A specialist operation to clear the scene of the tragic Stonehaven train derailment has begun.
A 600-tonne crawler crane lifted the first stricken locomotive from the line, which has been closed since the incident at Carmont on August 12.
Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury died after the train derailed in bad weather.
It comes as an interim report into the tragedy was published by Network Rail.
A minute’s silence was held to remember the three men before work started yesterday morning.
Thick orange rigging was secured around the locomotive, and the crane hoisted it high into the air, before lowering it away from the rest of the badly-damaged wreckage of the 6.38am Aberdeen to Glasgow Street Scot Rail service.
Although many tonnes of equipment were used in the careful manoeuvre, a quiet blanketed the rural scene of the derailment at Carmont as the carriage was delicately uplifted from the tracks.
The operation to remove all four of the carriages and two power cars is expected to take several days, depending on weather conditions.
Engineers are on hand to conduct specialist investigations to establish what repairs are required on the track.
A road spanning half-a-mile and temporary bridges have been created to assist machinery to the remote site, which lies around two miles west of Fetteresso Cemetery.
Many emergency services and investigatory bodies are in place in a field near the crash.
Two parallel investigations are currently ongoing, one from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, and a separate inquiry being conducted by the police, the British Transport Police and the Office of Road and Rail.
Once the site has been cleared, engineers will work to assess the damage to the tracks and the nearby bridge, which was also damaged in the fatal derailment.
Until that work has completed, it is not possible to confirm when the line will once again be reopened.
Today, the first section of train is expected to be moved by road to the A90 Stonehaven to Dundee road, and then south towards Glasgow.
Scot Rail’s managing director Alex Hynes said earlier this week: “While we will now begin the process of recovering the carriages and repairing the railway, we do so with a heavy heart.
“We will continue to work closely with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) throughout this recovery process so we can learn from this terrible event and help prevent similar accidents.”
In recent weeks, the remains of the train have been the subject of intense scrutiny by investigators.
Professionals have been assessing the severity of the damage to the carriages and power cars, which have until yesterday lain as they landed following the horrific crash last month.
One of the sections of the train ended up on top of another, another came to a stop upside down, and two others were left down the side of a steep embankment to the side of the train tracks.
A section of bridge parapet, which was struck by the Scot Rail train during the crash, was destroyed.
Most of the train was severely burned.
In nearby Stonehaven, the community is still reeling from last month’s disaster, which came in the aftermath of severe flooding throughout the town.
Emergency service vehicles can still be seen driving through the seaside town daily, to and from the scene of the derailment to the west of the Aberdeenshire community.
Stonehaven resident Ian Brands said yesterday: “It was absolutely shocking when we first heard about it.
“I hope the investigations can find out more about anything that was at fault.
“One surprise for me is that the train was coming back the way. I was surprised it left Stonehaven in the first place in the weather.”
And Margaret Mcewen, who also lives in Stonehaven, said: “It was a real tragedy.
“First of all we had the flooding, and people were only just getting their heads around that when we heard about this derailment.
“The weather was just absolutely horrendous.
“I travel down south a lot, and I know that bit of the track and it’s certainly very twisty.”
Stonehaven and Lower Deeside councillor Dennis Robertson said the community has been overwhelmingly respectful of the ongoing investigations.
He said: “People are very minded that this was a dreadful tragedy which took place, and the circumstances surrounding it were such that it put people into a very sombre place initially.
“But because there has been some movement in terms of trains running from Stonehaven again into Aberdeen, there is a bit of a sense of getting back to some degree of normality.
“However, I think there is still very much a sense of respect, as there were three fatalities and these people were known to many.
“I myself knew Donald through all my various travels.
“As a town, it had a big impact on the community.
“We must respect the fact that there are families involved here who are still grieving, and that is something that I think we all must keep at the forefront of our minds.”
An interim report into the Stonehaven train tragedy has been published by Network Rail.
The report, which was commissioned by UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in the aftermath of the incident, has set out immediate and long-term action required to improve resilience on the route in extreme weather.
The line has been closed since the incident at Carmont on August 12 with investigators seeking to try to piece together the circumstances that led to the tragic event.
The initial findings of the report suggest that after a period of heavy rainfall the train struck a pile of washed-out rock and gravel before derailing.
The interim report assesses the current controls and management of thousands of miles of earthworks – the sloped ground beside railway tracks – and sets out how the industry plans to reduce the risk of landslips on the network in the future.
The report also highlights the need for an increased focus on deploying technology across the rail network to predict failures and the need for investing in better forecasting to enable local decisions for imminent weather events.
Key findings also suggest that industry rules for reporting and responding to adverse rainfall will be improved and strengthened, helping signallers better manage services during bad weather.
Other plans include discussions with meteorologists to understand how real-time information can be better used to inform train operations about unpredictable extreme weather.
Hundreds of sites across the country have been inspected over the last three weeks by engineers, specialist contractors and supplemented by helicopter surveys to identify any significant issues requiring emergency intervention.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The incident at Stonehaven was a tragedy, and my heart goes out to the friends and family of Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie, and Christopher Stuchbury.
“We owe it to those who lost their lives, were injured, and were affected by this incident, to learn and act on every possible lesson to ensure this is never repeated. The independent investigation will enable us to understand exactly what went wrong, and make sure it does not happen again.
“We cannot delay learning the lessons.
“I welcome the work setting out the challenges in adapting our rail infrastructure to cope with increasing extreme weather events caused by climate change. The task is now to overcome those challenges.
“We will use the findings of this interim report to improve, shape and accelerate our work to build a more robust and resilient rail network, so that our railway continues to be one of the safest in the world.”
The Secretary of State is also writing to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Iain Thomas Livingstone, recommending that PC Liam Mercer, one of the first people on scene following the derailment, is commended for his bravery.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “My thoughts remain with the families and friends of the three people who lost their lives, those who were injured and everybody affected by the tragedy at Stonehaven last month.
“We owe it to them, and all our passengers, to make sure we understand what happened and what more we should be doing to reduce the risk of it ever happening again.
“We are all aware that we are increasingly seeing more incidents of severe weather and as the report published today shows, earthworks and drainage infrastructure– some of which are more than 150 years old – prove to be a real challenge as the country experiences more heavy rainfall and flooding.
“Our railway is one of the safest in Europe and tragic accidents are incredibly rare, but something went wrong on 12 August near Stonehaven and it is a stark reminder that we must never take safety for granted.
“We are improving and accelerating our resilience work and will do everything we can to minimise the impact of weather on the safety and reliability of the railway as our climate continues to change.”
Network rail has also commissioned two independent task forces to establish how it can better manage its vast number of cuttings and embankments and its response to severe weather events.
Investigations by the Rail Accident Investigation Brand (RAIB), Office of Rail and Road, British Transport Police and Police Scotland are still underway.
A full report into the incident will be published by Network Rail in due course.