Work to reopen the railway at Stonehaven begins

Network Rail’s work to reopen the railway at Stonehaven will begin this week as it works to carefully recover the carriages involved in the tragic accident.

The ScotRail service derailed on August 12 after striking a landslip with the devastating loss of three lives – driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury.

Specialist engineers will use a 600-tonne crawler crane to carefully lift the derailed carriages from the railway over the coming days.

Teams from across Network Rail and its contractors have carried out a massive amount of work at the site to prepare for this complex operation.

They have constructed a new 900-metre road and temporary bridges over the surrounding farmland to bring the specialist lifting equipment to the site.

Plans – developed alongside the police, accident investigators and other partner agencies – are now in place to remove the vehicles in a delicate process, which is expected to last for several days.                             

Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, said: “August 12 was a devastating day with the loss of Brett, Donald and Christopher in this tragic accident.

“While we will now begin the process of recovering the carriages and repairing the railway, we do so with a heavy heart.

“We will continue to work closely with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch throughout this recovery process so we can learn from this terrible event and help prevent similar accidents.”

Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, visited the site on Monday (September 7). He said: “My thoughts continue to remain with the family and friends of those affected by this tragic incident.

“I’m here today to understand the scale of the work being undertaken and to show my, and the Scottish Government’s, continued support for those involved in the investigation, recovery and service restoration. 

“The RAIB investigation will ensure that any safety lessons are learned quickly and I will be interested to hear what comes of this and how Network Rail can take these forward in the future. An investigation of this type is so comprehensive and it will now take time to restore the site of the incident so rail services can be reintroduced as soon as possible.

“As we move towards the recovery phase and given the scale of this enormous challenge I would like to thank all those involved for their efforts undertaken at the site.”

Once the carriages have been removed from the site, engineers will be able to assess the extent of repairs required to the tracks and bridge damaged in the derailment.

Until those inspections are complete, no exact timescales can be placed on the reopening of the line for customers but it is likely to be a number of weeks.

ScotRail is operating a shuttle service between Aberdeen and Stonehaven to keep customers in the north east moving. The service, introduced on Monday, August 31, calls at Aberdeen, Portlethen and Stonehaven, with some services extended to start or terminate at Inverurie or Dyce. A replacement bus service remains in place between Dundee and Stonehaven.

Cross-border operators are also running a replacement bus service between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, with further information available at https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/service_disruptions/253790.aspx

After the incident on August 12, Network Rail introduced a range of additional safety measures.

As an immediate precaution, hundreds of sites nationwide with higher-risk trackside slopes, similar to Stonehaven, were inspected.

These inspections were carried out by both in-house engineers and specialist contractors, supplemented by helicopter surveys.

Network Rail has also launched two taskforces, led by independent experts, as part of its long-term response to climate change and the challenge of maintaining its massive portfolio of earthworks (embankments and cuttings) many of which date from the Victorian era.

Dame Julia Slingo FRS, former chief scientist at the Met Office and a world-renowned expert in climatology, will lead a weather action taskforce with the objective of better equipping Network Rail to understand the risk of rainfall to its infrastructure, drawing on the latest scientific developments in monitoring, real-time observations and weather forecasting.

Lord Robert Mair CBE FREng FRS will spearhead an earthworks management taskforce to see how Network Rail can improve the management of its earthworks portfolio, looking at past incidents, latest technologies and innovations and best practice from across the globe.

Network Rail already invests heavily in its earthworks and drainage portfolio, and spending has increased significantly in recent years from £550m between 2009 and 2014 to a budget of £1.3bn for the period between 2019 and 2024.

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