Politicians today joined businesses, landowners, councils and outdoors organisations in signing an open letter calling for the unlocking of Dalwhinnie level crossing gates.
Kate Forbes MSP and Ariane Burgess MSP are among 15 diverse signatories to the letter to Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland's Railway.
Network Rail padlocked the gates without consultation in late July, severing an historic route to popular lochs, glens and hills including much-loved Ben Alder.
Rail chiefs have so far refused to back down, despite a joint petition signed by more than 9,000 people and unanimous opposition from key stakeholders at a meeting last month.
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. As well as the staycation boom over the summer, let’s not forget that James Bond was filming in the next village along the road – and that will undoubtedly bring more visitors who will want to enjoy and explore the area. The sooner this debacle can be resolved the better.”
Today’s open letter outlines why the gates must be unlocked immediately and a proper consultation held involving all stakeholders.
It has been signed by representatives of Ramblers Scotland, Mountaineering Scotland, The Munro Society, Ben Alder Estate, Cairngorms Business Partnership, ScotWays, The Highland Council, Cycling UK in Scotland, Scottish Canoe Association, The British Horse Society, Dalwhinnie Old School Hostel, Dalwhinnie Community Council and John Muir Trust.
Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy said: “We hope today’s open letter will prompt Network Rail to urgently 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. Rail bosses must act soon.”
Network Rail’s own safety review recommended the installation of ‘miniature stop lights’ – a traffic light-style system to warn the public when trains are approaching – rather than closure.
Network Rail’s signage points to an underpass a mile south of the crossing, but this causes a lengthy diversion and offers considerably fewer parking spots than the recently-expanded Hillwalkers’ Car Park next to the crossing.