KATE Forbes is calling for a new approach to handling rocketing numbers of visitors to Glenfinnan Viaduct, stressing it is “unrealistic” to leave it to the community.

Visitor numbers to the world-famous attraction have already surpassed pre-Covid levels and are showing no signs of slowing down.

The latest figures suggest 500,000 people visit every year, with the West Highland village population standing at fewer than 150.

Forbes, who is MSP for the area, has said a partnership approach between the community, National Trust for Scotland, and the public and private sector is required to ensure visitors numbers are managed in a safe and sustainable way.

The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP chaired a community-organised summit last week involving representatives from VisitScotland, Highland Council, the police and transport organisations to look at options for handling the influx of tourists including data collection, public messaging and on-site facilities.

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Forbes said: “The latest available visitor figures to the viaduct are about 500,000 annually, and this is expected to keep growing for the foreseeable future.

“For context, the local area has a population of less than 150, and with the best will in the world it is unrealistic to expect Glenfinnan residents to manage this on their own.

“A partnership approach is required and the first steps were taken at last week’s summit. I hope we can kick on from there.”

West Coast Railways operates The Jacobite steam train along the line in the summer.

The viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express travelled across it, leading to fans of the book series travelling in their hoards to see it ever since.

It also featured in the popular videogame Forza Horizon 4.

Forbes, who has embarked on a new role as a tourism ambassador for the Highlands recently, added: “When the Harry Potter crew first came to film at the viaduct, I don’t think anyone expected to see such sustained growth over 20 years on. Glenfinnan is now one of Scotland’s top attractions, and very much on the world stage.

“It’s great that so many people are coming and enjoying the Highlands, as well as supporting the local economy, but there’s a responsibility to ensure visitor numbers are managed in a safe, respectful and sustainable way.

“Following the summit, there are a number of options now being looked at – including data collection, on-site facilities, travel arrangements and public messaging – and I look forward to taking this forward with the community and other stakeholder groups.”

Glenfinnan resident Hege Hernæs, who is part of the West Highland Community Rail Partnership that along with the local community council helped to organise the summit, added: “Encouragingly, we found that there was a clear willingness to help among the delegates present.

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“We are grateful to all the agencies that sent high-level officers to Glenfinnan so they could sit down in a room together and talk.

“We are also indebted to Kate Forbes for her perceptive chairing of the summit.

“As our local MSP, she clearly understands the problems we experience, which is one she recognises from other beauty spots within her constituency and beyond.

“She has now expressed willingness to help us oversee the next stage of the process we started at the summit, and the local community is delighted to have her aboard.”