FALLEN GIANT: The crashed crane on the railway track at Portgower, Sutherland.
Police and emergency crews spent most of last night trying to remove the crane attached to a truck, which overturned in the village of Portgower by Helmsdale in Sutherland.
Many drivers did not learn of the accident – which happened at around 3.30pm yesterday – until they were already on the road, and spent several hours stuck in their cars or were forced to turn back.
Train services between Inverness and Wick were disrupted and replacement buses could not run because of the road blockage.
The narrow section of the A9 between Helmsdale and Brora in Sutherland runs alongside the North Sea and police were unable to set up diversions due to the bad weather on potentially treacherous nearby B-roads.
The crane crashed through a wall close to the road before coming to a rest on the rail track. An investigation is expected to be launched today into the cause of the accident.
The operation to remove the crane began at 5.30pm and it was estimated at that time that it would take between two and five hours.
A Northern Constabulary spokesman said: "Unfortunately the operation was still taking place at 9pm and the road remained blocked in both directions.
"There was no diversion in place of any kind and people had to wait for the crane to be cleared.
"We put messages on Twitter and other social media to alert motorists to the incident, urging them not to travel, but some people hadn't been able to hear or see the warnings before setting out and there are queues in both directions."
Although the crane was not itself blocking the road, the spokesman added it had been necessary to shut the section of the A9, linking Inverness and Thurso, in both directions.
One motorist, Euan Fraser, tweeted his anger: "Stuck in Brora 'cause a bloody crane crashed at Portgower."
Anthea MacKenzie wrote: "Had a lovely weekend at home for Mother's Day and now trapped here as the A9 closed for about 3 hours at Portgower."
John Green wrote on the social networking website: "Anyone taking the A9, it's closed at Portgower. Single-track back roads are only alternative now. Not ideal in snow."
ScotRail services between Inverness and Wick also faced disruption, with no services running in the area.
Trains from the south were terminating at Brora and replacement buses were expected to be organised once the road was cleared.
Network Rail said the crane had come off the A9 and was on the track near Helmsdale at Portgower.
A spokesman added: "Network Rail will carry out an assessment of the damaged caused. It is hoped a full service will be able run in the morning."
The rail infrastructure operator also said it was doing all it could to remove the vehicle.
A statement on the ScotRail website said: "Owing to an obstruction on the line between Helmsdale and Brora all lines are blocked.
"Train services between Inverness and Wick may be revised at short notice. Disruption is expected until 23:59."
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