A solution may finally have been found to a well known problem railway crossing in the Southern Highlands, where new river work has given walkers an alternative way to access the western side of Ben Lui without setting foot on the train line. Not everyone is entirely chuffed however.
Where the mainline Tyndrum-Oban railway runs between the Forestry Commission (FCS) car park in Glen Lochy (NN239278) and the popular northwestern access route to Ben Lui (Beinn Laoigh) and Beinn a'Chleibh, people have tended to nip over the tracks informally.
In the view of British Transport Police it is a criminal offence to trespass on railways, and walkers have occasionally been challenged here. Though its legal status is debated by outdoor bodies (see UKH news here), and the issue is far from black and white, crossing railways on an ad hoc basis does have obvious safety implications.
Now new flumes installed at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s (SEPA) river gauging station on the Eas Daimh have given walkers a practical alternative to the rail crossing here.
The FCS contacted SEPA to see if anything could be done to improve access under the railway bridge where the weir was controlling water levels. Since SEPA was already planning maintenance work they decided to consider options which would also make access for walkers easier. FCS and Network Rail helped fund the project.
Margaret Miller, a SEPA Engineering Specialist, said:
'We came up with the idea of putting in flumes through the old weir and adding a walkway at the side.'
'People will have to ford the River Lochy, and may still have to wade at the walkway if river levels are high. They do also have to stoop when going under the low railway bridge but, with a little care, the Eas Daimh walkway adds interest to the route while keeping walkers out of danger from the railway.'
However the MCofS have declared themselves 'not entirely chuffed' with the new arrangement. There is still limited headroom in the underpass, they point out (it was 1.45m before the work was carried out), and flood or frozen conditions could still make things risky. Given the relatively small daily number of passing train services, they'd have preffered a level crossing.
While welcoming the new walkway, both Network Rail and British Transport Police were still at pains to remind people that they will seek to prosecute railway trespassers, and that on top of the risk of being hit by a train, getting caught in the act might lead to a fine or even a criminal record.
So while a practical solution - of sorts - may have been found at this particular location, informal crossing points on other hillwalking routes still remain an issue.
On the other side of the access debate, Ramblers Scotland, who have campaigned for better pedestrian access in this location, advise that where no practical alternative exists then walkers should continue to cross railways as they always have done, but that in doing so 'everyone needs to take all necessary precautions to minimise risk to themselves and the operations of the railway'.