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The tragic events which unfolded on Wednesday, 12th August in Carmount, Aberdeenshire following the derailment of a passenger train have left many questioning how safe Scotland’s railways are. The railway infrastructure is, in normal circumstances, relied upon by thousands of people across Scotland on a daily basis. The railways in Scotland have been regarded as one of the safest across Europe with the last death prior to this event occurring in 1994.

At present, the exact circumstances of the how the derailment occurred are unknown and investigations are ongoing with the appropriate industry bodies. In the coming weeks and months, more information will become available regarding the events which have unfolded. The initial findings of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch has found that the cause of the derailment was a landslide on the track. The train struck the landslide before colliding with a bridge parapet causing three carriages of the six carriages to fall down an embankment. The terrible accident resulted in three people losing their lives and six people being injured.

In the wake of the incident, Network Rail, the managers of the infrastructure of the railways across the UK, have launched a series of checks on higher risk earth works. The government have also asked they review their resilience and management of extreme weather in order to prevent an accident like this ever happening again.

Where fault lies for the events of last Wednesday are yet unknown however through the various investigations which shall take place, it would be expected that the root cause of this event shall be determined. It would also be expected that the necessary changes are made to prevent an incident like this occurring in the future.  

As well as industry body investigations into the cause of the accident, the accident is likely to be the subject of a Fatal Accident Inquiry under the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016. The purpose of the Inquiry would be to determine the following:

  1. when and where the deaths occurred;
  2. when and where any accident resulting in the deaths occurred;
  3. the cause or causes of the deaths;
  4. the cause or causes of any accident resulting in the deaths;
  5. any precautions which -

i. could reasonably have been taken, and

ii. had they been taken, might realistically have resulted in the deaths, or any accident resulting in the deaths, being avoided;

f. any defects in any system of working which contributed to the deaths or any accident resulting in the deaths; and

g. any other facts which are relevant to the circumstances of the deaths.

The purpose of any Inquiry is always fact finding and lesson learning therefore in holding a Fatal Accident Inquiry, this shall provide the families of those involved in the accident, along with the public, answers as to why this accident happened and what steps have been taken to ensure it does not happen again.

When adverse weather occurs, the public will now need reassurance that the railway networks are a safe way to travel. The only way to do this will be for rigorous investigations to take place and for lessons to be learned by all involved.  

Blog by Eilish Lindsay, Dundee Solicitor

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