Scotrail HST crashes near Stonehaven, Aberdeen, killing 3 of the 9 people on board.
Just as RailStaff was closing for press, news came through of the dreadful train crash near Aberdeen. The cause wasn’t immediately apparent, but information started to come out after a couple of days. In addition, railway experts David Shirres, Malcolm Dobell and David Bickell from sister magazine Rail Engineer pored over video and photos to try and work out what could have happened.
The train involved was the 06:38 from Aberdeen to Glasgow. It was a six-car, four coach (plus a Class 43 power car at each end) ‘HST’ train of the type used by ScotRail for its Inter7City services. They have a seating capacity of around 250.
Only nine people were on board this service – three crew (driver, conductor and an off-duty conductor) and six passengers.
What follows is, of course, under investigation. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Office of Rail and Road and British Transport Police will all be involved, along with Network Rail and ScotRail. However, with the help of Rail Engineer, RailStaff has pieced together what could have happened.
The train departed on time and called at Stonehaven as normal. It then continued southwards, past Carmont, until, at around 07:15, it was stopped by a radio message from the signaller at Carmont, who had just received a report from the driver of a train on the Down (northbound) line that a landslip was obstructing the up line between Carmont and Laurencekirk.
After a lengthy wait for further instructions, the driver walked to the rear cab and began to return to Aberdeen, the wrong way up the southbound line, at slow speed.
At Carmont, the train was able to cross over onto the correct northbound line, at which time the driver was able to accelerate up to near normal linespeed – 75mph.
About two miles north of the crossover, the train rounded a corner and encountered a small landslip across the track. It was large enough to derail the leading power car but, by the time that it and a couple of coaches had ploughed through it, the rear power car stayed upright, though also derailed.
The leading power car derailed to the left of the track and continued straight on as the track itself curved gently to the right. This path took it through the parapet of the small bridge over a stream, about 80 metres from the landslip, and then down into the trees beyond. Once it hit the trees, it stopped almost immediately.
At some stage, either when hitting the bridge or when going into the trees, the diesel fuel tank split. This released the fuel which then formed an aerosol with the air and exploded, a phenomenon that had previously been experienced during the accident at Ladbroke Grove in 1999.
The hot blast of this fuel/air mixture igniting caused the black smoke seen in various news reports and also engulfed the front of the train.
Due to the high energy involved in the crash, the sudden stopping of the power car broke its coupling with the other coaches. The first coach came to rest on its roof, having rotated to be at right angles to the track. The second coach also overturned onto its roof and came to rest on the first carriage.
The third coach fell off the track altogether and ended up down the bank, while the fourth coach, which remained upright and still coupled to the rear power car, came to rest on top of the first coach. All wheelsets of the rear power car derailed, but it remained upright.
All of the coaches were of one-piece welded steel monocoque construction and remained largely intact, although the one at the bottom of the pile of other coaches distorted somewhat.
In the aftermath of the crash, the off-duty conductor found she had no telephone signal, so she reportedly had to walk a mile to report the accident. A local witness also called the emergency services.
There are, of course, many unanswered questions, though the on-board forward-facing video and ‘black box’ recorder may answer many of these.
There are some similarities with the UK’s last fatal crash, at Grayrigg on 23 February 2007. A nine-car Pendolino unit travelling at 95mph was derailed as it passed over a set of points. It came to rest 320 metres from the points with eight of its vehicles on the side, or at the bottom, of an embankment. Having hit an OLE structure, the lead vehicle jack-knifed and came to rest side facing backward. Another four vehicles finished on their sides.
There were four crew and at least 105 passengers on board. One passenger in the lead vehicle was fatally injured, two crew members, including the driver, sustained serious injuries and 58 passengers received minor injuries as a result of being thrown around within the vehicles or being hit by objects.
The big difference is that the Pendolino came to a halt over a distance of about 320 metres, sliding down a grassy bank and only hitting one signal structure as it took around 13 seconds to stop moving. At Stonehaven, the train, travelling only a little slower, hit the bridge within 80 metres and came to a complete halt in under 150 metres. The deceleration was therefore much higher. Thank goodness there were so few people on the train!
This is all speculation, based purely on photographic evidence. No doubt, this will all come out over the coming months. RailStaff, Rail Engineer and all at Rail Media extend their heartfelt sympathies to all of those involved, particularly those who lost loved ones.