Network Rail has launched two independent task forces, led by world renowned experts, to help it better manage its massive earthworks (cuttings and embankments) portfolio and its understanding and response to severe weather events.

It follows the tragic events near Stonehaven on 12 August, where a train derailment led to driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury sadly losing their lives.

Dame Julia Slingo FRS, former chief scientist at the Met Office and a world-renowned expert in climatology, will lead a weather action task force with the objective of better equipping Network Rail to understand the risk of rainfall to its infrastructure, drawing on the latest scientific developments in monitoring, real-time observations and weather forecasting.

Meanwhile, Lord Robert Mair CBE FREng FRS will spearhead an earthworks management task force to see how Network Rail can improve the management of its massive earthworks portfolio, looking at past incidents, latest technologies and innovations and best practice from across the globe.

Network Rail’s 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 events at Stonehaven on 12 August have shown that more understanding is needed to help mitigate the risks further.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, 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: “The incident at Stonehaven was an absolute tragedy and we must make sure we learn every possible lesson to ensure it is never repeated.

“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.”