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Stonehaven rail crash: Nicola Sturgeon warns safety must be improved

Stonehaven rail crash recommendations
Stonehaven rail crash accident site at Carmont.

Rail safety must be improved in Scotland after a report found faulty drainage caused the tragic Stonehaven train derailment, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said recommendations from the rail accident investigation branch into the horrific August 2020 crash should be implemented in full.

Their probe found that a drain at the site of the tragedy was not built properly and couldn’t handle heavy rain.

Network Rail were unaware of this and failed to carry out inspections, even after they were alerted to flooding in the area.

Construction firm Carillion were hired to install the drain but they later went bust in 2018.

Train driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury all died following the accident.

Brett McCullough, Christopher Stuchbury, and Donald Dinnie.
Brett McCullough, Christopher Stuchbury, and Donald Dinnie.

The report warned that casualty numbers could have been much higher if the train had not been so quiet due to the Covid pandemic.

Nicola Sturgeon was quizzed over the investigation findings by Labour’s Anas Sarwar during first minister’s questions.

Mr Sarwar complained that the train which derailed was first introduced over 40 years ago and failed to meet safety standards from 1994.

But the SNP leader said the vehicle was legally allowed to operate and the drainage was instead responsible for the crash.

Nicola Sturgeon.
Nicola Sturgeon.

She said: “Since it was designed and constructed, railway standards have continued to improve reflecting lessons learned from investigations of this type.

“ScotRail has the statutory duty to ensure the trains they operate are safe.”

While the SNP will take control of ScotRail next month after bringing it under public ownership, Network Rail is reserved and controlled by Westminster.

The first minister said that they were responsible for any changes to faulty rail infrastructure in Scotland which needs upgrading.

However, she hinted that rail safety should perhaps be devolved to Holyrood in future.

Labour's Anas Sarwar.
Labour’s Anas Sarwar.

Mr Sarwar said the investigation findings should “shame” both Network Rail and Carillion.

He urged Ms Sturgeon to rule out any “unacceptable” compulsory redundancies for ScotRail staff once it comes under government control.

The accident report found that ScotRail and Network Rail were under severe staffing pressures on the day of the crash.

Both organisations operate a route control centre in Glasgow and the weather at the time had been severe.

It’s feared ScotRail workers could struggle to cope with challenging conditions if some lose their jobs and resources are stretched.

One finding revealed that rail control room staff failed to limit the speed of the north-east train despite knowing of hazards nearby.

‘Failure of infrastructure’

Ms Sturgeon said: “It is important to underline that the accident was caused by a failure of the infrastructure, not the train, which was confirmed to have been properly licensed and approved to operate.

“We will continue to negotiate with the unions around all of these matters. This government has a strong record of no compulsory redundancies within those agencies that we have responsibility for.”

Mr Sarwar said: “What we must never forget is that at the heart of this are victims and families who have been failed by a powerful corporation and public bodies and they shouldn’t have to wait years to get answers.

“We can’t allow this to become yet another in a long line of scandals and tragedies in Scotland where no one is held to account and where institutions protect themselves rather than the public.”

A separate investigation by the office of rail and road alongside Police Scotland and British Transport Police remains ongoing.

Stonehaven rail crash: How our team responded to the challenge of reporting on a tragedy that united the region in grief

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