The heartbroken sister of the hero driver killed in one of Britain’s worst train crashes last night blamed ScotRail bosses for his death.
Salina McCullough said her devastated family were still waiting for answers – and questioned why her brother, Brett, 45, was sent out to drive a train on the morning after thunderstorms and torrential rain had caused flooding and landslides across Scotland.
The 6.38am from Aberdeen to Glasgow derailed just south of Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, after ploughing into a landslide. Father-of-three Mr McCullough, train conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62, all died in the tragedy.
Last night, Ms McCullough blamed ScotRail for their deaths, saying: ‘They killed him – not the landslide, I know it in my heart.
‘During one of the worst storms to hit Scotland, they sent my brother out to drive a beast of a train, for only six passengers.
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VICTIM: Brett McCullough, 45, ‘loved his job’, especially meeting ‘wonderful’ passengers such as Queen’s Brian May
The Scotrail train after it derailed near Stonehaven on Wednesday, killing three people
Smoke billows from the train after it derailed on Wednesday near Stonehaven, Kincardineshire
The damaged bridge the train collided with after coming off the tracks near Stonehaven
‘I wish Brett had refused, but that wasn’t in his nature. He would never let anyone down.’
‘Someone needs to be in jail for this, I won’t stop fighting for it’
In a stark warning to ScotRail, Ms McCullough added: ‘I am holding you responsible for my brother’s death. Someone needs to be in jail for this – I won’t stop fighting for that, as long as I have breath in my body.’
Initial findings released on Friday by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) show that after passing through Stonehaven, the train was stopped at Carmont, when the signaller sent a radio warning about a landslip farther south.
Mr McCullough was then told to turn back towards Aberdeen but had travelled only around 1.4 miles (2.25km) when the train – made up of two engines and four carriages – struck a landslip covering the northbound line and derailed.
Salina McCullough, sister of train driver Brett McCullough, who died when his Scotrail train hit a landslide on Wednesday
The lead engine and a passenger carriage plunged down a wooded embankment before coming to a halt and bursting into flames.
It has emerged that an earlier train due to travel on the same route had been cancelled, with an industry website claiming that this was down to flooding. It has also been reported that the Carmont area had experienced similar landslips in 2018 and 2002.
Ms McCullough said: ‘I hear he was instructed by management to turn back, after coming close to a landslide, but was then told to take another route, which ultimately led him to his death in the most horrific way.
‘Why wasn’t he instructed to remain in place until help arrived? You need to come up with an honest answer. I don’t know who is responsible for those decisions, yet, I’m sure you are being protected. But you’ll not be able to hide out for ever. We will be taking you down, it’s just a matter of time.’
There were nine people on the ScotRail service at the time, including an off-duty conductor, Nicola Whyte, who has been hailed a hero for walking around three miles after the crash to the nearest signal box to raise the alarm.
The RAIB has begun investigating the sequence of events and the actions of those involved, the operating procedures applied, and the management of earthworks and drainage in the area. A separate investigation instructed by the Lord Advocate will be carried out by British Transport Police, Police Scotland and the industry’s regulator, the Office of Rail and Road. Ms McCullough said her heart also went out to the families of Mr Dinnie and Mr Stuchbury, adding: ‘I understand the pain you are in, I am down there with you at rock bottom. We share this grief, you are not alone.’
‘I understand the pain… we are at rock bottom’
Paying an emotional tribute to her brother, Ms McCullough said: ‘He made people feel good, feel important and brought a ray of sunshine to whoever he met. He was loved by everyone he came into contact with.’
The siblings, who also have a brother, Glenn, grew up in Kent before Mr McCullough settled in Scotland. After a varied early career, he joined British Gas as a service engineer.
Victims: Train conductor Donald Dinnie (left) and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62, (right)
Ms McCullough said: ‘He took a golfing trip to Scotland one weekend in 2006 and returned to tell us that he’d met this beautiful Scottish lass, Stephanie, whom he would marry in 2008 on the banks of Loch Tay, at Kenmore.
‘I remember him beaming with pride that day when he wore a kilt to honour his family and home.’
‘RAY OF SUNSHINE’: Brett McCullough ran the London Marathon in 2012, raising money for the British Heart Foundation
Mr McCullough switched job to Scottish Gas shortly after moving to Scotland to be with his future wife but then, in 2012, started a two-year training course with ScotRail.
His sister, who now lives in North Carolina, in the US, said: ‘He loved this job, getting to see such beautiful countryside and meeting some wonderful people along the way, including Brian May from Queen, who Brett met one day when he was travelling on his train.
‘He described him as a ‘lovely man’. How fitting that people are using those words to describe my brother right now.’
She said Stephanie ‘was the love of his life’, adding: ‘ If there were ever two people that were perfect for one another it was them. They shared everything together, they were best friends and supported and appreciated each other on a daily basis.
‘Their three children always came first and they created a life around their care and happiness. They were Brett’s world and it was a rare occasion that they ever left them with anyone to go out. When my parents visited they would take an evening out for themselves but that was all. He was all about doing everything together as a family.
‘Brett was a totally hands-on dad and he would frequently take them to adventure parks like Legoland and Disney. They loved those places and I’m sure Brett had the most fun of all since he was such a kid at heart.
‘He absolutely loved Scotland and, wanting a special place to raise his family, he settled in Stonehaven. He loved the open space, the beauty, and the clean air; he loved nothing more than to be in his garden splashing around with the children and having water fights.’
Ms McCullough said there was ‘not a moment’ she wasn’t proud of her younger brother, especially his achievements as a father and husband, as well as running the London Marathon in 2012 to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. He joked it was his ‘diet of beer and fish and chips that got him through the 26-mile run.
She added: ‘I hope everyone honours my brother as the ‘Braveheart’ he is. My parents, Brett’s wife and children and my brother Glenn and I are broken, as are his niece, Isabel, nephew Henry and sister-in-law, Claire. Our lives changed forever in a heartbeat and nothing will ever be the same. We will learn to put one foot in front of the other again, to keep moving and experience the positives in life, and we will attempt to look forward at some stage, but it will be a slow process and one that will never come to fruition.’
She said Mr McCullough’s daughter Annabel, 13, plans to make her father proud by pursuing a career caring for animals, after a decision by the family some time ago to become vegetarians.
Ms McCullough said she would ‘continue on for Brett because there is no alternative’, adding: ‘We will support his wife and children in raising their family in the way he would have wanted.’
An off-duty conductor climbed out of the wreckage of a derailed ScotRail train (pictured on Wednesday) and walked a mile to the nearest signal box to raise the alarm
His life-long friend Simon Dyos added: ‘My life has been enriched by knowing Brett. He was the brother I never had and the best of best friends. Why the best people in life always get taken away too early, I will never understand. It has been a pleasure and an honour to know him.’
A ScotRail spokesman said: ‘Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this tragic event.
‘Multiple independent investigations are under way to establish exactly what happened.
‘It would be inappropriate for us to comment further until those investigations are concluded.’
Almost 40 landslides last year on rail network
By Gareth Rose, Scottish Political Editor for the Mail on Sunday
Rail chiefs were warned about the safety of tracks weeks before the landslip which caused a train to derail and kill three people.
Flooding on the rail line before the derailment tragedy
A watchdog report published last month states that, after a number of incidents where bad weather had caused rocks and earth to block the rails, only ‘good fortune’ had saved trains from coming off the tracks.
The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) urged Network Rail, which manages more than 20,000 miles of track across the UK, to assign an Extreme Weather Action Team to take action to prevent future disasters.
On Wednesday, three men died after a train derailed near Stonehaven, Kincardineshire.
There are fears about the threat from landslips to the rail network. Figures show there were 38 incidents last year, one fewer than the three previous years combined. Eight of last year’s landslips occurred in Scotland.
There are also concerns about the impact climate change is now having.
Gareth Dennis, railway engineer and writer, told the BBC yesterday: ‘We don’t spend enough on our transport infrastructure, but particularly sustainable transport infrastructure like railways. So keeping pace is a real challenge.
‘Climate change is resulting in the UK having more extremes of rainfall, more extremes of high temperatures… getting dried out, desiccated in the heat, and then we have these extreme, short periods of very high rainfall, and it’s pushing the earthworks beyond their capabilities.’
The ORR is now part of a joint investigation – alongside Police Scotland and British Transport Police – into the tragedy, and will report to the Lord Advocate.
Yesterday it would not comment whether the warnings highlighted in its report in July had been heeded by Network Rail.
However, last month, the ORR raised fresh concerns. In a report, it said: ‘A persistently wet winter, culminating in several storms in February 2020 resulted in a number of earthwork failures.
‘None of these incidents led to a derailment or other serious incidents, although in some cases there was an element of good fortune involved.’
Colin Smyth, Scottish Labour transport spokesman, said: ‘It is vital there is a thorough inquiry.’
An ORR spokesman said: ‘There are increasing risks from extreme weather which are well known in the industry and our recent annual health and safety report highlighted that there have been six times more flooding events and a trebling of earthworks failures on Britain’s railways in the last year.’
Since the incident, Network Rail has inspected dozens of higher-risk trackside slopes, mobilised its Extreme Weather Action Team, and held talks with meteorologists about how to respond quickly to flash flooding.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: ‘As more detail emerges, we will push on with our plans to build even more resilience into our railway.’
TRAIN HITS CAR ON RAILWAY LINE IN RENFREWSHIRE
A motorist cheated death yesterday after his car veered onto a railway line and was hit by a train.
Incredibly, he walked away from the mangled wreckage on the line near Johnstone, Renfrewshire.
Witness Susan Oliver, 32, said: ‘I’m amazed he was able to walk away.’
No one on the train was hurt in the smash, which took place around 6.10am.
A motorist’s car veered onto a railway line and was hit by a train on the line near Johnstone in Renfrewshire yesterday