Wave goodbye to quirky hand signal stops across Scottish Highland stations

It is a quaint anomaly of Scotland’s rail network that has seen generations of passengers wave down train drivers at some of the country’s most remote and least frequented stations.

But the advent of new technology is about to leave the tradition of ‘request stops’ out on a limb.

As revealed by The Scotsman back in 2018, work is underway to install electronic kiosks across a cluster of secluded stations throughout the northern Highlands, which would herald an end to the age of flagging down approaching trains.

Instead passengers will be able to notify drivers they wish to alight by using a radio system linked to their cab.

Network Rail said the £5 million programme of improvements will introduce a digital system that is more user friendly, and which will improve operational performance.

Under the existing system, drivers have to slow down if they are approaching request stop stations in the unlikely event there is a passenger waiting to board.

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The new technology will allow for less braking and, in theory, faster journeys, although rail enthusiasts will no doubt bemoan the loss of a quirky tradition dating back to Victorian times.

Dunrobin Castle station is among a cluster of remote platforms set for the upgrade. Picture: Nigel Thompson/Creative Commons

Those stations targeted for the works include Dunrobin Castle on the single track Far North Line.

Famous for its Hansel and Gretel-style timber station building, it was originally built as a private rail platform for the 3rd Duke of Sutherland. In recent years, it has become a tourist attraction for Harry Potter fans, given it doubled as Hogsmeade station in the film adaptations.

The stations being upgraded by Network Rail have some of the lowest passenger numbers in Scotland. At Scotscalder, near Halkirk, for example, fewer than 240 people use the station a year.

Cara Healy, Network Rail’s development manager for the work on the Far North Line, which runs from Inverness to Thurso and Wick, said: “Enhancing the radio network will make the experience of using request stop stations more straightforward and will cater for the increased number of tourists visiting the area, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are working through the winter to get this equipment ready to go live ahead of the busier summer months.

“This new system will make it easier to use some of the most remote stations on our network and hopefully help encourage more people to travel into the Highlands to walk, climb, cycle and sightsee.”

The other stations on the UK’s northernmost railway set to receive the kiosks are Altnabreac, Kibrace, Kildonan, Rogart, Invershin and Culrain.

Scotscalder has been selected as a trial location where a period of dual running will extensively test the reliability of the enhanced system prior to it being rolled out across the Highlands.

As well as the installation of the request to stop kiosks, Network Rail will also upgrade existing radio communication masts and antennae and install new equipment at Muir of Ord and Wick stations to enhance radio coverage.

There are around 135 request stops across the UK, 19 of which are in Scotland. The other stations are located on the Kyle of Lochalsh Line and the West Highland Line.

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