2014 warning to UK rail inspectors about the Stonehaven accident location

In the Times this morning, the shocking accusation:

A stretch of railway where three people died when a train derailed and slid down an embankment after huge storms was identified in 2014 as being “greatly affected by earthslips”, it has emerged.

I can’t see the actual source for this dramatic claim which would, if true, cast the UK rail safety regulator and its inspectorate in a very negative light.

The ORR annual health and safety report published in July 2020, of which much is being made, does not in fact, offer any specific evidence that could be used to criticise the inspectorate or the department on the maintenance or checking of the actual place of the incident.


20 thoughts on “2014 warning to UK rail inspectors about the Stonehaven accident location

  1. I’ve never watched The Nine, BBC Scotland’s attempt at a worldwide news programme for Scotland. Tonight I switched the TV on just after 9pm and decided to have a wee look. I only stayed with it for about 5 minutes. 

    I found Michael Matheson, the Scottish Transport Minister, being “interviewed’ by a BBC Scotland journalist. (Sorry, I don’t know his name). The journalist interrupted him several times, talked over him and used that deathless (and ridiculous) question form: “Shouldn’t you at least have…?”  Several questions referred to matters that are now probably sub judice (is that the right term for issues being investigated by a legally constituted board of enquiry?) and perhaps subject to legal action in the future?  I wondered why Michael Matheson was there at all. The Scottish Government is not responsible for the rail network. That’s a reserved matter. The person to ask is Grant Shapps.

    I’ve thought for a while that Scottish Government ministers are far too polite to journalists. They certainly don’t get their politeness returned. The BBC and STV are particularly guilty of rude and bullying interview tactics. We all know the usual STV tactic: set up a situation with a short video introduction. Usually a vox pop or a recording from Holyrood. Then ask a member of the Labour or Tory opposition to respond, with no right of reply from the SNP or any other pro-independence party. That in my book is censorship.   Maybe it’s time to tell th

    Liked by 4 people

  2. The “it has emerged” is a well worn vaguery of journalism, the stretch in question would have been flagged as a risk from the day it was built to the present, long before “climate change” and record rainfall intensity became a reality, but it does raise the curious question why Marc Horne picks 2014 out as crucial, being the year of the Indy Referendum?
    “Someone has to be to blame” is a time honoured tradition of the Press, curiously absent when it comes to thousands dead from a pandemic in England.
    As was remarkably well detailed in a previous comment on line traffic at the time, this event will have taken effect within minutes or may even have coincided with the train’s presence, but the reality is it was sudden.
    As the recent RABT landslip demonstrated, even with all reasonable precautions in place you cannot remove all risk, the chances of the old military road being taken out simultaneously is right up there in lottery win territory.
    Take that scenario and add the momentum of a train, inability to see around corners or steer around the problem, and incidents such as Stonehaven however unfortunate are inevitable.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The accident was of course ‘sudden’ they usually are, but the known vulnerability of that part of the line was not sudden. Had it been any other time, ie no Covid19, there would, would there not, have been many more travelling and possibly many more fatalities. What happened needs thorough investigation, the concern must surely be that the government in England are very unlikely to invest in upgrading the system to make it safer.
      Scotland’s terrain and high rainfall makes this type of accident more likely in the future. While England’s (UK) government have the levers of power and hold the purse strings, sadly Scotland is powerless to stop this happening again. It’s truly sickening.


      1. Will all due respect Hetty we do not yet know yet the cause of the derailment all we have is reasonable surmise, but we might question why “landslip” has been so heavily promoted ?
        Granted there are historic landslip and flooding issues probably dating back to the time before Queen Vic was a fictional pub in a soap, but bean counter governance of the railways has undoubtedly played a role.
        That only 3 lives were lost in this tragic accident is remarkable and largely a collateral effect of the ongoing pandemic, but I’m willing to bet that number are exceeded every single day on England’s rail network and don’t even register.


  3. This from wiki. There are references.

    “The stretch of railway line where the derailment occurred has had problems with mudslides in the past. On 22 October 2002, it was closed due to a landslide at Carmont, during torrential rain and gales.[6] A Network Rail report from 2014 included Carmont in a “list of sites which in recent years have been greatly affected by earthslips”. The track operator’s report said improvement work had been carried out at Carmont, specifically, “remediation of cutting slope following emergency, after mudslide due to flooding”.[7]

    The Office of Rail and Road, responsible for the safety regulation of Britain’s railways, noted a spike in lineside landslips, demonstrating the “vulnerability” of the network, in their 2019–2020 Annual Safety Report, published in July 2020.[8][9]”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hard to stomach that Network Rail, responsible for maintaining the whole of the UK rail network, a reserved power to the government in London, allowed trains to run on that line after so much rain fell in such a short time. The storm was horrendous, streets were like rivers, so it stands to reason that rail would be afected especially on such vulnerable lines. I do not accept this was ‘inevitable’ under the circumstances. Also someone had pointed out that warning systmes could have been in place to alert the driver of what lay ahead, given the known vulnerability of the line.

      I seriously hope that an proper investigation is carried out and that we are not fobbed off because in Scotland this could happen again, due to the terrain.


  4. “Most of the UK rail system is old – in many cases really old. The section of the alignment near to Stonehaven on which the accident occurred was built between 1847 and 1850. Of course the track, the signalling, the ballast etc have all been replaced, but the earthworks were constructed at that time and in most cases remain extant today. This is ageing infrastructure, constructed when understanding of slope stability was low, primarily through trial and error. Huge sections of railway lines in the UK are either on embankments or below cuttings, so Network Rail has 190,000 anthropogenic slopes to manage.

    In the years after construction these slopes were actively managed. Gangs would go out to remove excess vegetation, clear drains, etc., and they acted as an early warning system if slopes were deteriorating However, in the latter years of the nationalised British Rail, and in the disastrous years of the privatised Railtrack, the earthworks were neglected and the slopes deteriorated. In particular, drains were damaged, leading to stability problems.

    Network Rail has worked hard to put this right. They have sophisticated methods for identifying and monitoring problematic slopes, and are really good at re-engineering failing earthworks. But the legacy of those years of neglect remains.”



    1. There have been several pieces over a number of years relating to this post privatisation neglect. Recently, I heard interviews with railway engineers – current and retired – who spoke about the impact of climate change on the stability of embankments.

      On the day after the derailment one of these people was interviewed on Radio 4 where he was making the point that the Stonehaven issue is one which affects ‘thousands'(sic) of embankments throughout the UK.The embankments were designed to withstand the climate of the 19th and 20th centuries, but, since there has been a marked change, particularly in rainfall over the past 30 years, they are increasingly unstable.

      Network Rail has been attempting to deal with these, but, partly due to lack of investment and staff and also because the railway industry is not ‘vertically integrated’ as BR was, Network rail can face claims from ‘rail operating companies’ and other companies because of the effects on punctuality and reliability.

      I suspect that the media ‘narrative’ will be to blame NR and, mendaciously, to assign culpability to the SG.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Following up some of the points you raise ,Alasdair. This is a part of a submission fro ASLEF the TUC and other unions to the Transport Select Committee in 2015 looking at Reform of the Railways..

        Click to access Transport_Select_Committee_-_Rail_Reform_-_Submission_FINAL.pdf

        “7 Network Rail will continue to reduce its own maintenance, signalling and renewals workforce in order to meet its efficiency savings, while undergoing fundamental restructuring that will see it fragmented and potentially subordinated to the interests of commercial train operating companies through the creation of alliances, creating a series of mini-Railtracks.

        8 This provides significant risk to infrastructure and safety management, creates a greater number of regional interfaces and threatens to subordinate the interests of rival TOCs and freight operators.

        9 EU comparators indicate that unified and integrated national rail systems under public ownership are more efficient and cheaper for passengers.”

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thanks for that, Sam. This document was referred to by the interviewee, to whom I alluded, who was making the same points.


  5. The only consolation is that the Scottish Tories, Labour & Lib Dems will pounce on this incorrect information as an opportunity to hit out at the SNP only to get their comeuppance at FM questions when Nicola has to point out the truth about reserved and devolved responsibilities. No wonder a majority of folk in Scotland think they are useless


    1. The thing is many do not watch FMQs, and they don’t use the internet either, so the BritNat media is where they get their ‘news’ and they believe it. My older neighbours have tv on all their waking hours, I can hear it, have to plug my ears when SNP hating Sarah Smith’s voice comes on, she is so fake it’s cringeworthy. Who controls the narrative? Scotland is up against a media monster.


      1. Yes but its not winning. Since 2014 we have a politically well educated population with fewer folk than before relying on MSM for their info on what is happening. The media monster has gone too far and even the older generation are seeing the discrepancy between “the news where we are” and the very real comparison between Scottish/British political reality. With my 80 yr old neighbours, my husbands pension adviser and a Daily Telegraph reading friend all acknowledging Scotland;s stance and actions, I really do have hope despite the mince we;re getting force fed


  6. Looking more closely at Network Rail, Transport Scotland and the UK Dept of Transport jointly are responsible for the overarching strategy of NR. They set priorities for long term development and provide funding for infrastructure. So while it might have been reasonable for James Cook to wish to talk to Michael Matheson it was certainly unfair to label him only as failing in his role, if that is what Cook did. (I did not see the interview when broadcast and have not yet caught up with it.)

    This kind of structure looks unwieldy with a lot of different stakeholders and different levels of power across two government administrations. What was Matheson supposed to say or do about the 2014 report to which Cook referred? Was he Transport Minister at the time?* No, he became responsible in 2018.

    *Michael Matheson was appointed Cabinet Secretary for Justice in November 2014 and reappointed in May 2016. He was re-elected in May 2011 and thereafter appointed as Minister for Public Health

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Huge sections of the UK rail network would need upgrading to prevent such ”accidents”as this one in Aberdeenshire but this would require billions to be spent , money which is just not available while we build HS2 .

    Commuters have to realise that reducing journey times by about 20 minutes from Birmingham – London is a priority , while ensuring that no similar fatal accidents like this week’s is waaaaay down Westminster’s list of important things .


  8. Perhaps fixing this problem will feature in bojo’s list of ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects he is looking to finance post transition?
    Would be nice to think so but NO, i suspect that clearing up after previous tory mismanagement isn’t the sort of sexy engineering projects he probably has in mind, Examples? the boris bridge or the boris high speed lines or a boris motorway or two, (and all resplendent with union flags every few metres).


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