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Fight goes on to restore access at Dalwhinnie level crossing


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Danny Carden of Ramblers Scotland looks at the ongoing dispute over access to Ben Alder via the locked level crossing at Dalwhinnie

The level crossing gives access to a vast area of wild land including Ben Alder.
The level crossing gives access to a vast area of wild land including Ben Alder.

Network Rail is under widespread pressure to unlock gates at Dalwhinnie level crossing which gives access to a historic route to lochs, glens and hills including Ben Alder.

Rail bosses severed the popular route without consultation last summer. They cited safety concerns, which campaigners say are unproven and overstated.

The unilateral decision sparked shock and criticism from residents, businesses, landowners, outdoor groups, MSPs and local authorities.

Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy said: “We continue to urge Network Rail to reconsider its unacceptable decision to sever this historic route without any advance consultation.

“Sadly, shutting the crossing has in fact made the crossing less safe, as we know that people continue to climb over the locked gates.

“Network Rail’s signage points to an underpass a mile away by road. But this route offers inadequate parking and creates an unattractive and lengthy diversion for residents and visitors arriving on foot, by car or, ironically, by rail.”

Last year more than 9000 people signed a petition supported by Mountaineering Scotland, the Scottish Canoe Association, ScotWays, British Horse Society, Cycling UK in Scotland and the Munro Society.

The petition and resulting media attention helped stakeholders secure meetings with Network Rail, yet rail bosses have so far refused to back down.

Network Rail has locked the gates at the crossing in Dalwhinnie.
Network Rail has locked the gates at the crossing in Dalwhinnie.

Campaigners have made suggestions for solutions, such as the installation of ‘miniature stop lights’ – traffic lights for pedestrians and others. None of the suggestions have been accepted.

Local MSPs Kate Forbes and Ariane Burgess added their names to an open letter to Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway.

Ms Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said: “The Ben Alder crossing has been happily used by tens of thousands of people for years, if not decades, without incident.

“It was deeply regrettable that Network Rail decided to padlock the gates without first consulting any of the community and local businesses, and the fact that almost 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for this decision to be reversed shows the strength of feeling about it.

“None of the local stakeholder groups can understand this sudden and unexpected change, and I hope Network Rail will finally listen. The sooner this debacle can be resolved the better.”

Ramblers Scotland says the suggested alternative is an unattractive and lengthy diversion.
Ramblers Scotland says the suggested alternative is an unattractive and lengthy diversion.

Campaigners say that the closure has made it hard to reach local trails which were built by the community to the west of the line.

Ramblers Scotland has warned that Network Rail’s high-handed actions undermine its pledge to work collaboratively and sensitively with lineside neighbours.

The closure is part of a more than decade-long trend from the publicly-owned rail body.

Mr Paddy said: “Sadly, Network Rail appears to view shutting level crossings as an admirable objective – even boasting on its website of closing more than 1250 across Britain since 2009.

“This approach risks turning many rural rail lines into impenetrable walls that cut communities and walkers off from the countryside that they now need to access more than ever to support their health and wellbeing.”

Network Rail has claimed that unauthorised pedestrians using ‘private’ level crossings could in certain circumstances be trespass, but in November British Transport Police confirmed that no-one had been charged with trespass for using a private level crossing in Scotland during the last five years.

Network Rail’s website states there are around 6000 level crossings in Britain. “Every day they are used by thousands of people to cross one of the busiest rail networks in the world,” it says.

The rail firm argues it has “a legal duty to assess, manage and control the risk for everyone” and it can “eliminate risk by closing crossings where agreement can be reached to do so.”


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