Exclusive:Fatal Carmont derailment near Stonehaven: Network Rail to face criminal charges at High Court in Aberdeen
The court roll published by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service showed the prosecution will be under a “section 76 indictment”, where a guilty plea has been offered.
The hearing on September 7 follows The Scotsman’s revelation in January that the infrastructure body would be prosecuted over alleged health and safety failings that led to the fatal crash south of Stonehaven in 2020.
The incident was caused by a wrongly-built drainage trench that led to debris being washed onto the track after intense rainfall, the UK Department for Transport’s Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) concluded in its final report in March last year.
Train driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury died in the August 2020 crash and the six other people on the Aberdeen-Glasgow train were injured.
Among 20 safety recommendations in its report, the RAIB called for improvements to the way Network Rail managed lineside drainage and handled extreme weather, along with modifications to older trains like the type involved to improve protection for passengers and crew.
Train drivers Aslef threatened to boycott the 40-year-old “high speed trains”, run by ScotRail as Inter7City services, by the third anniversary of the crash on August 12, but has put that on hold pending further discussions over safety improvements.
Kevin Linsday, Scottish organiser of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said: "We welcome the news that Network Rail is being held to account for their endemic and systemic failings that resulted in the tragic deaths of three people, including the driver Brett McCullough. But we are still angry and disappointed at those failings.
"We appreciate that Network Rail has accepted responsibility for their failures and their commitment to ensuring a tragic incident like Carmont never happens again. However, such corporate failure must result in penalties for those responsible.
"Full justice should mean that penalties are laid squarely at the door of those individuals in senior management roles who presided over the corporate failure that has seen Network Rail end up in court and accepting culpability for their role in this tragedy."
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, which represents train conductors, said: "The loss of life at Stonehaven railway crash devastated bereaved families and the local community. What they now need is justice to be done and the union will be keeping a close eye on proceedings."
Neil Davidson, a partner at Digby Brown Solicitors in Aberdeen, said: “For nearly three years bereaved families and injured survivors have waited patiently for answers so the update of these criminal proceedings is generally positive.
“However, it is what actually transpires from the hearings that is important, such as the nature of the charge, the outcome of the prosecution and any other information that sheds light on the mindset of those in charge at Network Rail.
“It is fair to say that each person and family affected by this tragedy will be looking for different things from this hearing and we will continue to support our clients in their pursuit for justice and recognition.”
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “The Carmont derailment and the tragic loss of Christopher Stuchbury, Donald Dinnie and Brett McCullough was a terrible day for our railway and our thoughts remain with their families and all those affected by the accident.
“While we cannot comment on the ongoing legal process, the RAIB report into Carmont made clear that there were fundamental lessons to be learnt by Network Rail and we have supported the investigation process. Since August 2020, we have been working hard to make our railway safer for our passengers and colleagues.
“We are committed to delivering on the recommendations made by RAIB and have also made other significant changes to how we manage the risk of severe weather to our network. Immediately after the accident, we inspected all similar locations across Britain and we also conducted a full survey of all types of trackside drainage on Scotland’s Railway.
“We have invested millions towards improving the resilience of our railway and are rolling out new technology to help us better respond to extreme weather events. We have also changed how we manage the running of train services during periods when severe weather warnings are in place and have introduced a new team of weather experts to our control room to provide around-the-clock, real-time analysis on how the weather may affect Scotland’s Railway.
“From our day-to-day operations to our future planning, we are working hard to make our railway as safe and reliable as possible.”
In an email to ScotRail staff issued on Tuesday, service delivery director David Simpson said: “Wednesday, August 12, 2020 is a date that is forever etched in our memories. We will never forget the tragic loss of our colleagues, Brett and Donald, and our customer, Christopher, and those who were injured in the terrible accident at Carmont.
"We also remember the families and loved ones of all those who have been affected by the tragedy.
“Following the derailment, Police Scotland, the British Transport Police and the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, conducted a separate investigation. A report on this investigation was submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the independent public prosecution service for Scotland, which decides what charges should be brought against Network Rail.
“The Crown Office has confirmed that a court date has been set for Thursday September 7, where the legal hearings take place in Aberdeen. I appreciate that this update may be upsetting for some. Our incident care team will be in Aberdeen during the court hearings to support colleagues there.
"If you feel like you need support, please speak to your colleagues, your manager, or contact our HELP Employee Assistance programme, which offers independent and confidential counselling, advice, and support.”
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