Level crossing-style barrier could finally reopen Bervie Braes railway

Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A RAILWAY level crossing-style barrier to control traffic could be used in a bid to finally reopen a spectacular clifftop road to one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions.

The Bervie Braes, which links Stonehaven with the imposing ruined Dunnottar Castle, has been closed to vehicles since ­December 2009 following a landslip after days of ­torrential rain flooded homes and ­businesses in the centre of the Aberdeenshire town.

Work is due to be completed by the end of this month on a £2.4 million scheme, funded jointly by the Scottish Government and Aberdeenshire Council, to stabilise the lower slopes of the cliffs by driving soil nails – huge metal rods – into the cliffs.

Members of Aberdeenshire Council’s policy and resources committee will meet next Thursday to discuss proposals to reopen the route to light traffic as one option for the future.

Local business leaders have already submitted a petition to the council, calling for the route to be reopened, claiming that the “supply of tourists” into the town from the castle has dropped sharply since the road was closed.

Stephen Archer, the council’s director of infrastructure services, states in a report to the committee that, on completion of the scheme, it had been ­anticipated that the road would reopen only to pedestrians and cyclists “as a residual slope ­instability risk will remain”.

But he continues: “Over recent months it has become apparent that certain sections of the community would wish to see the road reopened and potentially restricted to ‘light vehicular traffic’ in a downhill direction only, with or without a speed limit.

“A major justification for the reopening is the claim that the potential visitors to Stonehaven are being deterred by the lack of direct access to the town centre from the Dunnottar ­Castle direction.”

One possible solution, he states, would be a monitoring system of 42 slope-movement sensors, CCTV cameras linked to traffic lights and a “railway level crossing” type barrier at the top of the Braes.

When movement on the slopes was detected, the sensors would activate the barrier. Mr Archer states: “The cost of the sensors is estimated at around £80,000, while the lights, cabling and drainage could be ­expected to bring the overall cost to around £250,000.

“Reopening the road after each movement would require a site visit and approval by a geotechnical specialist. There will be ongoing revenue costs related to the maintenance of the system and so the total operating costs could amount to £15,000 per annum in perpetuity.

“This option does not remove risk but manages it to a degree to exclude vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists when the threat of landslips is greatest.”

Another option is to continue the road closure. Mr Archer states: “This would involve accepting that the ­current level of risk is unacceptable, and permanently closing the road to vehicular traffic.

“Pedestrians and cyclists would be encouraged to use the north-east edge of the road and would be channelled to do so by bollards and signage. This option overcomes any enforcement issues relating to the ­application of a vehicular traffic weight limit.

“Ultimately, any decision on action to either slope is going to be the result of a consideration of both risk and affordability. The risk can be reduced to a more desirable level, but only by spending a significant sum.”