On Wednesday 12th August, at 0938, in Carmont, Aberdeenshire, tragedy struck. A Scotrail IC125 set hit a landslide and derailed. The driver, conductor and a passenger were killed.
Since then, including in the immediate aftermath, there have been sensationalist and unfounded suggestions and claims as to what happened, and, ludicrously, who was to blame. Examples are "the train was travelling the wrong way", "going too fast", "why hadn't the driver been cautioned", and in today's Telegraph, laughingly "73.2mph is said to be within the limit of 75mph". Is said to be?
The thing is, this was one of the most easy to explain accidents on the railways I've ever heard about. Within a couple of hours it was obvious to anyone with half an inkling how the railway works what had happened. The train, 1T08, 0638 from Aberdeen to Glasgow, had been halted by the signaller who had received a report from a train travelling in the Down direction, that the Up line was blocked by a landslip. That down train, 2B13 is extremely relevant. Unable to proceed, 1T08 was turned round and sent back to Stonehaven. This meant waiting for a Network Rail engineer to set the crossover points so 1T08 could transfer from the Up line to the Down. Rarely used crossover points are routinely locked and pinned to avoid any accidental movement, which could cause a derailment.
After a delay of 2 hours, 1T08 started back to Stonehaven. It must be noted that not only had 1T08 already passed over this section of track with nothing suspicious to report, but so had 2B13. There was no suggestion of any blockage of the line, so no reason not to travel at line speed, which at this point was 75mph. Tragically though, in the time between 2B13 passing over the site, and 1T08 returning, there had indeed been another landslip, totally unconnected with the one further up the line. The train hit the landslip at 73.2mph, and all vehicles derailed, some hurtling down an embankment.
Then the media vultures arrived, looking for someone to pin the blame on. Never mind the fact 3 people had died, two of them doing a job they loved and were highly experienced at - someone must have cocked up. No they didn't. I'm not going to pre-empt the RAIB report, but from what they have already published it seems evident that the focus of the investigation is not going to be on the actions of the train crew or signaller. Unfortunately it would seem the media vultures, including some, sadly, who work for industry publications, are still hell bent on finding a scapegoat. Others are just plain ignorant as to how the railway works.
The geology of our planet is constantly on the move. That includes the hardest of substances, of which mountains are proof. Tectonic plates shifting miles under the surface cause the face of the Earth to be forever changing, albeit over millions of years. Extreme weather can exacerbate that process, and the storms the previous night had clearly weakened the landscape. No one was to know or predict the extent. Railway workers have an extraordinary array of skills and talent. Psychic ability, however, is not one of them.
It is an insult to Brett McCullough, the driver, Donald Dinnie, the conductor, and Christopher Stuchbury, the passenger who lost their lives to try and find fault that doesn't exist, blame that is unfounded, and innuendo that causes reputations to be tarnished.
The definition of the word "accident" is thus; "an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury" Source Oxford Languages. I suggest Stonehaven falls directly into that category without touching the sides. This truly was a tragic accident.
Railway workers live by the rule book regardless of their role. I don't know of another industry where that applies to such an extent. Spontaneity has no place on the Railway. That is why I am of the opinion that the final RAIB report will be of far more interest to geologists, and how land surrounding railways can be better monitored, than to railway workers. As for those so called journalists who are still trying to find fault with the train crew or signalers shame on you. You don't deserve to earn a living from what you do. You are an embarrassment to your profession, and cause nothing but misery to those you come into contact with.
Brett and Donald rest in peace - those who know, know.