Grant Shapps: Too soon to say if cutbacks led to fatal rail crash

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has claimed it is “far too soon” to say whether cutbacks to Network Rail contributed to the fatal Aberdeenshire train crash.

The minister visited the “horrendous” scene of the incident near Stonehaven on Thursday, where three people died and six were injured when carriages went off the track amid heavy rainfall on Wednesday morning.

When cost-cutting plans for the infrastructure operator were announced in 2017, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes warned it will “endanger passengers’ lives”.

Asked whether this latest tragedy had proven him correct, Mr Shapps said: “I think it’s far too soon to jump to conclusions about what’s happened here.

“My observation is that a flash flood seems to wreaked havoc at the scene behind us.

“Rail, in general, has an enormous budget – £46 billion – over what’s called a controlled period.

“It’s record sums of money, we’ve never spent more on our railways. But I don’t want to get into speculation, let’s find the facts.”

He added that the UK had the “safest railways in Europe” and that it had been 13 years since a similar incident had taken place in the country.

Network Rail was warned about its resilience to severe weather just four weeks before the Aberdeenshire derailment.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

A health and safety report by the Office of Rail and Road noted a spike in landslips, demonstrating the “vulnerability” of the railways.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch has launched a probe into the incident.

Mr Shapps has ordered the infrastructure operator to carry out a resilience check within days and then a full report about the whole UK network, with interim details to him by September.

He also said he spoke with Pc Liam Mercer, the first officer on the scene, and commended him for his bravery.

The minister added: “It’s a horrendous scene. I’ve been up into the helicopter to see it from above.

“To see it with your own eyes gives you the full extent of what appears to have happened yesterday morning and my heart just goes out to the friends and family of the people who’ve been caught up in this horrendous accident.”