THERE is a wonder and magic about making a train trip to Scotland’s remotest outposts.

Beautiful scenery may tempt the traveller but what really sticks in the memory is the art of catching the train.

Just like hailing a cab, you simply had to stick your hand out and that locomotive would pull to a halt and let you embark like royalty or an A-list celebrity.

But now that quaint practice may be coming to an end. Modernisation has caught up with the enthusiastic passenger and a simple finger on an electronic button will replace the old thumb out.

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Rail campaigners have backed the end of the old practice of “hailing” a train in remote parts of Scotland.

An idea sparked by old railway semaphore has been supported by modernisers as rail chiefs move to introduce a new electronic “press and ride” system. 

This will signal to drivers should any passengers wish to get on board at rural stations known as “request” stops, where people flag down slowing trains.

Rail campaigners and public transport lobbyists said the move would mean better punctuality, with shorter journey times, and savings on fuel and brake costs.

Backers said it would help tourists as well as Scots travellers, with better language aids in place.

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The Far North Line between Inverness, Thurso and Wick will be the first to test the new way of letting train drivers know to halt at request stops in the autumn.

The route has a record of poor punctuality compared to other rural lines. The regular overruns are partly because the route is largely single track with few passing loops, which can compound delays as trains try to get past each other.

Drivers have to slow down as they approach such stations in case there is a passenger waiting to get on.

But this often means needless braking and time lost when the platform turns out to be empty. Under the scheme, travellers will push a button on the platform, which would flash up a message to the driver on a screen in the train cab to stop at the station.

The system would be expected to be used on other lines with request stops such as between Glasgow and Oban, and Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh if successful.

It would be accompanied by multi-lingual information electronic screens at stations, which would confirm the request to stop had been made.

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The plan was revealed by Alex Hynes, ScotRail and Network Rail in Scotland managing director.

The idea came from the earlier practice a century ago of passengers pulling a lever to activate mechanical “semaphore” signals to alert drivers to stop at a station.

Network Rail said request stops along the trial route are at Rogart, Culrain, Invershin, Dunrobin Castle, Kildonan, Kinbrace, Altnabreac and Scotscalder.

Dr John McCormick, chairman of the Scottish Association of Public Transport, welcomed the move and said: “Hopefully it will improve things. I think Alex Hynes is doing his best to fix the things that have been going wrong.

“Request stops waste fuel and brakes at some of these stations, where very few people get on and off.”

Ian Budd, convener of Friends of the Far North Line, said: “We are pleased this new method of  notification is being developed. It will provide far smoother operation and reduce wasted time on the Far North Line. It is good example of a small improvement, which will make a big difference.”

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Mr Hynes said the system will provide real-time information to the driver. He said: “Once we have demonstrated a viable solution we will find the money and roll it out. It’s about preserving the wonderful quirkiness of the Victorian railway, while speeding up the operation.”

Mr Hynes said there are also plans for more frequent trains on the Far North Line between Inverness and Dingwall and Invergordon, with “express” services also planned over the full length of the line.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “The new system would use the line’s radio-based signalling technology to alert drivers to the need to stop and pick up passengers. at the request stop stations.”