Stonehaven derailment commemorated by one minute silence across UK

Colleagues and commuters across the UK rail network fell silent on Wednesday morning, 19 August, at precisely 09:43. The mark of respect was commemorated the three who died exactly one week previously in a serious derailment near Stonehaven in the North East of Scotland. The three people who died have been named as the driver (Brett McCullough), the conductor operating the service (Donald Dinnie), and a passenger (Christopher Stuchbury).

The derailment of an Abellio ScotRail train last Wednesday resulted in the first passenger fatality in thirteen years anywhere in the UK. Two train crew were also killed in the incident, which shocked the nation. The traditional mark of respect will be held at all stations in Scotland at 0943 – the time the incident was reported on Wednesday, 12 August 2020. Many stations elsewhere in Britain, including those of Abellio-owned operators and Network Rail managed stations, will also fall silent.

Train operator expresses sadness

“Scotland’s Railway, and the railway across much of Britain, will fall silent on Wednesday to mark the passing of Brett, Donald, and Christopher”, said Alex Hynes, the managing director of Scotland’s Railway, the branding for Abellio Scotrail, as he led tributes. “Our hearts remain broken and will do for a long time. We hope that by coming together as a railway family, along with the local community and people across the country, we can support one another through this horrendous time.”

Hynes, who had made himself immediately available to assist, said that the strength of support and offers of help from railway colleagues across the rest of Britain had been a real source of comfort. Locally, the community has been leaving floral tributes at nearby Stonehaven station. Driver McCulloch, although originally from Kent in the South of England, had made the fishing town his home, and had been a driver for seven years.
Investigators and trade union response

A statement has also been made by Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents, who has responsibility for the formal investigation and report on the fatal accident. “Following the tragic accident near to Carmont, my thoughts, and those of all of my colleagues at the Rail Accident Investigation Branch are with the families of the three people who lost their lives”, he said.

Both Donald Dinnie, the conductor on the train, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, who died in the accident were from Aberdeen. Speaking to the regional newspaper, trade union senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch of the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) said his fellow member was highly respected among colleagues. “It is absolutely clear that he was much loved and highly respected by all who knew him and his death is a tragedy that has shocked our entire industry. We share the grief of those who were close to Donald”, he said.

Weather conditions a factor

Scotland, and the rest of the UK, had been subject to an extraordinarily severe storm in the twenty-four hours prior to the accident. The rail network had been compromised in multiple locations, up and down Great Britain. Services in Scotland were disrupted in at least ten places.

When the early morning service departed from Aberdeen, heading for Glasgow, it had progressed only 15 miles (24 kilometres) to Stonehaven, before being stopped at the hamlet of Carmont, where a landslip in the deep cutting had blocked the line.

RAIB Initial report

In their initial report, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, the independent body that reports to government regulators, said that at around 09:40 on Wednesday 12 August 2020, all six vehicles of a passenger train derailed after striking a landslip around 1.4 miles (2.25 km) north-east of Carmont, Aberdeenshire. “There were nine people on the train at the time of the accident; three train crew (the driver, conductor and a second conductor travelling as a passenger on this train) and six passengers. Tragically, the driver of the train, the train’s conductor and one passenger suffered fatal injuries in the accident. The remaining passengers and member of train crew were taken to hospital.”

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Scene of the Stonehaven derailment in Scotland, source: Rail Accident Investigations Branch

The site of the accident was approximately four miles (6.4 km) south-west of Stonehaven and 20 miles (32 km) north of Montrose, on the double track main line which runs between the cities of Dundee and Aberdeen. The train, operated by Abellio under the branding of ‘Scotland’s Railway’ was a High Speed Train (HST) set with a leading power car, four Mark 3 passenger coaches and a rear power car. It had originally been operating as train reporting number 1T08, the 0638 service from Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street station.

Alert raised by northbound train

Train 1T08 had departed on time from Aberdeen and then from a scheduled stop at Stonehaven. After departing Stonehaven, the train continued past Carmont on the southbound line until it was stopped by the signaller at Carmont, using a radio message. This was because the signaller had just received a report from the driver of a train on the northbound line that a landslip was obstructing the southbound line (designated ‘up’).

The decision was taken to return it to Aberdeen, and it was routed back over a crossover at Carmont onto the down line. After travelling for approximately 1.4 miles (2.25 km), the train struck another landslip covering the down line and derailed. As the track curved to the right, the train continued in a roughly straight line for around 100 yards (90 metres) until it struck a section of bridge parapet, which was destroyed. The leading power car continued over the bridge and then fell from the railway down a wooded embankment, as did the third passenger carriage. The first passenger carriage came to rest on its roof, having rotated to be at right angles to the track. The second passenger carriage also overturned onto its roof and came to rest on the first carriage. The fourth passenger carriage remained upright and attached to the rear power car; it also came to rest on the first carriage. All wheelsets of the rear power car derailed, but it remained upright.

Investigations underway

Despite the difficulty of access, rescue services were quickly on the scene. The travel restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic limited the passenger load to a tiny fraction of the two hundred who may have been on board under normal circumstances. The service is popular with oil industry workers coming off duties in the North Sea and travelling to other parts of Scotland.

“It’s the job of the RAIB, the UK’s independent rail accident investigation body, to identify the immediate and underlying causes of the accident, and to make safety recommendations to reduce the risk to the UK’s travelling public and rail employees alike”, said Simon French from the RAIB. “Thankfully, fatal derailments are a rare occurrence on the UK’s national network. However, landslips and other earthworks failures remain a risk to trains that need to be constantly managed – and this is becoming even more challenging for the rail industry due to the increasing incidence of extreme weather events. We have an expert team at the site of the derailment who are gathering the evidence that is needed to understand what happened, and why. They share my determination to pursue every line of enquiry, to analyse the evidence, and to identify important safety learning.”

Quick report draws no conclusions

The Rail Accident Investigations has been unusually quick to issue a detail initial report, clearly reflecting the severity of the incident. Questions will undoubtedly be raised about the underlying conditions in the embankment and cutting. It is understood that Network Rail, the national infrastructure management agency, had undertaken work in the area just over a year ago. Unconfirmed reports say they had been made aware of issues in the area.

Their managing director Andrew Haines, has already instructed a wide-ranging inspection of all similar steep earthworks across the network. “My heart goes out to everyone affected by this tragedy, especially the friends and families of the three people who died and those that are injured”, he said. “I want to express my thanks to my colleagues at Network Rail, the British Transport Police and all the emergency services who responded so quickly and professionally and continue to do so. Questions are inevitably being asked as to how this could happen and I am determined that we understand the circumstances that led to this devastating event. It’s too early to draw conclusions but it is critical that we investigate thoroughly and with care, and work closely with rail safety authorities, to make sure this can’t happen again.”

The train involved was an original InterCity 125 High Speed Train. The fast diesel train sets, commonly known as ‘HSTs’, were originally designed and introduced in the late 1970s for express workings across the UK. Scotland’s Railway has leased several sets, refurbished them to a high specification, and operates them in four and five coach formations on prestige domestic services. They are branded Inter7City, in recognition of the diagrams operated. Although capable of 125 mph (200 kph) their power to weight ratio is the main advantage on the slower and steeply graded Scottish network, with multiple stops.

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Author: Simon Walton

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