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Highland politicians voice ‘concern’ over continued closure of Far North Line railway station at Altnabreac in Caithness

By Philip Murray

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Altnabreac station. Picture: Philip Murray.
Altnabreac station. Picture: Philip Murray.

A lack of progress in reopening a mothballed Highland railway station that was temporarily shut in a row over access, is “concerning”, say local politicians.

The Altnabreac station in Caithness has been shut since mid November due to an access dispute, which ScotRail and Network Rail said has left them with difficulty maintaining the site.

Train operators, public figures and rail campaigners have all stressed that there is no question over the station’s future, and that it will reopen once the dispute is resolved.

But with five months having now passed, and the arrival of the tourist season - when passenger numbers at Altnabreac traditionally begin to increase - a lack of a timeframe for its reopening has sparked concerns among some.

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone has now offered to raise the matter in Westminster if it will help free up the process, and expressed his wish for the station to reopen “as soon as possible”.

"The loss of Altnabreac as a halt was sad for us all.,” he said. “Network Rail has said they will try to sort the situation out - and as the tourist season is virtually upon us, I hope to see the halt opened as soon as possible. I am due to meet with them soon, so I look forward to hearing what progress they have made on this. If they need me to raise this in the House of Commons to expedite matters, then I will only be too happy."

Mr Stone added that the temporary loss of the station was depriving people of the chance to escape into the wildest parts of the Flow Country.

"In an age when rail travel seems to have become all a bit too much like Starbucks, all the same wherever you go, exotic and different destinations are the spice of life for the rail traveller,” he continued. "Altnabreac is one of these destinations. A chance to leave the noise and hurly burly of towns and cities, to step out into the pure Highland air where only bird call would disturb the ear.

Back in March Ariane Burgess, a Green Highland MSP, had called for the station - which is popular with walkers and visitors - to reopen before the Easter holidays.

And with that date having now come and gone, she has also voiced her “concern” over the continued deadlock.

She said: I am continuing to raise this issue on behalf of constituents with ScotRail. Given its location, Altnabreac may be a quiet station but user numbers were growing prior to the closure and creeping back towards their 2017-18 peak when several hundred people used the station each year.

“Enabling people to access Scotland’s beautiful landscapes without a car is a key part of developing our sustainable tourism offer, and it could also play a vital role in the expansion of our forestry sector, so it’s important that stations like this one are able to operate.

“The Easter holidays marked the start of the summer season for visitors and it’s concerning that the station remains closed after four months.”

Ian Budd, convenor of the Friends of the Far North Line, also believes the public could do with an update on the situation, adding: “We really need to get a progress report.”

Responding to the station’s ongoing closure, a spokesperson for Network Rail, which maintains railway infrastructure in Scotland, said said they wanted the matter to be resolved “as quickly as possible” but did not give any form of timeframe for its reopening when asked.

The spokesperson said: “We’re working with partners to make sure colleagues can safely access Altnabreac station and carry out essential work. We want to see the situation resolved as quickly as possible.”

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