Resilience of rail infrastructure – Interim report following the derailment at Stonehaven

The derailment of a passenger train near Carmont on 12 August 2020 was a tragedy for the families and friends of the three people who lost their lives and will have a lasting effect on those injured and involved in responding, as well as the wider railway industry. It has raised questions about the resilience and safe performance of the railway, and how the risk of such an event happening again can be minimised.

Emerging findings from the investigations suggest that a significant contributing factor to the derailment was heavy rainfall washing material onto the track. Therefore, the report commissioned by the Secretary of State for Transport seeks to provide an initial review of the resilience of rail infrastructure, in particular in the context of severe weather. Because of the nature of events that led to the derailment at Carmont, the report focuses on the resilience of earthworks and drainage infrastructure to heavy rainfall.

It is critical to understand fully what went wrong, what is being done now and what more can and should be done. It is a look at the current approach, procedures and risk; the immediate and longerterm plans and actions; and initial consideration of next steps.

While the report in no way pre-empts the outcome of formal independent investigations being carried out by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, or those by the Office of Rail and Road, British Transport Police and Police Scotland into the tragedy on Wednesday 12 August, the initial findings suggest that, after a period of heavy rainfall, the train struck a pile of washed-out rock and gravel before derailing.

The interim report assesses the current controls and management of thousands of miles of earthworks – the sloped ground beside railway tracks – and sets out how the industry plans to reduce the risk of landslips on the network in the future.

The report highlights the need for an increased focus on deploying technology across the network to predict failures and investment in better forecasting to enable local decisions for imminent weather events. Network Rail’s extensive research and development portfolio is helping to accelerate the development and deployment of this technology.

Key findings also suggest that industry rules for reporting and responding to adverse rainfall will be improved and strengthened, helping signallers better manage services during bad weather. Other plans include discussions with meteorologists to understand how real-time information can be better used to inform train operations about unpredictable extreme weather.

Britain’s railway is one of the safest in Europe and that safety record is underpinned by the resilience of our assets and the rigour of our management system. However, the increasingly clear implications of climate change mean that we must and will do more. This is particularly important with respect to how we operate the railway and the wider deployment of technology.

The full Interim Report can be downloaded here >>

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