Cairngorm funicular railway to remain out of action this winter

Image credit: Oskana.Perkins, Shutterstock

THE Cairngorm Mountain’s funicular railway will remain out of action this winter, the Highlands and Islands Enterprise has announced.

A masterplan was launched earlier this year (2021) to transform the Cairngorms into a ‘world class’ mountain destination, which included the reinstatement of the railway.

It has been out of service since 2018, with Balfour Beatty having commenced the ‘hugely complex’ engineering project on the railway in November 2020, with the hope of it being up and running by winter 2021/22.

However, despite ‘strong progress’ having been made in ‘tough conditions’, HIE concluded that the planned timescale now needs to extend into the second half of 2022 due to a number of reasons.

These include the technical challenges associated with designing and implementing effective solutions to an existing structure, as opposed to a new build. Furthermore, the pandemic was also said to have hampered work alongside extreme weather conditions.

Extra effort was also required to source ‘vital’ construction materials that HIE said are currently in short supply across the UK.

HIE interim chief executive, Carroll Buxton, commented, “Cairngorm Mountain Estate is a great visitor attraction that plays an important role in the local economy. The funicular has been a key element of what draws people to Cairngorm and it will be again, once these works are completed. We’ve always been upfront in describing the reinstatement programme as one of the most complex and difficult civil engineering projects in Scotland. As well as managing technical challenges, the team has to take great care to protect the mountain environment, and deal with difficult terrain and extreme weather conditions that can quickly become hazardous.

“The original schedule was very ambitious, even without the impacts of the pandemic lasting as long as they have and before the more recent problems in sourcing construction materials of suitable quality. With limited time available to complete these works before winter, postponement has become inevitable.”

She added that the organisation is now working with its designers and contractors on a revised schedule for the project. She continued, “Harsh mountain conditions mean that all work will need to halt over winter and resume next spring. To ensure safety, there also needs to be a period of testing and certification at the end of the programme, so our current expectation is that the funicular can be relaunched in autumn 2022.

“Clearly, a longer timescale will also have a financial impact. We’ll be reviewing costs very carefully and will publicly confirm a revised budget as soon as it’s possible to do so.”

Confirming its commitment to the mountain resort, HIE  approved up to £780,000 for an ‘extensive’ refurbishment of the Ptarmigan building that sits on the plateau and includes the UK’s highest restaurant, a shop, exhibition space and viewing platforms.

Following competitive tender, resort operator Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Ltd (CMSL) has awarded a contract for the first phase of the Ptarmigan works to Simpson Builders Ltd, based in Beauly. The refurbishment is due to start at the end of August and be completed by the end of 2021.