LONDON (AP) — A British rail operator was fined 6.7 million pounds ($8.4 million) Friday after pleading guilty to safety failures that led to a derailment that killed three people and injured six others in Scotland three years ago.
Network Rail was punished after admitting in High Court in Aberdeen, Scotland, that several lapses endangered passengers and rail workers when extreme rainfall washed rocks and gravel over the tracks and caused the train to derail and topple down a hill.
Train driver Brett McCullough, 45, conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62, were killed in the Aug. 12, 2020 crash near the coastal town of Stonehaven.
“Very few people in the north east of Scotland will ever forget the images of the carriages,” Judge Hugh Matthews said as he delivered his sentence. “No penalty I can impose will come close to compensating those whose lives have been touched by this tragedy. The only disposal I have is a fine.”
Peter Gray, the lawyer for Network Rail said the tragedy shook the operator “to its core.”
“On behalf of Network Rail, I offer the deepest and most profound sympathies to the families,” Gray said. “And to the injured, the deepest and heartfelt regret.”
The sentence came the day after loved ones of the victims and a survivor of the crash provided poignant statements about the impact on their lives and and blamed the rail company for its failings.
“On that day in 2020, our lives were ripped apart,” Diane Stuchbury said about her husband’s death, which occurred on their wedding anniversary. “He and I have been robbed of a future together as a family.”
Stuchbury had boarded the train bound from Aberdeen to Glasgow in hopes of getting a connection to his home near Edinburgh after his train was canceled due to exceptional rainfall that dumped nearly a month’s worth of precipitation in three hours.
Network Rail, which is government-owned and responsible for the U.K.’s train tracks, admitted it failed to make sure a drainage had been safely rebuilt and did not slow the train even after what a prosecutor described as “biblical” rains and slides along the tracks had forced the train to turn back to Aberdeen before reaching Glasgow.
McCullough was driving just below the posted speed of 75 mph (120 kph) when he asked a signaler if he needed to slow down and was told, “Eh no, everything’s fine,” Prosecutor Alex Prentice said.
By the time McCullough pulled the emergency brake, it was too late.
The ScotRail train careened off the tracks after striking the rocks.
“There was a strange noise like metal dragging along metal,” a 32-year-old woman passenger who survived told the court, saying it felt like the train was hydroplaning. “I will never forget that noise.”
She was thrown from the train as it tumbled and knocked out. When she regained consciousness, she was on the side of the tracks, battered and bloody. The carriage she had been in was crushed.
“I don’t know why I survived,” she said. “But I feel lucky every day that I did.”