BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
The recent death of a Highland cow on the railway line at Duirinish in Lochalsh has underlined the lack of adequate stock-proof fencing in the area, raising fears that a train could be derailed if no action is taken.
Local crofter Morag Mackenzie lost one of her Highland cattle last month when it was hit by a train near a level crossing. She said some of the protective fencing is so old that it dates back to 1898, when the original agreement was signed between landowner Sir Kenneth Matheson and the Highland Rail Company.
“We have been pressing Network Rail for years and years to put in proper fencing but they just patch the odd hole and that’s it,” she added. “The fence that’s there is rotten and full of huge holes. The cow I lost had a calf and I am hand-rearing it now.”
Cattle graze down at the track, Mrs Mackenzie added, and do so at several points between Erbusaig and Plockton where Alex Townend, the co-owner of Rowan Barn Farm, said the problem was just as bad.
“It is only a matter of time before a train hits one of the cows here,” he added.
Mrs Mackenzie said she had to put a claim in for losing the cow on her own NFU insurance.
“The onus is on Network Rail to make the line stock-proof — that was part of the original agreement,” she said. “Cows wander onto the line all the time — we’re always having to ask them to hold the train up until they clear.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said cows were something that “we definitely want to keep off the line” for obvious safety reasons.
He added: “Line-side fencing is regularly assessed and replaced where required. Our maintenance team will inspect the area around the crossing and any members of the public with concerns about our infrastructure can contact our public helpline on 08457 114141.”