An off-duty train conductor who walked down a rail track after clambering from the wreckage of the train has been praised for their “outstanding” efforts.
The passenger was travelling on the Scotrail 6.38am train when it derailed following heavy rain in the area.
She scrambled out of the carriage and headed down the track to the nearest signal box and raised the alarm at about 9.40am.
The worker dialled 999 when she reached the signal box with her calls answered by Constable Liam Mercer and a colleague, who ran towards the carriages which were on fire and started evacuating people.
Emergency service crews were called out and the National Control Centre closed the line to prevent further disaster.
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Investigations are continuing at the site to determine the cause of the crash and inspections will now be carried out across parts of the country’s rail network deemed at risk of flash flooding.
Politicians visited the scene of the tragedy close to Stonehaven yesterday where they met some of the emergency workers involved in the rescue.
And Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson revealed how the off-duty train conductor, who was not named, sparked the rescue.
Mr Matheson also praised the incredible response from the emergency services.
He said: “It just demonstrates the courage and determination they had to try and help to deal with the incident as effectively as possible.
“I’ve been quite literally humbled by the way in which the emergency response teams dealt with this issue, and how railway engineers helped to manage this incident over the course of 24 hours.
“They’ve been absolutely outstanding, and the actions of this particular member of staff demonstrates their professionalism and dedication.”
Due to the location of the crash and the weather conditions, first responders were pushed to the limit as they tried to get people to safety.
Four firefighters were also injured after being hit by a vehicle as they worked. Two were treated at the scene while their two colleagues were taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with ankle and shoulder injuries. All have since been released from hospital.
Mr Matheson said: “As you can imagine, it was a very difficult scene to pinpoint exactly where the incident had taken place and then to find a way to access the site, so from a local policing view they were able to respond to that very quickly.
“There were 18 fire appliances here alone – a very significant response.
“I heard first-hand from the first responders that they were struck by the coordination on show by all of the emergency services in handling such a complex incident.”
It is believed the weather may have played a factor in the incident, with about 1.4 inches of rain falling on Stonehaven over a 24-hour period.
One carriage still remained down a steep embankment yesterday.
He didn’t hesitate, and straight away started helping people out of the train.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps describing the actions of PC Mercer
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also praised the work of those involved in the rescue risking their own safety in difficult conditions and terrain at the site.
Mr Shapps highlighted the work of PC Mercer who was first on the scene with a fellow police officer.
He said: “He said to me that his training kicked in straight away. He had never seen anything like this before for real, but he had trained for it and from all I’ve heard he didn’t hesitate, and straight away started helping people out of the train.
“It’s just extraordinary and humbling. This was a terrible incident that turned out to be a tragedy, and not to flinch and to just get on with his job was just extraordinary.
“What I’ve been very impressed about is the way in which everyone has integrated and worked together.”
The UK government minister extended his sympathies to all those involved after viewing the wreckage from a helicopter flight.
He added: “I had seen the photographs before, but to see for yourself first-hand absolutely brings it home, and my thoughts are with the friends of families of those who lost their lives yesterday, and the half a dozen people who were injured.
“Thank goodness there weren’t more people on board.”
He said it was “far too soon” to say if cutbacks to Network Rail could have contributed to the fatal crash.
He warned against jumping to conclusions, but added: “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.”
Mr Shapps has ordered Network Rail to carry out an urgent resilience review of areas affected by recent poor weather, and issue a report this month.
He has also requested a wider assessment of the impact of the weather on the entire rail network, resulting in an interim report by September 1 and a final analysis in the autumn.
The agency will use in-house engineers, specialist contractors and helicopter surveys to assess dozens of sites with “similar characteristics” to the stretch of railway near Stonehaven.
It will also work with meteorologists to strengthen the information it receives about flash flooding while its engineers are reviewing the remote monitoring of high-risk sites with motion sensors and CCTV to test whether it can be improved.
Firefighters who were at the scene will be offered counselling.
Although the four firefighters who were injured are now at home, the Fire Brigade Union’s regional secretary for Scotland, Denise Christie, said it was a traumatic call for all involved.
She said: “We will be making sure the firefighters get support.
“It was a particularly hazardous and difficult scene and our FBU north area officials are assisting and supporting our members through this traumatic time and will continue to do that for as long as it takes.”