Meeting date: Thursday, March 10, 2022
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 10 March 2022
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Social Care Staff Pay, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Carmont Passenger Train Derailment, Climate Emergency, UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Social Care Staff Pay
- Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time
- Portfolio Question Time
- Carmont Passenger Train Derailment
- Climate Emergency
- UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill
- Decision Time
Carmont Passenger Train Derailment
The next item of business is a statement by Jenny Gilruth on the Rail Accident Investigation Branch report into the Carmont passenger train derailment. The minister will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.14:55
On Wednesday 12 August 2020, the 06:38 high-speed train 1T08 from Aberdeen to Glasgow derailed as it struck debris on the track close to Carmont in Aberdeenshire. Today, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch has published its final report into the events leading up to and during that tragic and shocking crash.
Before I outline the report’s findings, I ask the Parliament to remember the three people who tragically lost their lives that day: the train driver, Brett McCullough; the conductor, Donald Dinnie; and a passenger, Christopher Stuchbury.
Brett McCullough was only 45 and had moved from Kent to make his life in Aberdeenshire. He had been a train driver for six years and was very popular at the Aberdeen depot.
Donald Dinnie was 58. His branch of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers in Aberdeen paid tribute to him as someone who lit up the room with funny stories and wit.
Christopher Stuchbury was 62. He came from Aberdeen and was an integral member of the Targe Towing team, as well as a volunteer at a specialist palliative care unit.
All three were beloved family men who are sadly missed by their friends, relatives and colleagues. On behalf of everyone in the Scottish Government—and of everyone in the chamber, I am sure—I share with those men’s families and friends my profound condolences for their loss. I have offered to meet all those families at any time, now or in the future, although I appreciate that nothing that I can say as minister can possibly erase their grief.
The derailment also resulted in injuries—some of them serious—to six passengers and staff. I convey my sympathies to everyone who was affected and hurt, including the wider local community and the railway family.
All three men came from the local area. Brett McCullough lived just 15 minutes away. The shock of the impact of the accident was widely and keenly felt and continues to be so.
The publication of today’s report is yet another painful reminder of the heart-rending events of that dreadful day. However, I hope that it will also help to provide at least some explanation of exactly what happened.
On the morning of 12 August 2020, there were thunderstorms with associated extremely heavy rain in southern Aberdeenshire. Weather records indicate that, between 05:00 and 09:00, around 52mm of rain fell in the Carmont area, which is about 90 per cent of the average total rainfall for the whole of August at that location.
The 06:38 high-speed train from Aberdeen to Glasgow had been stopped just south of Carmont because of a line blockage near Laurencekirk. The train was in the process of returning to Stonehaven when it derailed.
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is the independent body that is appointed by the United Kingdom Government to investigate railway accidents. I thank the staff of the RAIB who undertook that work for their careful and thorough approach to the investigation, and for the clarity of their findings and recommendations.
The report’s main finding is that the train derailed because it struck debris that had been washed on to the track from a drainage trench during the recent extreme rainfall. The report states that the drainage system and associated earthworks, which had been installed between 2011 and 2012, had not been constructed in accordance with the original design. That meant that the drainage system was not able to safely accommodate the flow of water that morning.
The investigation concluded that, had the drainage system been installed in accordance with the design, it would have been capable of safely accommodating the flow of surface water. However, as installed, the drainage system was unable to do so. It is clear that the drainage system and associated earthworks and how they were constructed were the cause of the accident, the train derailment being the tragic consequence.
One of the RAIB’s most important findings is that nothing in the way that Brett McCullough was driving the train caused the accident. He was driving within the rules and the instruction that had been given to him.
The refurbished high-speed train that derailed at Carmont was fully compliant with the legal operational requirements. However, since it was designed and constructed, railway standards have continued to change and improve, reflecting lessons learned from just this sort of investigation.
The report states that a train that had been built to the most recent crashworthiness standards would have had a number of design features that are intended to improve the safety of passengers. Although we cannot be certain about what would have happened in the hypothetical situation of the same accident but with different rolling stock, the report states that
“the bodyshells of the coaches generally performed well in the accident”.
However, the RAIB
“considers it more likely than not that the outcome would have been better if the train had been compliant with modern crashworthiness standards.”
In respect of the driving cab, the RAIB says that
“the speed of impact was significantly beyond the collision speeds for which even modern cabs are designed to provide protection for occupants.”
Some of the RAIB’s key findings relate to the approach taken by the operations team. The investigation found evidence that the Scotland route control team, which is operated by Network Rail employees, was under severe workload pressure that morning because of the volume of concurrent weather-related events in Scotland. Despite the severe disruption to Scotland’s railway infrastructure that morning, no additional resources had been obtained for the control room. A senior management gold command structure to give oversight and direction had not been established to relieve the pressure on the controllers. Controllers had not been given information, procedures or training that would have enabled them to effectively manage a complex weather event such as that experienced on 12 August 2020. No instruction was given by route control or the signaller that train 1T08 should be run at a lower speed on its journey between Carmont and Stonehaven.
Rail is still a complex mix of devolved and reserved responsibilities. The Scottish Government is responsible for specifying and funding the operation of ScotRail and Caledonian sleeper trains, and for specifying and funding the outputs required of Network Rail in Scotland. However, rail safety is overseen by the statutory railway safety regulator, the Office of Rail and Road. It will now discharge its statutory duty of ensuring that those who are responsible for implementing the RAIB’s recommendations take appropriate responsive action.
Although the Scottish Government funds Network Rail in Scotland, its accountability continues to rest with the UK Government. I have therefore written to the UK Government Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the report’s findings in full detail, and what that means for both Governments. I know that Network Rail and ScotRail will wish to engage constructively on the report’s findings, but there must also be a role for ministers in ensuring that never again will we see a repeat of that dreadful day at Carmont.
Three people dying because of the Carmont derailment was three people too many. Although rail remains the safest form of transport, we must seek to learn the lessons from the incident, to improve further the safety of all who work and travel on the railways in Scotland. To ensure that we take appropriate steps, and quickly, I am announcing that Transport Scotland will convene a steering group to implement the recommendations about safety performance in accidents involving older rolling stock, including HST rolling stock, on ScotRail. Because of their crucial role in driving and maintaining those trains, I give my undertaking to Scotland’s rail employees and unions that we will involve them in that important activity, alongside rail industry representatives and the safety bodies.
The RAIB’s report establishes the factual circumstances of the accident, but it does not apportion blame. Along with Police Scotland and the British Transport Police, the Office of Rail and Road is undertaking a parallel joint investigation, which will report to the procurator fiscal later this year. That will give prosecutors the opportunity to consider questions of criminal prosecutions and a fatal accident inquiry. Those are, of course, matters for the Lord Advocate, acting independently.
I conclude by giving the following undertaking. We will continue to work with industry partners, trade unions and the UK Government to deliver improvements that make our railways safer and more resilient in facing the challenges of adverse weather events. I give a solemn assurance that the Scottish Government will do everything in our power to urge everyone who is responsible for safety on our transport networks to endeavour to make them more resilient and safer for all passengers and employees. We cannot and must not allow a repeat of the terrible Carmont tragedy.
The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business.
I thank the minister for advance sight of her statement and welcome the announcement of a steering group. I hope that the minister will keep us informed about the group’s work.
The report into the Carmont rail tragedy makes for sobering reading. We should remember that, although this is about failures of systems and lessons that can be learned, it is fundamentally about the loss of three lives: the conductor, Donald Dinnie; the train driver, Brett McCullough; and a passenger, Christopher Stuchbury. There were six other people on the train on 12 August 2020 and they were injured when the train hit debris—mainly gravel—and derailed.
The source of the debris was a drain that had been put in by Carillion, but not in accordance with the design. Had Carillion stuck to the original design, the tragedy may not have happened. Can the minister confirm whether Network Rail Scotland has checked all other Carillion-constructed drainage systems to ensure that there are no potential issues elsewhere on the network?
The RAIB said that, despite knowing about the threat, Network Rail had not sufficiently recognised that its existing measures did not fully address the risk from extreme rainfall events, which meant that areas of significant weakness had not been dealt with. What has the minister done about that?
Finally, the driver did not have a seat belt. That is extraordinary. It seems to me that seat belts should be standard. Does the minister agree?
Graham Simpson covered a number of areas. First, I will keep members informed about the steering group. I wrote to Opposition spokespeople this afternoon, ahead of my statement.
Mr Simpson talked about the people who were injured in the crash and alluded to the drain being the cause of the crash. I have confirmed with Network Rail that it has checked all drains that were installed by Carillion and any maintenance work that was carried out by Carillion. That was done at the time of the crash.
However, even before the accident at Carmont, Network Rail’s project teams had apparently started to review historical projects—those that are up to 10 years old—to ascertain whether a health and safety file, if required, had been accepted by the national records group and stored appropriately. At the time, the drain would have been more than 10 years old. Network Rail has undertaken that work, and I received another assurance from Alex Hynes regarding that matter this morning.
Mr Simpson’s second point was about the weaknesses in the existing fleet; I think that he mentioned challenges relating to Network Rail’s responsibilities. I cannot instruct Network Rail, because it is accountable to the UK Government. However, Scotland’s Railway has established a permanently staffed weather desk position, which came into operation shortly after the event. Network Rail has informed the RAIB that suitably qualified people will have been recruited to cover that position. I am told that it is a better example of both organisations—ScotRail and Network Rail—working together.
In the light of the likelihood that climate change will exacerbate some of the risks further, Network Rail decided to commission two task forces to advise on the ways in which it could improve its understanding of earthworks; one was chaired by Lord Robert Mair and the other by Dame Julia Slingo. Network Rail has also considered how it can improve the management of its earthworks portfolio to better understand the risk posed by rainfall. I raised that issue with Alex Hynes earlier and was given an assurance that Network Rail is now using technology to look at hillsides across the country to try to predict when such events might happen in the future. Additionally, I am told that Network Rail is walking the lines of Scotland’s railways to try to ascertain where risks might appear in the future.
On the steering group that I have undertaken to establish, I acknowledge that devolved and reserved competences cross one another here, but I am interested in getting a resolution to ensure that such an event never happens again. I look forward to working constructively with the UK Government on the issue and acknowledge the horrific nature of what we are discussing today.
Finally, Mr Simpson raised a point about seat belts. I am told that research undertaken by the Rail Safety and Standards Board, “Optimising driving cab design for driver protection in a collision”, found that, while no technical or operational problems are foreseen that prevent the fitting of driver protection, there may be a challenge regarding ensuring maintenance and driver acceptance of a viability assessment. I am not ruling it out in the future, but at the moment there are no requirements, on any modern trains, for seat belts to be fitted. However, the RAIB has recommended that the RSSB review its previous research on fitting secondary impact protection devices for train drivers in light of the circumstances at Carmont.
I give Graham Simpson an undertaking that we will take the necessary steps from 1 April if the recommendations of that research conclude that seat belts are an appropriate response. As I said, that requires wider discussion with the trade unions and employees.
All our thoughts are with the loved ones of those who died in this tragedy. The report is a sobering read for Carillion, Network Rail and the entire rail industry. Investigators found that warnings were ignored and that systemic failures caused the derailment. There is a word for that: negligence. The drainage system did not work—Carillion did not construct it to design standards—Network Rail processes were not followed, ScotRail staff were insufficiently trained, and there were no suitable arrangements to restrict the speed of the train despite the conditions. In light of that, does the minister still have confidence in the managing director of Scotland’s Railway and the leadership of the ScotRail Alliance? The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen—ASLEF—which is the train drivers union, does not.
ASLEF is also calling for ageing high-speed trains to be phased out by August 2023. Can the minister tell us when those trains will be withdrawn from service?
It is for the Lord Advocate to consider prosecutions and a fatal accident inquiry, but it is for ministers here and at UK level to decide whether there should be a full public inquiry. Does the minister believe that there is a case for a full public inquiry to ensure that lessons are learned and that such a tragedy never happens again?
Mr Bibby raises three points. He used a word that I will not repeat because, as he will understand, legal proceedings may follow from the next report, which is yet to be published. I would not want to comment on the outcome of that.
On the first question he raises about the position of senior officials, I know why ASLEF feels very strongly about that. I met Kevin Lindsay only yesterday and we discussed some of the issues that Mr Bibby has raised. I do not think that this is the right moment to be calling for resignations. However, I understand why ASLEF feels very strongly about that.
As I mentioned, the Office of Rail and Road’s parallel and joint investigation with Police Scotland and the British Transport Police will report to the procurator fiscal. That will allow prosecutors to consider the questions of criminal prosecutions and whether there should be a fatal accident inquiry. As I mentioned in my statement, those are matters for the Lord Advocate.
Mr Bibby asked me to commit to a public inquiry. I do not wish to prejudge the outcome of the investigation at this stage. A public inquiry might flow from that and it is not for me as the minister to pre-empt the outcome of that process
Mr Bibby asked about the HSTs. I am aware that that issue was also raised at First Minister’s questions. It is important to remember that the trains in question were safe to be running. They are undoubtedly older trains. They met the standard at the time they were built. We need to consider that stock to ensure that such a disaster never happens again. The first step is to work with the trade unions. I spoke to Mr Lindsay about that yesterday.
We will come to a date in the future when we will be able to remove some of those trains from service. However, I need to convene the steering group and look at what that would mean for the current fleet of trains and the viability of rail travel in Scotland just now, recognising that we are quite reliant on the HSTs that are currently in operation.
I undertake that the steering group will look at that issue, working with the trade unions, the UK Government, Network Rail and ScotRail to ensure that we deliver on the safety improvements that are needed, that our rolling stock is up to scratch and that it provides the proper level of protection and security for staff and passengers.
I extend my condolences to the families of Brett McCullough, Donald Dinnie and Christopher Stuchbury.
Some of the findings in the investigation report are challenging, and some of the things that the RAIB found seem so straightforward and obvious that it is hard to believe that they were not in place. The minister mentioned some of the changes that have been brought in since 2020. Can she provide more detail on those and how they might be helping to make Scotland’s railways safer now?
I understand why members found some of the report’s findings challenging to read. I found it very challenging, a fortnight ago, to sit through a presentation from the RAIB on the draft findings.
I want to provide some level of reassurance. I know that, since the accident took place, Network Rail has put in a range of changes. For example, it has installed a new drainage system at Carmont to seek to prevent another washout in the same location. It has also installed guardrails to help keep derailed trains in line on the approach to the bridge.
Network Rail has improved its rules and standards relating to the control of train movements during extreme weather events, and introduced a new process for how it manages its response to safety recommendations and a programme of audits to check the correct implementation of risk controls. However, I want to work further with Network Rail on some of those changes and what they mean for rail safety in Scotland, recognising, of course, that rail safety is ultimately a matter that is reserved to the UK Government.
I echo the condolences and sentiments of colleagues across the chamber. The Carmont tragedy and its needless loss of life must never happen again.
The report identifies that the age of the train and its design features contributed to the severity of the crash. Neil Bibby asked a very good question but, with respect, I am not sure that we heard an answer. Is there a break clause in the contract between the rolling stock company and ScotRail for the HSTs? Regardless of that, when does the newly nationalised ScotRail intend to replace all class 43 sets on its network with new trains to modern standards?
I note Mr Kerr’s condolences to the families affected.
On the specific question about a break clause that Mr Kerr asked, I am not sighted on that, but I can certainly find that information for him.
With regard to the high-speed trains, it is important to reflect again that, although those trains were older, the refurbished high-speed train that derailed at Carmont was fully compliant with legal requirements to operate. However, since that train was designed and constructed, railway standards have, of course, moved on. The train operator—in this case, ScotRail—has the statutory duty to ensure that the trains that it operates are safe, and it is the statutory duty of the Office of Rail and Road, as the regulator, to oversee that duty, with enforcement if necessary. I know that the Office of Rail and Road will monitor the work that is undertaken to address the Rail Accident Investigation Branch’s recommendations. That duty will, of course, pass to the new publicly owned and controlled ScotRail on 1 April—Mr Kerr alluded to that.
We, in the Scottish Government, have been absolutely clear that I will work with the industry, unions, employees and rail safety bodies to take forward the implementation of all recommendations that are relevant to our obligations and responsibilities. I am sorry that I cannot give Mr Kerr a date right now, but I have committed to convening a steering group.
I agree whole-heartedly with Mr Kerr that we absolutely need to see action on the issue.
I add my condolences and thoughts for everyone who is affected.
It is clear that many of the recommendations relate to matters for reserved bodies and reserved powers on rail safety. Does the minister know how the UK Government has responded to the RAIB’s report? What role and power does she have to ensure that Network Rail urgently implements all the findings and recommendations that arise from the report?
It is for the UK Government to explain how it will respond. As far as I am aware, the UK Government has not yet made a public statement on the report, although I may be wrong about that.
I have said that the responsibilities in reserved and devolved areas are complex, but I am keen to ensure that we take a collaborative approach to deliver the changes that the RAIB has recommended, and I am keen to engage with the Secretary of State for Transport to agree how we can do that. That is why I wrote to Grant Shapps this morning to encourage him to work with me on taking forward the recommendations.
Network Rail’s response to the RAIB report shows that it, too, is taking its responsibilities seriously. However, Network Rail is not accountable to me, and it is very important that we have cross-Government working on the matter.
The recommendations will, of course, now be urgently reviewed by the ORR to determine how best they will be progressed. As I have mentioned, the ORR is the statutory authority on rail safety and all recommendations that are agreed for implementation. Those will be monitored by the ORR for all operators.
As I have mentioned, I am keen to work collaboratively with the UK Government on the matter, recognising and understanding the different roles and responsibilities that both Governments have. It is essential that we guard against such a thing happening ever again. For that to work, we will have to work collaboratively.
The tragedy has highlighted the need for a safe and resilient railway, but there are plans to cut thousands of safety-critical jobs at Network Rail. Earlier today, the First Minister failed to give a commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies when ScotRail enters public ownership. Will the minister take action to ensure that those Network Rail cuts are scrapped and give a guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies at ScotRail?
I am happy to give Mercedes Villalba the undertaking that I will meet Network Rail. I do not seek job cuts in Scotland of any nature, but Network Rail is not accountable to me, so I am limited in what I can do in that regard. I would like to raise the matter directly with the UK Government, as any cuts to jobs in Scotland are not acceptable.
Mercedes Villalba also raised the issue of no compulsory redundancies. As she will know, as a Government, we have not yet ruled that out. I have been meeting the trade unions as a group over the past four weeks and, in the past two weeks, I have been meeting them individually to better understand their negotiating positions on any future pay settlements. That has not yet been taken off the table because we have not yet arrived at a deal. I am hopeful that we will do so in the future, but I do not want to prejudge that.
This is part of a negotiation process with the rail unions. The conversations that I have had with them, particularly in the light of the announcement of a national conversation on Scotland’s Railway’s future, have been very positive, and they have been keen to work with the Government. I welcome that dialogue, because it is essential as we move forward that the Government works with the rail unions to deliver a railway for the people of Scotland that works.
The minister has indicated that certain work and investigations will be carried out by different bodies and individuals. Will she spell out exactly what will happen next and, if possible, provide a timescale?
Network Rail and operators will review the report’s recommendations and enter into discussions with the ORR on their delivery, including on timescales. Some of the recommendations require a great deal of technical input, such as design developments for rolling stock, modifications and costings. Some can and will be implemented immediately, while others will need a bit more time.
I set out in my statement the next steps for the roles of the Office of Rail and Road, the Crown Office and the Lord Advocate. I am aware of the call from ASLEF for a public inquiry, which has been mentioned by members. At an appropriate time, that will, of course, be considered.
I am keen that we get all members in, so I would be grateful if we could pick up the pace.
I, too, wish to associate myself and the Scottish Liberal Democrats with the comments from the minister and other members and the offer of condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives on 12 August 2020, as well as sympathies to those who were injured.
We welcome the creation of the steering group that the minister has announced, which will look at high-speed trains and consider the other recommendations that are under its remit. We welcome information on a timetable for its work being made available as soon as possible.
In the knowledge that more frequent and extreme storms are likely to occur, will the Scottish Government work with Network Rail to ensure that extra provision is made to inspect the network, providing reassurance to passengers and staff on the safety of trains?
On Beatrice Wishart’s question on the steering group and timescales, I am not able to give her timescales right now. I would like to speak to the trade unions first, and to get partners—the UK Government, Network Rail and ScotRail—involved and round the table before I give her that information. I know that Graham Simpson asked for further information on that, too. I will be more than happy to share that with her once the group has been convened and actions have been agreed.
Beatrice Wishart mentioned some of the challenges around future adverse weather events. As we know, climate change will continue to have an impact on our transport network. In my statement, I touched on the fact that there was a significant amount of rainfall on the morning of 12 August 2020—the amount of rain that fell that day was an unusual circumstance—and the Met Office analysis indicates an exceptionally high level of rain falling between 10 to 6 in the morning and 9 o’clock, which was when the train derailed. Early action has already been taken by Network Rail to better understand and react to extreme weather events and to improve the risk management of earthworks. I spoke to that in my response to an earlier question.
Beatrice Wishart asked a question about greater provision, which I will be more than happy to raise with Network Rail. Again, I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the steering group. There are a lot of intersecting factors in regard to climate change, adaptation and how we look at our rolling stock and future proof it for greater safety improvements. I hope that that gives her assurance that the matter will be looked at by the steering group in due course. I will be more than happy to update her with further detail as and when it is agreed.
My thoughts, too, are with everybody who has been impacted by this tragedy.
Rail incidents in Scotland are rare, but we should not underestimate the impact that any derailment or incident has on the wellbeing of drivers, other staff who are on board and passengers. Some of the findings of the report, which is harrowing to read, relate to the crashworthiness of the train and, especially, the glass in the windows. Can the minister say what more can be done to ensure that the trains that people work and travel in are as safe as they can be?
As I think I mentioned, a bit more research is needed to explore how best we implement some of the recommendations. Already, research has been undertaken into driver seat belts, as I mentioned to Graham Simpson. The ORR will consider how best to achieve a good outcome for them, along with input from train operators. Some interim modifications to rules might be implemented until some recommendations are fully implemented, but that will be for the industry to guide or for the ORR to decide.
As Elena Whitham indicated, some of the findings are very hard to read because they are harrowing, particularly the ones that relate to the windows and the effect of the shattered glass. That is an example of a finding in respect of which there are no easy or obvious solutions. One conclusion might be that we should strengthen the glass configuration in trains, but we know that the glass must be able to be broken in some circumstances, too.
However, we cannot shy away from the task. I am clear that the Scottish Government, which takes responsibility for rolling stock after 1 April, will play its full part in determining what changes need to take place and will do so quickly.
I, too, extend my deepest sympathies to the loved ones of the people whose lives were cut short by the tragedy.
The minister mentioned climate adaptation. Will she expand on how capital investment will help such adaptation? Will she also expand on the training and support for rail workers to operate modern forecasting systems to enable us to better track and understand how extreme weather events unfold in real time?
We fund Network Rail to carry out its operations in Scotland. Climate adaptation is built into our high-level agreement. However, the events at Carmont are a really sharp reminder of the need to adapt our transport network to the effects of severe weather. We also know that climate change will only increase. The report notes that climate change has made heavier rainfall more likely to occur, so a storm of a particular duration and intensity now has a shorter return period.
Notwithstanding the progress that is being made in decarbonising the transport network, there needs to be adaptation of existing infrastructure. Network Rail has implemented changes in its infrastructure operations and weather management to enhance and improve transport resilience during severe weather and will continue to implement changes to make the railways safe for all users.
Transport Scotland is also taking action. It identified the need for climate change mitigation and adaptation as a central plank in the recently published national transport strategy, which sets out the vision for the next decades.
I hope that Mr Ruskell has an understanding of how seriously the Scottish Government takes the matter. I am sure that the steering group will address it in further detail in due course.
The Stonehaven derailment is a tragedy that must never be repeated. The north-east has been badly affected by severe weather events in recent months. The minister touched briefly on this, but what assessment has been made of the rail infrastructure following those events and what measures, including improved disaster recovery, has the Scottish Government implemented to mitigate the effects of flooding and landslides in future?
Tess White raised a number of issues regarding the changes that have been implemented. As she will recognise, some of them relate to Network Rail responsibilities. I will come on to those in a moment.
I recognise the challenges in the area of Scotland that she represents. I also recognise that the damaging periods of poor weather that we have had in recent weeks and months have impacted on people’s lives.
Network Rail has installed a new drainage system with improved capacity and with features that are intended to stop another wash-out from happening. That was installed in 2020 to replace the 2011-12 system prior to the railway reopening after the derailment. It also installed guard rails on the up and down lines on the approach to bridge 325 when the track was re-laid after the accident. That protection includes gathering rails and, on the down line, extends beyond the site of the wash-out.
Tess White asked about Scottish Government actions. Scotland’s Railway has established a permanently staffed weather desk position to monitor weather conditions and advise controllers on the necessary precautionary actions. I mentioned that in my response to Graham Simpson. It is leading to better team working between Network Rail and ScotRail staff, and that service will pass to the Scottish Government from 1 April.
Blanket speed restrictions in areas with earthworks that were not on the at-risk list were introduced in September 2020. As we know, the driver was given no instruction to slow down on the day of the accident, so consideration of whether to introduce more regular speed restrictions has been a major part of the action that Network Rail has taken.
The minister has answered quite a lot of questions on the environmental impacts around the rail network, so I will not go into that again and ask her to rehash those answers. What actions is she asking Network Rail to undertake to ensure that something like the derailment never occurs again?
I am keen to meet Network Rail soon to further discuss the matter. In my response to Graham Simpson, I mentioned that I had a short call with Alex Hynes earlier today to discuss some of the report’s findings. I am keen to meet Network Rail to establish a better and more detailed understanding of where it sees its priorities going forward as a result of the report.
The report is a substantial piece of work of 300 pages, and the RAIB undertook that work over a number of months. I do not want to jump to conclusions at this stage by making recommendations for Network Rail. Of course, Network Rail has no responsibility to report to me and the Scottish Parliament, as it reports to UK Government ministers. Recognising some of the challenges with reserved and devolved competencies, I would not like to sketch out any actions that Network Rail needs to take forward.
As the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road needs to enforce any recommendations, and I would expect it to be working with Network Rail. I would also expect that, along with ScotRail and UK Government representation, Network Rail would want to engage with the steering group. It would be very welcome to do that. It is vital that all partners, including the trade unions, are at the table, to ensure that we get it right and that we put the recommendations from the report in place so that we can ensure that a disaster like the one that happened in Carmont never happens again.