RAIB publishes report on fatal passenger train derailment

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has published its report into the fatal derailment of a passenger train in Carmont, Aberdeenshire on August 12, 2020.

At around 9.37am on Wednesday August 12, 2020, a passenger train derailed near Carmont, Aberdeenshire. The train, number 1T08, was the 6.38am service from Aberdeen to Glasgow, returning to Aberdeen due to a reported blockage on the line ahead.

He was traveling at 73 mph (117 km/h), just below the normal speed of the line concerned. After derailing, the train deviated to the left, before hitting a bridge parapet which caused the vehicles to scatter. Tragically, three people died as a result of the crash: bandleader, Donald Dinnie; the train driver, Brett McCullough; one passenger, Christopher Stuchbury. The other six people on board the train were injured.

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On the morning of the accident, there was almost continuous heavy rain at the accident site between approximately 06:00 and 09:00. The 51.5 mm of rain that fell during this period at the site of the accident is close to the average rainfall for August in this part of Scotland. Train 1T08 derailed because it struck debris that had been washed out of a drainage ditch. This trench, which had been constructed between 2011 and 2012, contained a perforated pipe that had been installed as part of a project to address a known drainage and trench stability issue in this area. However, the drainage system and associated earthworks had not been constructed to the original design and therefore were unable to safely accommodate the water flows that morning.

RAIB investigators found that a low earth embankment (bund) had been constructed which crossed a slope leading down to the track. The presence of this dyke significantly altered the flow of water such that extreme rainfall events would cause concentrated flow in the steep section of the trench. The evidence indicates that the intensity and duration of this precipitation would have generated water flows in the trench sufficient to wash away the gravel fill and soil immediately surrounding the trench.

No instructions were given by route control or the signalman that train 1T08 should operate at a lower speed on its route between Carmont and Stonehaven. At the time, no written process required such a precaution in these circumstances. Therefore, normal railway rules were applied to the movement of trains. The RAIB investigation found that route controllers (responsible for the operational management of Scotland’s rail network) had not received the information, procedures or training they needed to deal effectively with complex situations such as met on the morning of August 12, 2020.

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The RAIB investigation also identified that Network Rail’s management processes had failed to identify or address weaknesses in the way it mitigated the consequences of extreme rainfall events. Additionally, despite an awareness of the risk, Network Rail had not completed the implementation of additional control measures following previous events involving extreme weather and operational incident management.

A train built to modern standards would have had a number of design features intended to minimize damage to the train in the event of a collision or derailment.

However, the refurbished TGV that derailed at Carmont was designed and built before some of these standards came into effect. Although it is not possible to be certain what would have happened in the hypothetical situation with different rolling stock in the same accident, RAIB considers it more likely than not that the outcome would have been better if the train had met modern crashworthiness standards. ‘ standards.

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What does RAIB recommend?

The RAIB made 20 recommendations for improving railway safety. Areas covered include:

  • Better management of civil engineering construction activities by Network Rail and its contractors Additional standards and guidance on the safe design of drainage systems
  • Improved operational response to extreme precipitation events, leveraging the full capabilities of modern technology and based on a detailed understanding of the risk associated with extreme precipitation
  • Improve the ability of Route Control Offices to effectively manage complex events
  • Extend Network Rail’s insurance scheme to cover Route Control Offices by addressing barriers to the effective implementation of lessons learned from accident and incident investigations
  • Measures to prevent derailed trains from deviating too much from the track (equipment fitted to the track and/or the trains)
  • Address the train design issues identified by the investigation and better understand the additional risk associated with operating older trains.

Simon French, the Chief Rail Accident Inspector, said: ‘It was a tragedy that devastated the lives of the three families who lost their loved ones and sowed terror and injured six other people on the morning of August 12, 2020. Our thoughts are with them all. Nothing can undo this event, but we owe it to everyone affected to strive to learn safety lessons for the future.

“While rail safety in the UK has steadily improved over the past decades, the Carmont tragedy reminds us of how disruptive and potentially dangerous Britain’s unstable weather can be. The rail industry needs to get even smarter in how it counters this threat and better exploit remarkable modern technology that predicts and tracks extreme weather events such as summer convection storms. There is also an urgent need for the railway to provide decision-makers with the real-time information, procedures and training they need to manage complex and widespread weather events across the entire railway network.

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Sam Hewitt
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