Dalwhinnie rail crossing row rumbles on

© Dan Bailey

A dispute over the locking of a level crossing that has been used for decades by walkers and cyclists to access the Ben Alder hills has attracted lots of attention in recent days, after Network Rail closed the route to public access late July, without consulting either the local community or outdoor groups. CCTV cameras have since been installed at the crossing in Dalwhinnie.

Access to the best side of Ben Alder is currently that bit more fiddly  © Dan Bailey
Access to the best side of Ben Alder is currently that bit more fiddly
© Dan Bailey

A Network Rail spokesperson said: "This crossing is not an access point for the general public, and increased usage by the public creates additional risks to their safety from passing trains. As a result we have locked the crossing to prevent unauthorised use. CCTV has also been installed to help monitor who is using the crossing.

"An alternative crossing point is available a mile further along the line for those seeking to access the hills on the other side of the railway."

However the track from Dalwhinnie to Rannoch Moor is a historic route that long pre-dates the railway, point out campaigners. Core paths lead up to the railway on either side, and while an alternative means for crossing the line is available there are concerns that the closure, without warning or consultation, could set a precedent for the many rail crossings found elsewhere in the Scottish hills, threatening to undermine public access.  

"We consider this closure to be disrespectful of the local community and wider public interest and to show a complete misunderstanding of the basis on which access is taken in Scotland" say Ramblers Scotland. 

"Where access rights apply on land on either side of the railway, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code requires landowners, in this case Network Rail, to take account of such access rights and to facilitate any customary access that is needed to exercise those rights.

"We understand that vehicular access to the local estate - which supports public access - will continue over the crossing so, if this can be achieved safely, it seems obvious to us that non motorised should also continue for walkers, cyclists and everyone in the local community."

Since launching the petition, campaigners have been speaking with local MSPs in the hope of getting a meeting with Network Rail to discuss the closure, and while Network Rail have since apologised for the lack of consultation, they are currently standing firm on the decision.

Gates locked, cameras installed  © Ramblers Scotland
Gates locked, cameras installed
© Ramblers Scotland

Ramblers Scotland's director Brendan Paddy recently joined representatives from the community council and Ben Alder Estate to discuss the issue on BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors programme - listen here.

A petition calling for the crossing to be reopened, launched last week by several outdoor organisations including Ramblers Scotland and Mountaineering Scotland, has reached over 5500 signatures in a few days.

"We're hugely grateful to the thousands of people who have already signed our joint petition, just days since it launched" said a spokesperson for Ramblers Scotland. 

"The huge early response shows the depth of feeling on this issue, from a diverse range of local and national voices. We hope that Network Rail will reflect upon its high-handed actions, and reopen the gates immediately.

"We encourage many more people to help us stand up for our hard-won access rights by signing and sharing the petition – as every signature helps us make a stronger case for reopening the crossing."

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