Three people have died after a train derailed near Stonehaven, leaving a carriageway submerged in flood water for hours.
An investigation has now been launched into the crash which happened in the Carmont area, just west of Stonehaven, in bad weather.
There have been several land slips in the area previously.
Last night, it was confirmed the train driver and conductor were among the dead. A further six people remain in hospital.
More than 30 emergency service vehicles, including police, fire, ambulance and coastguard teams from Banff, Cruden Bay, Montrose, Stonehaven, Aberdeen, were called to the scene along with the Prestwick-based coastguard helicopter and two Scottish Charity Air Ambulances at around 9.45am.
Upon arrival the teams were faced with giant plumes of grey smoke billowing into the sky above the scene of the crash.
One of its carriages tumbled down a hillside a distance away from the rest of the train, and other parts of it were left a mangled mess of metal, with one carriage left lying beneath others.
Many parts of the train had been burned.
The crash involved the ScotRail 6.38am Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street service, which had been delayed due to bad weather.
Despite the best efforts of paramedics, three people were pronounced dead at the scene, including the driver.
The six who were taken to hospital are not believed to have suffered life-threatening injuries.
Chief Inspector Brian Mcaleese, of the British Transport Police, said: “This is a tragic incident and first and foremost our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have very sadly died.
“I would like to reassure the public that this was not a busy service, and from CCTV inquiries and witness statements we believe all passengers have been accounted for.
“However, once the area has been made safe, then a full and thorough search will be conducted, which is likely to take some time.”
“I know many people will understandably have questions, and an investigation will be directed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
“We will also be working closely alongside Rail Accident Investigation Branch and the Office of Rail and Road to establish the full circumstances of how the train came to derail.”
HM Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser said his teams were at the site, carrying out preliminary investigations with the emergency services.
He added: “We are saddened by today’s incident and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected.
“We will work with other agencies, including the emergency services, to find out exactly what happened and identify the causes of this tragic incident.”
Yesterday, the quiet rural farmland surrounding the railway line was full of flashing blue lights, as various fire engines, police and ambulance teams rushed to and from the scene.
Dozens of emergency vehicles could be seen packed into a nearby field, on-hand to assist in any way required.
Helicopters, including the Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance, could be seen throughout the day landing at and departing from the crash site.
Last night Mike Lynch, from trade union RMT, said his team would do all they can to support those affected by the tragedy – vowing to find out “facts” behind it.
He said: “The confirmation that there have been three fatalities in the Stonehaven derailment, including the driver and one of our conductor members, is the most dreadful news and this trade union’s thoughts are with the families, colleagues and friends of those who have lost their lives in this tragedy.
“RMT will unite to provide support, assistance and solidarity at this distressing time.
“Safety on the railway has to be an absolute priority and this union will be working with the various agencies to establish the facts behind this disaster which has sent shock waves right throughout our industry.”
During the early hours of yesterday morning, thunder storms caused flooding chaos across the north-east, including in Stonehaven, resulting in waterlogged streets and impassable routes.
The derailment prompted a major incident to be declared at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
Staff were “pre-alerted” for incoming patients.
NHS Grampian’s chief executive Professor Amanda Croft said: “Right now, our top priority is to ensure those injured are given the best possible care and attention at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
My thoughts are very much with those who lost their lives near Stonehaven today, their families, and, of course, those who have been injured in the derailment. pic.twitter.com/CcqeSexwjn
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 12, 2020
“Our thanks go to the emergency department and other teams at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary who were able to respond to the major incident quickly, effectively and professionally – as they do at all times.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We would like to thank all our staff today for their work in helping to treat patients at the scene and transfer them safely to hospital.”
Aberdeenshire provost Bill Howatson, who represents the Mearns, also offered his thoughts and prayers to those impacted by the “terrible” train derailment.
He said: “This is a harrowing time for all concerned and, on behalf of the council and all Aberdeenshire residents, I would like to thank the emergency services for their swift response to this tragic incident and their ongoing efforts at the scene.”
Network Rail identified Carmont problems six years ago
The stretch of railway line where the derailment occurred has had problems with mudslides in the past.
In October 2018, a non-passenger service train derailed in the area. The crew were unhurt.
And in October 2002, the Aberdeen to Dundee line was closed due to a landslide at Carmont during torrential rain and gales.
A Network Rail report from 2014 included Carmont in a “list of sites which in recent years have been greatly affected by earthslips”.
The document said improvement work had been carried out at Carmont, specifically, “remediation of cutting slope following emergency, after mudslide due to flooding”.
Yesterday, ScotRail posted a message on Twitter shortly after 6.30am warning services across the country would be disrupted due to “extremely” heavy rain and flooding.
A few hours later, Network Rail tweeted at 9.49am: “At Carmont, we’ve had reports of a landslip, which means services can’t operate between Dundee & Aberdeen.”
Police had said reports of the train derailment were first received at 9.40am.
It is believed the alarm was raised through the use of a signal box in the remote area of Carmont.
ScotRail managing director Alex Hynes has said the rail operator is working with the emergency services on site as well as the relevant authorities to establish the cause of the incident.
Posting on social media, Mr Hynes said: “Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this tragic event, particularly the families of those who have lost their lives.
“The railway in Scotland is a family and it’s one that is hurting today.”
The last major train accident in Scotland took place in 1991, where four people died in Newton.
In 1984, 13 people were killed in an accident near Polmont.