The infrastructure body will face charges over health and safety shortcomings that led to the fatal ScotRail train derailment near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire in 2020, it is understood. However, it is believed no corporate homicide charges will be brought.
One industry source said: “Network Rail has been told it will be prosecuted.” Another said: “The Crown Office is quite far along in building a case, although no papers have yet been served.”
The Crown Office has not confirmed the expected move, but said the police investigation into the deaths of train driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury was complete and being considered by its officials.
An investigation by the UK Department for Transport’s Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) concluded in March last year the crash had been caused by a wrongly-built drainage trench that led to debris being washed onto the track after intense rainfall. The six other people on the Aberdeen-Glasgow train were injured.
Among 20 safety recommendations, 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.
Reacting to the report, train drivers union Aslef said the failures it highlighted amounted to a “watershed moment for rail safety” and decried “endemic and tragic corporate failure”.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said it showed there were “fundamental” lessons to be learned, but “it should not have taken this tragic accident” to highlight them.
The RAIB said nearly a month’s rain fell in three hours before the crash, “but the drainage system and associated earthworks had not been constructed in accordance with the original design and so were not able to safely accommodate the water flows".
A bund, or earth bank, had been added that funnelled water towards the drain, which became inundated and washed gravel onto the line.
The RAIB said if the drain had been built as designed, “it would have been capable of safely accommodating the flow of surface water that occurred on the morning of August 12, 2020 without causing gravel to be washed away down the steeply sloping trench towards the track”.
The drain was built by Carillion in 2011-12, which went into liquidation six years later. The firm failed to inform Network Rail it was adding the bund to the system.
Investigators also found no evidence that Network Rail carried out any inspection of the upper parts of the drainage system between when it viewed the completed work in 2013 and the crash.
They said the UK Government-owned company failed to add that section to an internal programme that would have triggered routine inspections and maintenance.
RAIB chief inspector of rail accidents Simon French said: “It is so sad that a project that was designed for the protection of the travelling public became unsuitable for its intended use and posed a hazard to trains because of such uncontrolled changes to the design.”
A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “The joint investigation into the deaths of Donald Dinnie, Brett McCullough and Christopher Stuchbury by Police Scotland, British Transport Police (BTP) and the Office of Rail and Road is now complete and under consideration by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
“The families will continue to be kept updated in relation to any significant developments.”
Police Scotland Detective Superintendent Alex Dowall said: "Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of those who died and were injured following the Stonehaven train derailment in August 2020.
"Following a complex investigation into the circumstances of this tragedy by Police Scotland, British Transport Police and the Office of Rail and Road, a Police Scotland /BTP report has been submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.”
Meantime, the Crown Office said no further action would be taken against a man charged after four firefighters were injured by a Network Rail vehicle at the crash site, which had allegedly not been properly secured with its handbrake or gears on the edge of a steep embankment.
A man was charged, but the body said it had been decided there should be no further proceedings at this time.
A spokesperson said: “It is the duty of the Crown to keep cases under review. After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there should be no further proceedings taken at this time.
"The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future."