Scots rail safety concerns over train crash action ‘fails’ and …

It has emerged the Scottish Government's rail budget for for the upkeep of the rail infrastructure - including signals and track has been reduced by £150m over the past four years.

A Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) progress analysis of actions taken in response to the 20 recommendations made by them in March, 2022 in a damning report in the wake of the Carmont tragedy shows that just two have been closed - meaning action has been taken to implement them.

Some 18 remained open as of March this year, which means they are under consideration while action is expected to implement it.

The Scottish Government's payment to Network Rail  to support the costs of maintenance and safe operation of the Scottish rail network has been cut by £166m from £1.035bn during the two pandemic years running from 2020 to 2021 to £869m in the latest two years.

The annual budget was as high as £586.6m for the 2018/19 financial year. It has reduced by 25% to £442m in 2023/25.

A separate budget public transport[1] budget that funds a Network Rail enhancement grant for improvements to rail infrastructure has gone up by over £20m from £380m during the two pandemic years to £402m in the latest two years.   The budget dropped from £247m in 2022/23 to £155m this year.

The rail crash at Carmont near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire three years ago claimed three lives and injured six others while a series of deadly management failings were eventually blamed by accident investigators.

Driver Brett McCullough, 45, conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62, died when the 06:38 high speed Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street train left the tracks after hitting washed-out landslide debris during heavy rainfall in August 2020.

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The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has called for real terms increases in infrastructure investment and says that "urgent clarification" is needed over funding.

It has been concerned that ministers were "playing fast and loose with people's lives" through infrastructure funding cuts.

RMT union chiefs in Scotland[3] have raised serious concerns over plans to slash the safety-critical maintenance workforce in Scotland from nearly 2000. They remains concerns that 300 Scots maintenance staff with Scottish and UK government-subsidised Network Rail will go amidst vacancies.

It comes as it emerged that the Office of Rail and Road regulator has written to Network Rail raising concerns about a backlog in examining the condition of its railway structures such as bridges, tunnels and culverts. It said that in some cases this could lead to "a safety issue".

In Scotland the number of examination failures was at over 1700.

Network Rail is, meanwhile, 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 suggested that it would significantly reduce the safety risk to maintenance staff who have to access the railway infrastructure to undertake these inspections.

A Network Rail-commissioned study by specialist infrastructure consultants Nichols said that in one company, bringing in multi-skilled teams who can cover most maintenance needs with specialists could be covered a team that was less than half the size.

Network Rail believes that the increasing employment of technology and upskilling teams can unlock "major efficiencies".

The Scottish Government's five-year statement spending plans and funds "likely" to be available for Network Rail operations has also been cut from £4.85bn from April 2019 to March 2024 to £4.2bn in the period to 2029. But ministers have not defined a "profile of the spend" which will be subject to a review by the ORR which has been expecting financial efficiencies.

According to the ORR, Network Rail made £840m of "efficiency improvements" in 2021/22 - above a £830m target. But it raised concern that Network Rail Scotland’s delivery of efficiencies was only £64 million, 21% behind its target.

In its 2021/22 annual analysis it admitted funding challenges meant that Network Rail in Scotland was having to put off renewals work and warned that "could impact train and freight service performance". But the ORR said they had to take action to "reduced its backlog of structures examinations".


RMT regional officer Mick Hogg said the 'lack of progress' over the Stonehaven recommendations and the budget reductions were "a disgrace".

"If we are serious about learning the lessons of Stonehaven, we need to be serious about investing in Scotland's railway and having more staff personnel, not the reverse.

"If it had not been for the pandemic [meaning less people were travelling] there would have been hundreds of deaths at Carmont on that day "To me it begs the question if Network Rail is this just a talking shop that delivers little.

"We have got a Victorian rail infrastructure. The only way to address is more investment."

The RMT in a circular has warned that the cuts to existing maintenance scheduled tasks will mean a reduction in headcount and overhead costs.

"Safety should always take priority over cost-cutting, outsourcing and profiteering but RMT is concerned that the government and Network Rail are not properly taking into account the extreme risks facing us today by ageing infrastructure coupled with climate change[5] and regular extreme weather events," the union said.

"The RAIB report into the disaster at Stonehaven, Carmont, where three people tragically lost their lives found that the failure to ensure inspecctions were carried out on a drainage system directly contributed to railway engineers not identifying a construction fault which ultimately led to the derailment.

"It is absolutely vital that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. Scotland needs a railway fit for the 21st Century, one that is fully funded, resilient and most importantly safe for both passengers and railways workers."

The rail regulator has been carrying out investigations to ensure compliance after the Stonehaven crash probe found that Network Rail and railway managers were not properly prepared to deal with issues of heavy rain and had not adequately handled drainage issues that caused the landslip.

The RAIB said that the railway industry’s risk assessments had clearly signalled that earthwork and drainage failure due to extreme rainfall was a "significant threat" to the safety of the railway but they had not clearly identified potential areas of weakness in the existing operational mitigation measures.

The RAIB found that the train derailed because it struck debris that had been washed out of a faulty drainage system constructed between 2011 and 2012 by failed outsourcing giant Carillion.

HeraldScotland: Stonehaven crash scene

Both Network Rail, which owns the infrastructure, and the designers of the drain were unaware that Carillion did not build it to specification and so were not able to safely accommodate the water flows that morning.

Investigators found that the drainage works were not entered into Network Rail’s infrastructure maintenance database so it was never inspected or maintained after installation.

The RAIB’s investigation also found that the route controllers, who were responsible for the operational management of Scotland’s railway network, had not been given the information, procedures or training that they needed to effectively manage complex situations of the type encountered on the morning.

Although Network Rail had taken some steps towards implementing modern technology to help monitor weather conditions and better inform operational decision makers, its capability had not been "fully exploited" before the accident at Carmont.

They found the control team was under severe workload pressure around the time of the crash due to volume of weather-related events. But no additional staff were called in to help - even though plans existed to help with such issues through the senior management ‘gold command’ structure.

The RAIB concluded that, despite an awareness of the threat, Network Rail had not sufficiently recognised that its existing measures did not fully address the risk from extreme rainfall events.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We are working hard to make our railway as safe and reliable as possible.

“As well as having a robust programme of maintenance across our network in Scotland, we’ve made significant changes to how we operate services during extreme weather.

“We’ve increased our investment in new technologies and our operational control room is the first in Britain to establish a specialist weather team.

“To be clear, modernising how we work will not make the railway less safe.”


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