NETWORK Rail has admitted it cannot afford to strengthen all “sub-standard” trackside slopes, despite the fatal Stonehaven crash.

In an interim report into last month’s derailment, which killed three people, the Government-owned company said it is improving the management of its infrastructure but “we expect there will still be earthwork failures as a result of challenging weather”.

“Many failures” will be prevented and areas with “the highest risk of failure and consequence” are targeted for action, Network Rail insisted. It added: “It is simply not economically viable to strengthen all sub-standard infrastructure slopes.”

Network Rail said it is working with meteorologists to understand how real-time information can improve operational responses to severe weather.

It is also investigating the use of technology and data to enable it to make better decisions about where action is most urgently required.

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The Department for Transport (DfT), which commissioned the report, said that from 2019-24 Network Rail is investing £1.3 billion in strengthening the railway’s resilience to extreme weather. This is compared with £550 million from 2009-14 and £952m from 2014-19.

A minute’s silence was held yesterday ahead of the recovery of the first carriage from the site. The interim report found the train “struck a pile of washed-out rock and gravel before derailing”, the DfT said.

Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury were killed when a ScotRail service came off the tracks following heavy rain on August 12. Network Rail has since conducted 584 inspections of sites which share some of the characteristics of the location, including with the help of helicopter surveys.

No significant issues “requiring emergency intervention” were found, although defects that have “deteriorated and require action sooner than originally planned” were identified at “around 1% of the sites”.

Network Rail has introduced emergency changes to the way signallers should act during severe weather or reports of unstable ground.

A preliminary report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) found that, following reports of a landslip, the signaller cleared the train to travel back in the direction it had come from. After reaching speeds of 73mph it struck a different landslip and derailed. Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “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.

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“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.”

Kevin Lindsay, the organiser in Scotland for train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “This report raises rather more questions than answers.

“Why, for instance, has it taken the loss of three lives for the Tory Government at Westminster to ask for a report of this nature from Network Rail, when those of us who work in the rail industry have known about these problems – and called for action to put them right – for many years?”

Shapps is writing to Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone to recommend that Constable Liam Mercer, one of the first officers on the scene at Stonehaven, is commended for his bravery.

The first of the derailed carriages is expected to be removed from the site on Thursday.