(Update: After the below article was published, more than 9,000 people signed our joint petition calling on Network Rail to unlock the gates. This helped us secure a meeting with rail managers alongside fellow campaigners on 21 September 2021. More info to follow.)
On 28 July 2021 Network Rail padlocked the important level crossing at Dalwhinnie.
It is our understanding that less than a week’s notice was given to the local community, landowner or the Highland Council of their intention, and they did not inform representative recreation bodies in advance at all. This is unacceptable and high-handed behaviour by Network Rail which fails to reflect the wider public interest in the level crossing, nor does it reflect Network Rail’s own pledge to work collaboratively and sensitively with communities living near the railway.
The track from Dalwhinnie is a historic route leading to Rannoch Moor and linking with the Road to the Isles. The route pre-dates the coming of the railways and has been well used for decades by hillwalkers, cyclists and others heading to the Ben Alder area and beyond. Core paths lead up to the railway on either side, showing its regional importance for access. It also links to the local path network on the west of the railway line which has been developed by the local community.
We recognise that walkers and others will continue to cross at this point by climbing over the gates, thus presumably increasing any safety risk which Network Rail may have used internally to justify closing the crossing.
There is an underpass some distance south of the crossing which may be a useful alternative for those with bikes, buggies or wheelchairs, or riding a horse, but we expect people will continue to use the crossing with care as they have always done, as this has always been a formal facility which enables people to cross the railway line at this location.
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 (sections 4.23 – 4.25) 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.
The closure turns the railway into an impenetrable barrier for most people in the nearby village and elsewhere and is contrary to the requirements of Scottish access legislation.
This leads us to question the basis on which the crossing has been closed. 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.
We are working with other recreation bodies and are in contact with Dalwhinnie Community Council, Cairngorms NP, the Highland Council and the National Access Forum with a view to getting this level crossing reopened as soon as possible.
- Read Strathspey & Badenoch Herald's in-depth story on this issue here.
- Read The Times newspaper's article here.
The level crossing allows access to Munros including much-loved Ben Alder.