Three people have died after a passenger train derailed in Aberdeenshire, northeast Scotland, following heavy rain and a landslip in the area.
British Transport Police said in a statement that “despite the best efforts of paramedics, we can confirm that three people have been pronounced dead at the scene.”
The statement confirmed that the train’s driver was among those who had died, though did not identify the person. The second person who died is believed to have been a train conductor, according to a subsequent statement. Formal identification has not yet taken place, but the family has been informed and is being supported by specially trained officers.
A further six people have been taken to hospital to be treated for injuries, which are not thought to be serious. All of the people on board the train are now believed to be accounted for.
Footage from the scene showed multiple ambulances, an air ambulance, and a number of police cars at the site, as smoke billowed in the background.
“My deepest condolences are with the loved ones of those who lost their lives in this tragic incident,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted after it was announced three people had died.
“I have just been updated by Network Rail and the emergency services on the ongoing operation. My thanks go to them, and my thoughts remain with everyone affected,” she added.
July report warned of dangers of landslips
A report from July 14 revealed that Network Rail, the public body which manages the UK rail network, was warned about the dangers of landslips four weeks before the train derailment.
The annual report, published by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), highlighted the risks posed by landslips and the need for more robust plans to tackle extreme weather conditions.
A formal investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the incident. Rail industry sources told the PA news agency that the suspected cause was a landslip, caused by heavy rain in the early hours of the morning.
According to the PA’s industry sources, the train’s locomotive and three carriages were derailed and slid down an embankment.
When asked if a landslip was to blame for Wednesday’s incident, British Transport Police referred CNN to the UK government’s Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB). A Department of Transport spokesperson, who is handling RAIB press inquiries, told CNN: “There’s an ongoing investigation. No further detail at this stage.”
Before the incident was reported, Network Rail tweeted a video Wednesday morning showing a landslip on the rail lines in the area.
“This is a tragic incident and, first and foremost, our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have very sadly died this morning. I would like to reassure the public that this was not a busy service, and from CCTV inquiries and witness statements we believe all passengers have been accounted for. However, once the area has been made safe then a full and thorough search will be conducted, which is likely to take some time,” British Transport Police Chief Inspector Brian McAleese told a news conference Wednesday.
A month’s worth of rainfall in one day
According to the ORR report, the UK recorded “over six times more flooding events in the year [2019/20].” The UK experienced particularly heavy rainfall in the last year with February 2020 noted as the wettest month on record.
This weather resulted in a “number of earthwork failures” the report said. None of these incidents resulted in a derailment but should highlight “the importance of the effective implementation of the Extreme Weather Action Team procedures in mitigating the consequence of earthwork failures,” the report added.
It also criticized the measures taken by Network Rail in response to extreme weather conditions, saying that “although Network Rail has drawn up plans to address climate change and increase resilience to extreme weather, these plans are not keeping up with the frequency and severity of these events.”
Saying it was “nearly inevitable that failures will occur” the report recommended that Network Rail “focus on improving identification of imminent failure by means of remote monitoring and on refining the measures it has to respond to forecasts of extreme conditions.”
CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said that around a month’s worth of rainfall was reported Wednesday morning in eastern Scotland near the site of the train derailment.
“Inverbervie station, the closest reporting weather station averages 57.6mm in August. They have recorded 55mm in 24 hours, so almost exactly a month’s worth of rainfall in 24 hours, with the bulk of it coming between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. local time this morning,” he said.
The extreme rainfall in such a short period resulted in flash flooding and rapid river rises.
Railway says extreme weather presents challenges
When contacted for comment regarding the ORR report, a Network Rail spokesperson referred CNN to a statement it issued last month at the time of the report’s publication. It said the railway was designed for a temperate climate and is “challenged” by prolonged periods of high and low temperatures, storms and floods. “Our climate is changing and we’re seeing more and more of these types of incidents,” the statement added.
“We are acutely aware they must be addressed and we have drawn up comprehensive plans to do so. There is no quick fix but we will continue to review the way the railway operates in extreme weather and build resilience into all of our plans.”
In a statement on Twitter on Wednesday, Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway for Network Rail, said: “Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this tragic event, particularly the families of those who have lost their lives. The railway in Scotland is often referred to as a family, and it’s one that is hurting today.
“We have teams on site and we will do all we can to support everyone affected. We are working closely with all the relevant authorities to establish the cause of this incident.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told journalists: “I do think it’s probably a very good idea to look at the effect of substantial rainfall on all our vulnerable infrastructure everywhere. And I think that, as I understand there was about a month’s worth of rainfall in a very short period which undoubtedly aggravated the problem there.
“But I think what we’ll have to do is wait and see what the British Transport Police come up with, what exactly they identify as the cause of this derailment, and working with Network Rail, with everybody, make sure that nothing like this happens again.”
Meanwhile, UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps said: “Obviously, there has been some very extreme weather and concerns about landslips; one of the things I’ve done today is convened emergency meetings in order to ensure that we look into that specifically along the line in other locations just to make certain.”
Earlier, Shapps tweeted: “The UK Government will provide every support. My thoughts are with those involved and their families.”
Sturgeon said Wednesday evening it was not possible to give details on what might have caused the accident.
“Of course people will consider the weather conditions overnight and this morning… I think people will understandably ask if that has been a factor. But I think it’s important now that we allow those charged with investigating … to get on with that job,” Sturgeon told journalists.
Condolences from the Queen
The Queen sent a message of condolence to the Lord-Lieutenant of Kincardineshire.
“It was with great sadness that I heard of the train derailment earlier today in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire,” the statement read. “The Duke of Edinburgh, and entire Royal Family, join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who have died and those who have been injured. Our thanks go out to the emergency services for their response and dedication.”
A national transport union has said it took around three hours from the time of the accident for it to be reported. “The accident took place in the Carmont area, south of Stonehaven and was ScotRail’s 06:38 Aberdeen – Glasgow Queen Street train. The derailment was reported at around 09:45am,” it said in a statement.
According to the rail timetable the service should have arrived at Stonehaven at 6:53 a.m.
A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said: “We were alerted at 9.47am on Wednesday August 12 to reports of an incident involving a train near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire.”
CNN’s Niamh Kennedy and Sharon Braithwaite contributed to this report.