An off-duty conductor climbed out of the wreckage of a derailed ScotRail train and walked a mile to the nearest signal box to raise the alarm, it emerged last night.
The unnamed staff member managed to escape a carriage and run to alert operators after the service derailed on Wednesday morning close to Carmont Railway station, near Stonehaven.
Passenger Chris Stuchbury, 62, was killed alongside train driver Brett McCullough, 45, and conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, in the horror crash.
Six others were rushed to hospital and four firefighters were injured while helping in the aftermath of the derailment.
Mobile phone signal in the area is notoriously bad and this is thought to be the main reason the off-duty employee had to walk to get help – prompting the railway authorities to immediately shut the line.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday said he understood the conductor managed to escape the train and alert operators, while a member of the public raised the alarm having seen smoke billowing from the trees.
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
Flames are pictured coming out of one of the carriages following the accident near Stonehaven yesterday morning
With the police notified around 9.40am, it was not long before the first responders were on the scene.
Police Constable Liam Mercer and a colleague received one of the earliest messages that something had happened on a 'flood-hit' line in Kincardineshire.
The PC spoke to and was praised by Mr Shapps, who visited the site of the train wreck to see the damage for himself.
Mr Shapps said: 'PC Liam Mercer answered a call and along with a colleague were the first emergency responders.
'He walked towards the scene and clearly being there first with that scene in front of you – he just said to me, his training kicked in right away.
'He did not hesitate and got involved straight away and started helping people.
'It's extraordinary and humbling. And there are many others like him. I pay tribute to the brilliant work they have all done.'
Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson, also on a visit to the derailment site, praised the 'courage and determination' of the off-duty conductor.
Three died and several others were also taken to hospital, including four firefighters who were injured while helping to deal with the derailment
Network Rail announced that engineers will carry out detailed inspections of dozens of high-risk trackside slopes with similar characteristics to the site of the Aberdeenshire crash
He said he too had been humbled by the response of the emergency services.
The train slipped from the tracks after hitting a landslip in the area, which had recently been hit by major flooding.
On Thursday, track operator Network Rail announced that engineers will carry out detailed inspections of dozens of high-risk trackside slopes with similar characteristics to the site of the Aberdeenshire crash.
Meanwhile, during his visit to the site, Mr Shapps claimed it was 'far too soon' to say whether cutbacks to Network Rail contributed to derailment.
An annual health and safety report by rail safety watchdog, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), said there were six times more flooding events on Britain's railways in 2019-20 than during the previous 12 months
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and the Scottish Government's Michael Matheson (pictured here arriving) both visited the area on Thursday to meet members of the emergency services
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps speaks to the media during a visit to the scene of the derailment near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
An annual health and safety report by rail safety watchdog, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), said there were six times more flooding events on Britain's railways in 2019-20 than during the previous 12 months.
It also noted a spike in landslips, demonstrating the 'vulnerability' of the network, and criticised Network Rail's plans to address climate change and extreme weather, which it said were 'not keeping up with the frequency and severity of these events'.
Speaking when the report was published last month, HM chief inspector of railways Ian Prosser said: 'The last year saw significant increases in flooding, earthwork failures and trains striking trees on the line, which had a big impact on the number of delays on the network.
'It is so important that the sector employs best practice if we are to meet all the pressures on the network in the future and to make sure the railway plays its full role on climate change and reducing carbon emissions.'
In its response, Network Rail said the railway was designed for a temperate climate and is 'challenged' by prolonged periods of high and low temperatures, storms and floods.
It added: 'Our climate is changing and we're seeing more and more of these types of incidents.
'We are acutely aware they must be addressed and we have drawn up comprehensive plans to do so.
'There is no quick fix but we will continue to review the way the railway operates in extreme weather and build resilience into all of our plans.'