound fine (7.78 million euro) and a huge cloud hanging over its corporate credibility. The verdict came after the agency pleaded guilty of grave breaches of health and safety regulations on the railway. The tragic passenger train derailment near Stonehaven, Scotland, happened in the morning of 12 August 2020, which claimed the lives of three individuals. It was the first fatal accident in thirteen years which took the life of a passenger on the UK network.
Light loading may have saved many lives
The ill-fated incident transpired when the Aberdeen to Glasgow service, battling treacherous weather conditions and torrential rain, derailed at Carmont after colliding with a landslide. The catastrophe claimed the lives of Driver Brett McCullough, 45 years old, Conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62. Network Rail, admitted a series of maintenance and inspection oversights leading up to the derailment. The agency also admitted to neglecting to caution the train’s operator about the compromised state of the track or advise him to adjust his speed. The train involved was an “inter7Cities” set – a repurposed version of the 1970s built “High Speed Train”, a diesel powered main line traffic design, now used on interurban services in Scotland.
Presiding over the case, Lord Matthews expressed that no monetary penalty could truly compensate for the profound loss endured by the families of the deceased and the six survivors who sustained injuries. The train was lightly loaded due to Covid restrictions on travel at the time. Ray McCullough, the father of the train’s operator, voiced his dissatisfaction with the imposed fine, asserting that it fell short of justice. Kevin Lindsay, Scottish representative for the train drivers’ union ASLEF, echoed this sentiment, stating that the sentence provided little solace.
Call for corporate manslaughter option
In light of the ruling, it has been disclosed that a comprehensive fatal accident inquiry will be conducted to delve further into the circumstances surrounding the tragedy. Scotland’s Crown Office and Prosecution Fiscal Service emphasised that this step is imperative in averting similar incidents in the future. Network Rail had claimed that many of the recommendations of the original accident report have already been implemented.
Trade union sources adamantly pressed for the full weight of legal accountability to be borne by Network Rail. Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, underscored that sentiment, asserting that it would afford grieving families a semblance of justice. Lynch went on to condemn Network Rail’s historical approach to safety, citing staff shortages and the neglect of numerous recommendations by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch. He further called for tougher legal measures, including the inclusion of corporate manslaughter as an option in comparable cases.
High level of culpability
The crash, precipitated by a landslide in an area where a drainage system had been improperly installed, had precedent. There have been incidents in the past in the area, and the area had been flagged as at risk to weather-related disruption. This fatal incident unfolded during a severe storm. The train, the 06:38 service from Aberdeen to Glasgow was originally heading south, but was impeded by another blockage on the line, and was returning to Aberdeen. A transcript of the driver’s communication with a signaller revealed a query about necessary speed adjustments, to which he received assurance that normal speed was safe. Tragically, the train encountered a landslide on the tracks, resulting in a derailment and collision with a bridge parapet.
Lord Matthews, delivered the sentence at the High Court in Aberdeen. He emphasised that the harrowing images of the crash would forever be etched in the minds of those who witnessed them. He stressed that while the loss of machinery was significant, it paled in comparison to the anguish of those who lost loved ones and the passengers who lived through the calamity. The judge noted that opportunities for appropriate intervention may have been overlooked and highlighted the high level of culpability, with a substantial number of individuals exposed to risk over the years. Lord Matthews further disclosed that had the case proceeded to trial, the rail operator would have been subject to a ten million pound penalty, equivalent to 11.6 million euros.