A public inquiry will be held this year to resolve a row over “discriminatory” plans for a new footbridge in rural Perthshire.
Countryside rambling groups claim a crossing planned for an historic right-of-way route near Blackford will not be accessible to people in wheelchairs, cyclists or horse riders.
Proposals for the bridge emerged after Network Rail asked Perth and Kinross Council to shut the level crossing at Panholes, on the edge of the village.
Rail chiefs said the site would not be safe for pedestrians once the line has been upgraded and electrified, paving the way for faster accelerating and quieter trains.
The new bridge was proposed so that walkers will still be able to get from Blackford to a network of walking routes north of the railway line.
However, outdoor access groups Ramblers Scotland, Perth and Kinross Outdoor Access Forum and ScotWays have objected to the closure of the right-of-way, arguing that the bridge does not comply with discrimination and equality legislation.
The Scottish Government has been asked to settle the dispute once and for all. Case officer Karen Cowie has told objectors that she plans to hold a hearing in October.
Eleisha Fahy, senior access officer for ScotWays, argues in her written statement: “It is not necessary to divert the right-of-way and core path to enable a bridge and path link to be created.
“In our view, the wrong process has been used to attempt to divert the right of way and core path.”
She added: “The new bridge is inadequate as a total replacement for the original route over the level crossing, as it represents a reduction in current accessibility.”
Network Rail said it did consider other options for the site. A spokesman said: “The reality of the situation is that the footpaths and land around the crossing have never been accessible to all types of user.
“The replacement option had to be considered against this background.”
He said ramps would be “very long and steep” and “difficult to traverse.” Network Rail said it would be also involve buying “significantly” more land from third parties.
A date and venue for the hearing is expected to be announced in due course.