Transport chiefs are suing Network Rail for £2.5m over a train crash caused by stray cattle getting over 'inadequate' fencing as concerns grow over 'a disaster waiting to happen' in the security of Scotland's tracks.

The incident had echoes of the rail crash near Polmont railway station, near Falkirk in July, 1984  that killed 13 people,  in what was then Britain's worst rail disaster for 17 years.

Then, a westbound train travelling from Edinburgh to Glasgow struck a cow that had gained access to the track through a damaged fence from a field. Some 61 more were injured.

The subsequent inquiry made recommendations about improvements to fencing where livestock could be adjacent to the railway.

The Dutch state transport firm Abellio, which ran ScotRail till last year is claiming damages from Network Rail, which owns the rail infrastructure including tracks, stations and signals in the wake of a rail crash in Lothian four years ago which has sparked fears over whether lessons have been learnt 38 years on from Polmont.

A train headed to Edinburgh sustained extensive damage when ploughing into cattle that had strayed onto the line over a 'broken' boundary fence near Broxburn.

READ MORE: Stonehaven rail crash: Series of deadly management failings revealed

Concern has further surfaced that the Lothian crash was not investigated by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

The Herald:

Flashback to the Polmont rail disaster

Farmer Walter Dandie who saw 12 cattle die in the Broxburn crash said it was only luck that there were not multiple casualties. Four cattle died from the impact of the train while the rest are believed to have been 'electrocuted'.

He and union officials fear that issues with fencing next to farms exists across Scotland and that it was 'disaster waiting to happen'.

In Britain, responsibility for the railway boundary fence rests with Network Rail under the Railway Safety (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 1997.

The requirement is based on the principle of preventing unauthorised access to the tracks by people or animals, dating back to Acts of Parliament from 1842.

The probe into the Polmont disaster by the Department of Transport's Railway Inspectorate said higher standards of fencing were required when there was as an "additional hazard" such as rail electrification in an urban area.

The Herald:

Flashback to the Polmont rail disaster

It said that greater efforts were required to ensure fencing was adequate and that a survey should be conducted particularly at potentially weak points.

In the Lothian rail crash, onlookers said the saw as many as 30 people on the train that was headed towards Edinburgh from Glasgow.  Network Rail say there were 15.

Abellio's action against Network Rail states that the cattle had been able to access the railway line because they were not prevented from doing so by the presence of any suitably robust and properly maintained fencing.

READ MORE: Stonehaven train crash: Union demands that Network Rail 'examine every mile" of Scots track to stop any repeat

The boundary fencing at the location of the crash between Uphall and Newbridge stations formed part of the railway infrastructure for which Network Rail was responsible.

Mr Dandie of Learielaw farm said that Network Rail had previously been alerted to issues with the three-foot fencing but there had been issues in getting action.

And he said there was a lack of urgency from the rail infrastructure agency and Police Scotland in the lead up to the incident, in May 2018.

As many as 21 heifers were on the train tracks, and those who survived were left suffering from shock.

Scores of passengers were left on the train for two hours as the power to the lines had to be switched off to allow maintenance staff to move into.

He said issues with fencing was an "ongoing issue up and down the lines" and that there was a "disaster waiting to happen"

"We gave up alerting Network Rail about the fence here for a long time previously," said Mr Dandie who was surprised by the lack of RAIB investigation.

"I know from other farmers that there are problems up and down the Network Rail lines, fences not getting attention. It is not a situation where the farmer can take the fence down and renew it. If we touch the fences we are liable.

"Network Rail is legally required to keep the fences up, but it doesn't seem to make any difference.

"Their own [Network Rail] inspectors knew the fences on the line were in a poor state. They ignored it.

"Then when the cattle were killed the inspectors renewed the fences as quick as you like, a few days later.

"It could have been a big disaster. It was lucky the train stayed on the tracks.

"I don't know why there was not an investigation, personally I think they can get away with anything.

"If that is the case it happened before at Pomont, then certainly no lessons are being learnt."

Video: Flashback to the Polmont rail disaster

It comes as concerns grow over plans by Network Rail to slash the safety-critical maintenance workforce in Scotland from nearly 2000. The RMT union has said that 300 Scots maintenance staff were due to go.

Network Rail has also been looking to slash existing maintenance scheduled tasks by up to 50% through what it calls "better use of technology and data", and reducing the number of manual inspections carried out by teams.

It has suggested it would significantly reduce the safety risk to maintenance staff who have to access the railway infrastructure to undertake these inspections.

The transport staff union TSSA said that they were concerned that the cuts which would reduce track inspections could lead to increased problems with fence breaches.

Interim TSSA general secretary Peter Pendle said: “We have consistently asked to be shown the rationale and mitigation to support the reduction in Maintenance Scheduled Tasks but we’ve received nothing to justify the reductions or to reassure us that this is safe for railway staff or for passengers.

“We are deeply concerned that Network Rail’s plans, which are driven by a desire to save money by reducing staffing levels, will result in increased risk of tragedies like that at Polmont.

“With ever more dramatic weather events taking place in Scotland due to climate change, we need more maintenance staff, not less, in Network Rail, to make our railways safe.”

The RAIB said there was a decision not to investigate the Lothian crash as there were no injuries to those onboard the train and it did not derail.

They said that "relevant recommendations" had previously been made as a result of an investigation into a crash.

That involved the derailment of a train carrying 70 people which the RAIB said could have been avoided if poorly conditioned fencing had been maintained in the weeks prior to the accident.

The train came off tracks near Godmersham in July 2015 after hitting and killing eight cows that had roamed onto the line.

The RAIB recommended that Network Rail modify its risk rating methodology for fencing inspections and noted that it is already in the process of reviewing its boundary management.

Network Rail confirmed that a "damaged section of fence" was replaced after the Lothian crash.

The rail infrastructure agency said that they carry out regular maintenance and renewal fencing across the country every year. Lineside boundary checks are made after any incident where an animal or human trespasser had been on the line to try to identify any gaps and then make repairs.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We work hard to maintain our lineside boundaries and this year we have refurbished or renewed over 260km [160 miles] of fencing across Scotland’s railway. The types of fencing we install vary from metal fencing, designed to reduce trespass in urban areas, to traditional stock fencing in more rural locations. "

Network Rail said the train involved at Polmont was lighter than modern rolling stock and that it also operatesd in a way modern trains on its lines do not - being pushed by a heavier carriage to the rear of the one that struck the cow and became derailed.