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Mothballed Altnabreac railway station could reopen within weeks after ‘progress’ on access, ScotRail tells Caithness passengers

By Philip Murray

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Altnabreac Station. Picture: Philip Murray.
Altnabreac Station. Picture: Philip Murray.

Rail services to a mothballed Highland station could resume within weeks after significant “progress” on safe access for maintenance staff.

Altnabreac Station, which sits in the Flow Country in Caithness, has been closed to passengers since mid-November last year after a dispute arose between residents of a nearby house and railway bosses over access to the station and a level crossing for maintenance work.

At the time, rail chiefs said that the only way to reach the station was via a small road five miles long and that without being able to access the site staff would be “unable to carry out essential maintenance needed for the safe operation of the station through winter”. Speaking then, David Simpson, ScotRail’s service delivery director, moved to reassure the community and passengers that they would do all they could to resume services “as soon as possible”.

But months then passed without any major update - prompting concerns from politicians and tourist representatives that the closure could rumble on and impact visitors looking to explore a remote part of the Flow Country during the summer season.

However, it has now emerged that “progress has been made to provide safe access for railway staff” and survey works have already been carried out as a “first step” towards reopening the station to passenger services.

Although a timescale for reopening has yet to be announced, it is understood that it could be as early as a few weeks, and ScotRail has confirmed that “we are sure there are no remaining challenges in accessing the station”.

A statement by ScotRail confirming movement on the issue was read out at rail campaign group the Friends of the Far North Line’s annual conference in Inverness on Saturday.

The rail operator has since confirmed that statement.

In it, a ScotRail spokesperson said: “ScotRail temporarily suspended train services from calling at Altnabreac station in Caithness on November 12 due to difficulties in accessing the station and a neighbouring level crossing.

“This meant essential maintenance needed for the safe operation of the station could not be undertaken. Progress has been made to provide safe access for Scotland’s Railway staff.

“Teams from Network Rail and ScotRail completed survey works at the station on 19th June as the first step to allow trains to safely call again at Altnabreac.

“The surveys identified some works will be required before the station can reopen. Timescales for reopening will be confirmed once the works are underway and we are sure there are no remaining challenges in accessing the station.”

News that a resumption of services at Altnabreac is looking imminent, even if dates are not yet known, has been welcomed by the Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL).

Its convener, Ian Budd, said: “FoFNL is delighted to hear that a solution has been found to return Altnabreac to the network.

“The station gives wonderful opportunities to explore this unique part of Scotland, and we hope that once it reopens people will be inspired to travel there and experience it for themselves.”

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