Victims of the Stonehaven rail crash and families of those who died have hit out at Network Rail after it pled guilty in court to a raft of failings.
The rail body today appeared at the High Court in Aberdeen and admitted a five-part charge covering failures related to a vital lineside drain, staff training and temporary speed limits.
Reacting to the guilty plea, one crash survivor, a 32-year-old woman from Stonehaven said: “The train derailment was not an accident. It was the result of Network Rail’s absolute negligence.
“Network Rail failed me and everyone else on the train that day.
“The prosecution is important because it’s not just about punishing Network Rail – it’s about recognising the value of the victims, their families and restoring the public’s faith in the rail system and even justice itself.”
‘The tragedy was avoidable and should not have happened’
Trish Ewan is the partner of Donald Dinnie, the train’s conductor who died in the crash.
After today’s hearing, she said: “The last three years has completely turned my life upside down.
“Donald and I should be thinking about retiring together and planning the rest of our lives – instead he was taken and I’ve been left to exist alone.
“It’s right there is criminal accountability for this totally avoidable incident that has affected so many people and families but I believe imposing a fine is counter-productive as it’s essentially the government paying a fine to itself.”
Mick Lynch, Secretary-General of the RMT union, said: “Network Rail needs to face the full force of the law over the Carmont disaster near Stonehaven to give bereaved families some sense of justice.
“Network Rail’s attitude to safety has been abysmal with staff shortages and 20 recommendations by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) for improvements, most of which were completely ignored by the public body.
“Currently there are massive shortages of staff on the ground, sometimes with a couple of people responsible for hundreds of miles of rail track, often located in areas at high risk of flooding and landslides.
“The law must be toughened up regardless of the outcome of this case and corporate manslaughter must be made an option in similar cases in the future.
“Privatisation and the use of profit-hungry contractors on the railway has made the whole network less safe and it is our belief that public ownership would be best for railway workers and passengers.”
A judge is expected to say how much to fine Network Rail for two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The fine would go to the UK Government Treasury.
‘Fine would be better invested in the railways’
Meanwhile, Network Rail and other rail bodies are obliged to resolve 20 recommendations made in a wide-ranging RAIB report in 2022.
A report out in May 2023 said that 18 of the recommendations are still to be implemented as of March 2023.
Trish added: “I think any financial penalty would be better invested in improving the railways or making sure all the RAIB report recommendations are acted on.”
Neil Davidson is a partner at Digby Brown in Aberdeen, which is representing seven of the crash victims and their families.
Mr Davidson said: “The errors of Network Rail have robbed families of their loved ones and left survivors with physical injuries and psychological trauma they will suffer for the rest of their lives.
“The prosecution will be vindication for those affected that this incident was avoidable and should not have happened.
“We can’t forget that this derailment did not just happen because of one problem or issue – it was a frankly astounding volume and variety of negligence that contributed to this national tragedy.”
It is understood that crash survivors and the families of those who died have settled civil claims against Network Rail out of court.
A Fatal Accident Inquiry could now take place to establish if any more lessons need to be learned from the tragedy.
Mr Davidson added: “As the RAIB report confirmed, there were failures connected to drainage ditches, paperwork, staff communication, crisis management at a senior level and a weather monitoring system that frankly wasn’t fit purpose due to staff not being trained to use it.
‘People need to know they can trust public transport’
“The people of Scotland need to know they can trust their public transport, trust that those who manage it are doing so responsibly at all times and trust that the justice system will deliver, when negligent parties do not uphold their duties.
“If there’s any thoughts about what happens next, the best thing that can happen is for the Office of Rail and Road to stay on top of Network Rail and ensure remedial work and improvements are made, quickly, to prevent an incident of this scale happening again.”
Our Impact team has put together a detailed investigation into the tragedy, including tributes from families of the victims and how a clever phone app helped save lives that day.
Read it here.