The investigation follows an incident in Stonehaven, Scotland, on 12 August, where a train derailment led to driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury being killed when a speeding train hit a landslip on the track.
Lord Robert Mair’s task force has been asked to look at past incidents, latest technologies and innovations and best practice from across the globe to help reduce the risk of such an event being repeated.
Network Rail said that its current safety management system provides a framework for the management of cuttings, embankments, structures and drainage. These have helped the company to limit the effects of rainfall on its infrastructure, but the Stonehaven crash showed that more understanding was needed to mitigate risks further.
Robert Mair is emeritus professor of civil engineering and director of research at the University of Cambridge. He is one of the founding directors of the Geotechnical Consulting Group. He is credited with introducing compensation grouting as a technique for controlling settlement of structures during tunnel construction, used on the Jubilee Line extension project. He was president of the Institution of Civil Engineers 2017-18.
A second task force, led by Dame Julia Slingo, former chief scientist at the Met Office, will look at how Network Rail can better handle the risk of rainfall damage to its infrastructure, drawing on latest scientific developments in monitoring, real-time observations and weather forecasting.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “The Stonehaven tragedy resulted in three people losing their lives – this is a stark reminder that we must never take running a safe railway for granted.
“With more and more extreme weather and tens of thousands of earthwork assets across Great Britain, our challenge is massive. And while we are making record investment in these areas, we have asked world renowned experts, Dame Julia Slingo and Lord Mair, to help us address these issues as effectively as possible, and at pace.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I welcome these taskforces as a step towards understanding the issues involved and have also asked Network Rail for a wider assessment of the impact of poor weather on Britain’s network, with an interim report published in early September.”
Network Rail’s investment in its earthworks and drainage portfolio has increase significantly in recent years with its spend in 2009 to 2014 of £550m, increasing to £952m from 2014 to 2019, and with a budget of £1.3bn from 2019 to 2024.
Lord Robert Mair's earthworks management taskforce will consider the effectiveness of Network Rail’s existing approach to managing drainage and earthworks assets, and whether or not a more integrated, co-ordinated approach is required. It will also form an independent view of the suitability of Network Rail's controls framework – whether it is effective in controlling risks or whether it is too onerous for frontline engineers.