Crossing railway lines in Scotland
Ramblers Scotland’s position on issues relating to crossing railway lines
Rural railway lines cut through some of Scotland’s finest walking country. Walkers are welcome to use level crossings on public roads, provided you abide by any guidance, warning lights or barriers.
There are also more than 400 private level crossings in Scotland and many of Scotland’s best known walking guidebooks describe routes using them. Some are on historic, well-established tracks, such as the ‘Road to the Isles’ at Corrour on Rannoch Moor.
Using private level crossings in Scotland
There is some disagreement about walkers’ legal rights to use private level crossings.. Network Rail does not support the use of most of these crossings by the public.
We recommend that walkers continue to responsibly cross railway lines in Scotland in the same way as they have been doing since the railways were first constructed.
Scottish access rights secured under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 don’t apply to railways, although a few core paths pass over level crossings. Some routes may also be recorded Rights of Way.
However, for generations access in Scotland has been taken on the basis of ‘custom and tradition’ and this has continued even though we’ve now got statutory access rights. This includes the use of level crossings . We believe this customary use of level crossings should continue to be supported by Network Rail.
Many private crossings, even in remote areas, will be used by dozens of walkers on busy weekends. There may not be a public road level crossing for miles. Private level crossings often open up extensive areas of land of great value for recreation. They are important for tourism, health and local economies.
What we want to see in the future
Together with our National Access Forum partners, we’ve been monitoring this issue for about two decades. This includes contributing to a 2013 report from the Law Commission and Scottish Law Commission (PDF, 2.9MB). The report recommended that the Scottish Government should get powers to create access rights across level crossings by designating core paths. Unfortunately the UK and Scottish governments haven’t yet taken up that recommendation.
We also highlight individual cases as they arise. For example, in July 2021 Network Rail locked pedestrian gates on the level crossing at Dalwhinnie. This happened without proper consultation with the landowner, community, local authorities or any outdoor recreation organisations. Dalwhinnie is the gateway to mountains like Ben Alder as well as long-distance routes across Rannoch Moor. It’s important for residents to enjoy the path network on the other side of the railway. We have been in discussions with Network Rail to try to get this crossing re-opened.
As a charity, you can support our work to protect and promote Scotland’s world-class access rights by donating or becoming a member. Together we’ll stand up for access, fight for special landscapes and boost Scotland’s wellbeing one step at a time.
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