Community leaders, politicians and union chiefs have spoken of their shock and heartbreak after Scotland’s worst rail disaster in nearly 30 years claimed three lives.
The early-morning service from Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street had turned back south of Stonehaven after encountering a landslip on the line following stormy weather.
British Transport Police said “despite the best efforts of paramedics”, three people were pronounced dead at the scene.
The train’s driver, Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and a passenger died in the crash.
Six people were taken to hospital to be treated for injuries, which are not believed to be serious
The death toll means the incident is the worst to have happened on Scotland’s railway since 1991, when four died in an incident at Newton in South Lanarkshire.
There is a real sense of shock and bewilderment at what’s happened.”
A local church minister urged the community to rally round and support those affected by the tragedy – and called on churchgoers to pray for the victims and their families.
Andrew Morrison, from Arbuthnott, Bervie and Kinneff Church, said: “There is a real sense of shock and bewilderment at what’s happened. You think it’s something which will never happen in your area.
“We need to have open hearts, minds and arms for the people who have been affected by this terrible incident.
“This community has been absolutely wonderful in the past when it has come to rallying round those in need, and I have confidence they will do so again.”
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald described the event as a “grim day” for the area.
He said: “It is a long time since anything like this happened on the railway and it is a real shock.
“The driver, by turning the train round, was clearly doing everything he could to keep the passengers safe.
“It is a really tragic incident and the emergency services have done a magnificent job in really difficult circumstances.
“This is a grim day for the community.”
That fatal derailments are so rare only deepens the sense of shock and sadness about those who lost their lives and were injured yesterday morning. Headed to Stonehaven to thank emergency services, ensure every measure is taken and that each lesson is learnt from this tragedy.
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) August 13, 2020
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he held emergency meetings on the derailment and is liaising with Network Rail Scotland and ScotRail.
He plans to visit the scene today and told the BBC: “My thoughts go out to the families, the friends, all those who have been involved in what’s happened today.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also tweeted: “I am saddened to learn of the very serious incident in Aberdeenshire and my thoughts are with all of those affected. My thanks to the emergency services at the scene.”
The Queen has sent a message of condolence to the Lord-Lieutenant of Kincardineshire, following the train crash near Stonehaven. pic.twitter.com/IIfOpjOBFH
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) August 12, 2020
And the Queen has sent a message of condolence following the rail crash in Stonehaven, saying “it was with great sadness that I heard of the train derailment” and that the entire Royal Family “join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who have died and those who have been injured”.
The RMT trade union said one of the others who had died was the train’s conductor – one of its members.
It paid tribute to those who had passed away in the incident, and said it would assist with the inquiry into the cause.
Safety on the railway has to be an absolute priority and this union will be working with the various agencies to establish the facts behind this disaster which has sent shock waves right throughout our industry. "
— RMT (@RMTunion) August 12, 2020
Senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The confirmation that there have been three fatalities in the Stonehaven derailment, including the driver and one of our conductor members, is the most dreadful news and this trade union’s thoughts are with the families, colleagues and friends of those who have lost their lives in this tragedy.
“RMT will unite to provide support, assistance and solidarity at this distressing time. Safety on the railway has to be an absolute priority and this union will be working with the various agencies to establish the facts behind this disaster which has sent shock waves right throughout our industry.”
Phil Mills-Bishop, chairman of Stonehaven’s twinning committee, said the community’s partner towns had been in touch to offer their support.
He said: “I got an early morning call from Acheres, our twinning partner which is a suburb of Paris. The president of the Stonehaven-Acheres group told me that she’d read it on the news, I was surprised it had got out onto the international news already.
“She expressed concern, then I got a flood of posts from our Athens partner in Athens Alabama, and they were offering help right away.
“I think the scale of the crash was uncertain in the early morning, and how many might have lost their lives or how many might have been injured, but certainly both our twinning partners in Acheres and Athens were very concerned and sending sympathy and support.”
Mearns councillor and Provost of Aberdeenshire Bill Howatson added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody involved in the terrible train derailment near Stonehaven.
“This is a harrowing time for all concerned and, on behalf of the council and all Aberdeenshire residents, I would like to thank the emergency services for their swift response to this tragic incident and their ongoing efforts at the scene.”
Councillor Sarah Dickinson attended and helped provide assurance.
She spoke of the “heartening” response of the community to support those affected by the derailment and the flooding throughout the town centre.
She said: “My thoughts go out to everyone affected.
“The derailment south of Stonehaven is tragic and my thoughts and prayers are with each affected individual and their families.
“I am very grateful to the emergency services for the work they are doing in difficult circumstances as well.”
As news of the tragic incident broke, there was an outpouring of support and sympathy from across the north-east.
NHS Grampian transformed Midstocket Church in Aberdeen into a relief centre for families worried about their loved ones.
Chaplains acted as a point of contact between Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the loved ones gathered, as due to Covid-19, visitor restrictions are in place at the hospital.
The space was described as “the first point of contact for friends and family” and a dedicated phone number was quickly set up. It was stood down last night.
Charity the Railway Mission also sent their own dedicated railway chaplain, Graham Whitehead, to support staff affected by the crash.
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie visited the crash site, and said he was “so grateful” to the emergency services for their response.
— Lord Provost Abdn (@LordProvostAbdn) August 12, 2020
Meanwhile, Aberdeen’s Lord Provost Barney Crockett said: “On behalf of the City of Aberdeen I extend my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the families of those lost in this terrible accident.
“Our thoughts are also very much with those injured.
“The north-east of Scotland is a tight-knit community and the impact of today’s derailment will be felt across the region.
“Hopefully we can draw strength from each other in the difficult days ahead, especially those most affected.”
Dennis Robertson, a Stonehaven councillor, said it was a “terrible day for our community.”
He added: “However, our thoughts are with those who have been affected by today’s dreadful accident.”
Chief Inspector Brian McAleese, of the British Transport Police, said: “This is a tragic incident and first and foremost our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have very sadly died.
“I would like to reassure the public that this was not a busy service, and from CCTV inquiries and witness statements we believe all passengers have been accounted for.
“However, once the area has been made safe then a full and thorough search will be conducted, which is likely to take some time.
“I know many people will understandably have questions, and we will be working closely alongside the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and the Office of Rail and Road to establish the full circumstances of how the train came to derail.”