Survivors and people who lost loved ones in the Stonehaven rail crash have spoken out after Network Rail admitted to failings which caused a fatal train crash.

On August 12 2020 a train carrying nine people derailed as it travelled between Aberdeen and Glasgow, killing three.

A Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report published last March found errors in the construction of a drainage system installed by Carillion meant it was unable to cope with heavy rain which fell in the area on the morning of the crash.

The report made 20 recommendations to improve safety, many of which were directed at Network Rail, who pleaded guilty at the High Court in Aberdeen on Thursday.

It admitted it failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practical, that railway workers not in its employment and members of the public travelling by train were not exposed to the “risk of serious injury and death from train derailment” as a result of failures in the construction, inspection and maintenance of drainage assets and in adverse and extreme weather planning.

Trish Ewen was the partner of conductor Donald Dinnie, who died in the rail crash.

She said: "The last three years has completely turned my life upside down.

The Herald: Trish Ewen and Donald DinnieTrish Ewen and Donald Dinnie (Image: Supplied)

“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.

“Life throws challenges at us all but something like this is so incomprehensible that there’s no past experiences to draw on to ease any acceptance or recovery.

“You don’t know what to do, where to turn and there’s genuinely nothing to do but brace yourself for each new day without your loved one."

The train derailed after hitting debris which had been washed out from a steeply sloping drainage trench.

The drain had been installed in 2012 and an inspection two months earlier found there to be no issues with it.

However, it had not been installed according to the design drawings, with an artificial ridge which was not in the plans included diverting water into the gully. This meant that, with the heavy rainfall that morning, gravel and other stony material was washed out of the trench and covered the track.

The Herald: Debris on the track, as shown in the RAIB investigationDebris on the track, as shown in the RAIB investigation (Image: Rail Accidents Investigation Bureau)

One of the passengers, a 32-year-old woman who lives near to Stonehaven, recalled: "I was reading a novel on my iPad and the first time I realised there was an issue was when the movement on the train felt weird.

 “It just didn’t feel typical… it was like floating or sliding… like when you aquaplane in a car. 

“There was a strange noise like metal dragging along metal. I will never forget that noise.

“I looked up at that moment and almost immediately I was thrown across the carriage.

“I hit the window head on and I was knocked out.

“The next thing I remember was waking up at the side of the railway line and I could see the train behind me."

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The train had struck the parapet of a bridge carrying the line over the Carron Water, destroying it in the process.

The power car plummeted down an embankment and burst into flame.

The driver, 45-year-old Brett McCullough, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, which found he had been told the track was "fine" and authorised to travel at full speed.

He, Mr Dinnie, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62 were killed.

Ms Ewen said: "I got a phone call while I was at work to say there was a train accident and I went to a family member’s house and we all sat around the television – we didn’t know what else to do.

The Herald: Trish Ewen and Donald DinnieTrish Ewen and Donald Dinnie (Image: Supplied)

“We all just sat there looking at the news footage seeing shots of ambulances and helicopters and fire engines.

“No one had called us so we still had no confirmation if it was Donald’s train – but I knew in my gut it was.

“Despite this gut feeling I still actually expected Donald to be fine – I told myself, ‘He is the conductor so he’ll be busy helping the passengers.’

“Later we heard the driver had died and that’s when my stomach started turning and I feared the worst.

“I felt dizzy. Like the blood drained from my head.

“My hands and arms felt heavy and shaky and almost disconnected from the rest of my body. I was just in a daze.

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“The day started like any other – Donald and I preparing breakfast, talking about our plans for that evening after work… I couldn’t understand how things went from that to this.

“I couldn’t understand how Donald was here then gone.

“I couldn’t comprehend how our life together went from normal to over."

The first carriage turned sideways as the train derailed, with the second and fourth landing on top of it. The third fell down the embankment where it also caught fire.

All of the six remaining passengers were injured, three of them severely.

The 32-year-old passenger said: "I became aware very quickly that I was hurt.

“There was blood over my face from a head wound near my eye.

The Herald: A carriage is lifted by crane from the site of the Stonehaven rail crash as work continues at the scene in Aberdeenshire, following the derailment of the ScotRail train which cost the lives of three people on Wednesday August 12. PA Photo. Picture date: T

“My clothes were also covered in blood and I could feel a bone sticking out my left shoulder.

“My ears were ringing so it was hard to make things out.

“But I remember two sounds – one was a weird deep humming noise coming from the train and the other was a voice… a scream… someone calling for help and someone else shouting back that help was coming.

“I was just sitting in shock.

“At some point I was approached by some Network Rail workers who were under the bridge when the derailment happened.

“I later spoke to another passenger who was travelling on the same carriage as me – it became clear from the information they were telling me that about 15 or 20 minutes had probably passed from the moment of the derailment to the moment I woke up on the verge.

“I just sat there.

"A short time later I was told the area was too dangerous, so I managed to get myself to safety.

"I lost all my belongings in the crash, so I relied on both another passenger and members of the public, to tell my family I was alive.”

Neil Davidson, Partner at Digby Brown in Aberdeen, has helped seven people affected by the Carmont disaster.

He 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.

The Herald: Trish Ewen and Donald DinnieTrish Ewen and Donald Dinnie (Image: Supplied)

“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.

“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.

“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 are 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.”