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A combination of heavy rainfall and rapid snow melt caused a landslip that derailed a train at Loch Eilt on the West Highland Line earlier this year.
On Monday January 22, a passenger train travelling between Lochailort and Glenfinnan struck hundreds of tonnes of mud and stone on the line following a landslip, causing the leading vehicle to derail.
The incident occurred following a period of low temperatures and heavy snow.
The five passengers on board were uninjured.
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has been examining the accident and found the landslip originated from a natural hillside above the railway and was triggered by a combination of rainfall and snow melting during a rapid thaw.
The accident report, published on Tuesday (August 7), stated: ‘The leading coach of the two-car train derailed to the left and came to a halt embedded in landslip debris. There were no injuries, but some diesel fuel escaped from the damaged train and was carried by flowing water into a line-side drainage channel.’
According to the report, a protective fence, which had previously been installed near the railway to trap falling rocks, was overwhelmed by the debris.
The RAIB found Network Rail’s processes for managing landslip risk did not take account of the hazard caused by rapidly melting snow.
However, investigators said it was unlikely a greater understanding of snowmelt risk would have avoided the accident at Loch Eilt, but it could avoid or mitigate an accident in other circumstances.
Because of the inaccessibility of the site, pollution control measures were not put in place until later the following day and by this time some diesel fuel had entered nearby Loch Eilt.
The RAIB has recommended Network Rail promote the development of weather forecasting to take account of risk due to snowmelt and ground thaw.
The government agency also highlighted the importance of having effective and verified arrangements in place for responding to environmental emergencies in remote and inaccessible areas.