Main image: Walking in the Ben Alder area. Photo: David Lintern
More than 5,000 people have signed a petition against the closure of a valuable level crossing which gives walkers access to a host of Munros.
Network Rail’s decision to close the Dalwhinnie level crossing on July 28 citing safety concerns has been met with protests from recreational organisations including Ramblers Scotland, Mountaineering Scotland, Cycling UK and Scotways, as well as opposition from local residents.
The closure makes access to popular hills like the Ben Alder Munros more difficult by effectively introducing a two and a half mile round-trip diversion for walkers or cyclists setting off from the train station or the recently upgraded car park at Dalwhinnie.
Ramblers Scotland said Network Rail gave less than a week’s notice to the local community, landowner or Highland Council, and did not inform representative recreational bodies in advance at all. They condemned this as “unacceptable and high-handed behaviour.”
A spokesperson for Ramblers Scotland said: “The route pre-dates the railway and has been used for generations. Core paths lead up to the railway on either side and the track links to a local path network that has been developed to the west of the line by the local community.
“We understand that vehicular access to the local estate will continue over the crossing so, if this can be achieved safely, why not for walkers, cyclists and others?
“Network Rail is turning the railway into an impenetrable barrier for most people in the nearby village – contrary to the spirit of our hard-won Scottish access rights. 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.”
The closure directly affects the track along Loch Ericht, which gives access to the remote Ben Alder Munros. Using a bike along this track is a popular method of quickly getting to the foot of the most popular hills.
For anyone wanting to use this route, there is an underpass approximately 500 meters to the south of the level crossing as the crow flies.
However, parking near the underpass is much more limited than at the level crossing, where Dalwhinnie Community Council recently upgraded the walkers’ car park at their own expense, increasing capacity for up to 20 cars.
There is also no direct route between the level crossing parking and the underpass. Getting from and the larger parking area to the underpass involves going back through the village, doubling the length of the diversion – and so for walkers returning this way, the total diversion is around two and a half miles, or four kilometres.
Stuart Younie, Mountaineering Scotland CEO, said: “To close an important and popular access point without any prior consultation or any supporting evidence of their safety concerns is a very high-handed approach by Network Rail.
“Use of the crossing along this route is well established and we find it unacceptable for a public service company like Network Rail to sever this popular and historic route, which predates the coming of the railway, without engaging with those who use it regularly.”