Network Rail has admitted health and safety failings over a rail crash that claimed three lives.

Train driver Brett McCullough, 45, conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62, died in the derailment near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, on August 12, 2020.

At the High Court in Aberdeen on Thursday, the company admitted a charge covering the period from May 1, 2011 to August 12, 2020.

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.

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The charge states that in particular, Network Rail failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that a drainage asset located off-track of the Dundee to Aberdeen railway line near Stonehaven, constructed by Carillion between May 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012, was “constructed properly” and in accordance with the design drawings.

The charge also says Network Rail failed to conduct a handover meeting with the contractors to check the drainage asset had been properly constructed and built in accordance with the design.

Network Rail also admitted it did not have an adequate system of training and quality assurance in place in relation to the analysis of weather forecasts, which resulted in no emergency extreme weather action teleconference being held on the morning of August 12.

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:

“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’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.”

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Court documents outline how there was a forecast of “extreme rainfall” and reports of severe weather, landslips and flooding in Aberdeenshire and the surrounding area on the day of the crash.

The charge states Network Rail failed to impose an emergency speed restriction “in absence of current information about the integrity of the railway line and drainage assets between Montrose and Stonehaven”, and failed to inform the driver that it was unsafe to drive the train at a speed of 75mph or caution him to reduce his speed.

The charge outlines how the drainage asset which had not been properly constructed failed, gravel was washed out from the drainage trench and on to the railway track, which the train struck, causing it to derail, decouple and strike a bridge parapet.

As well as the three deaths, a further six people were injured in the crash.

Network Rail admitted breaching two sections of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "Network Rail need to face the full force of the law over the Carmont disaster near Stonehaven to give bereaved families some sense of justice.

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"Network Rail's attitude to safety has been abysmal with staff shortages and 20 recommendations by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch 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 100’s 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."