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Railway level crossing work leaves cut-off Highland residents 'thousands out of pocket'

By Philip Murray

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The level crossing at Bunchrew before work began.
The level crossing at Bunchrew before work began.

Furious residents have missed medical appointments and lost out on work worth £2500 after railway maintenance work cut off their community with little notice.

People living in Bunchrew are furious after major work got under way to replace gates and lights on the level crossing in their village – temporarily cutting off dozens of homes from any road access.

Work began on Monday, and fed-up residents claim so little advance notice was given, that people were left walking over rough muddy terrain in the dark just to get back to their homes.

It is understood the work is continuing into the weekend, but that in response to Monday's chaotic scenes, Network Rail Scotland has increased the number of windows when the crossing will temporarily reopen to traffic to enable people to pass through.

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One resident, Bill Bryan, said: "The issue will last right trough til Sunday. It'll be one week by the time it gets done.

"One neighbour has lost a £2500 job because they can't get out to get to it," he added, saying that people have also missed out on medical appointments they were due to attend.

"There's about 30 houses up here and it's a dead end road so there's no way to get through it."

He said it wasn't the first time in his 30 years living in the area that Network Rail had carried out improvements to the level crossing – which originally had no barriers until around 10 years ago – but that this time the disruption is worse as engineers are carrying out a complete overhaul of the barriers, lights and other equipment.

"Network Rail in Glasgow has made plenty of apologies [following the first day's disruption] but the only practical thing they've done is that the opening schedule has been increased," continued Mr Bryan.

"On the first day, the crossing was only open one hour each day. Now it's six or seven opening windows each day but it's unreliable and we had to wait an additional 15/20 minutes beyond the window on one occasion."

He added that this unreliability stems from late running trains, which can impact periods where it's safe to let people through.

And he believes the wider problems – which included limited advance warning – stem from work being planned by people with little or no local knowledge in an office miles away who may not have realised the closure would cut off all access to homes.

"I think one of the main reasons this happened is that planning has been done not with local knowledge. People looking at a map may be under the impression that there's another road people can use to access the A862 without going over the crossing but in reality it's a cart track, deeply rutted and running for one-and-a-half or two miles."

Network Rail Scotland has apologised for the disruption. In a statement it issued on Monday it thanked people for their "patience and understanding" and added that the work to upgrade the level crossing was "essential to help keep the railway and road users safe".

They added that the crossing was now open during certain times to let people through and that "we'll work to allow those needing access to cross when possible" outside of those times.

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