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Scrapping of railway bridge plan by Network Rail 'not a surprise', says Easter Ross councillor


By Philip Murray

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An artist's impression of the planned bridge and raised approach road.
An artist's impression of the planned bridge and raised approach road.

SCRAPPING of a multimillion-pound plan to replace a deadly Easter Ross railway level crossing with a bridge is not a surprise, a local councillor believes.

Network Rail is understood to have axed long-running proposals which would have resulted in the permanent closure of the Delny level crossing and its replacement with a purpose-built bridge over the line.

The news emerged last week, coincidently on the same day that a collision occurred between a car and train at the level crossing barriers – temporarily halting services on the route, although nobody is thought to have been seriously hurt.

Incidents at the crossing are also understood to have become less common since automated barriers were installed in 2017. Prior to that there were no barriers at all.

At the time of their installation, the barriers were viewed as a possible stop gap measure until a bigger solution could be enacted, and came after a number of serious incidents – including fatal crashes, the most recent of which claimed the lives of two teenagers in 2007.

But with bridge costs soaring, and barriers now in place, Network Rail is understood to have opted to shelve any further work.

Related: Crash between a car and a train blocks the railway line between Wick and Inverness

Related: Delny level-crossing 'working properly' at time of Easter Ross train and car collision, says Network Rail

Related: ScotRail flags compensation offer for passengers delayed by Easter Ross train and car collision at Delny

In a letter sent out to various “stakeholders” in the area, and which the Journal has seen, Network Rail said the decision was made in the wake of ballooning construction costs that had sent the price tag soaring to £12.9 million.

“The initial option discussed was closure of the level crossing and construction of a road bridge. While this option was being explored the level crossing was upgraded to a half barrier crossing system,” the letter said.

“Due to rising costs, we will not be progressing with the construction of the bridge and the upgraded crossing will remain open. The construction costs of the bridge and associated road infrastructure is £12.9 million, which is not affordable. The upgraded Delny level crossing fully meets the operational and safety requirements for the location, line speed, traffic and level of use.

“As with all level crossings they are part of an ongoing risk assessment programme.”

Responding to the bridge plan’s axe, Councillor Alasdair Rhind, who represents the Tain and Easter Ross ward that covers Delny, said: “I never thought it a viable proposal and always thought it would never happen.”

“Overall it was a bad route to have gone down. I don’t know much details about the crash incident on Friday, but there’s been no major problems there [since barriers were installed] and the barriers are working very effectively.”

He added that the “public at large were not that up for it [a bridge], a small element would’ve been in favour, but the majority were not. I think it’s a wise decision.

“Like all sorts of organisations, Network Rail are cutting costs and [a bridge] always looked like a lot of money. I felt it was a non-starter.”

He added that he felt the area has a good rail service and did not believe the move to scrap the bridge plan will signal other infrastructure cuts in the area.

“I don’t think this is a sign of cutting back but a sign that this was [flawed] from the start.”

The convener of rail campaign group the Friends of the Far North Line, Ian Budd, questioned the scale of the budget being cited by Network Rail as reason for its decision, but added that he understood there had been problems securing some of the private funding that would have been involved.


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