The very faulty Cairngorm funicular railway is to remain out of operation throughout the summer months and possibly beyond, following a detailed investigation into concerns over the structure.
It's fair to say that the funicular has something of a troubled past, coming in at a mere £5million over budget. Subsequently the resort operator was taken into public ownership because ... they ran out of money. After a while Highlands and Islands Enterprise selected a new operator, Natural Retreats, a company with no history of operating ski areas, which ... ran out of money, requiring public ownership.. again.
SIN has a suspicion that the funicular has something in common with Leonid Brezhnev, kept plugged in and on life support until the plug could be pulled at a politically opportune time.
With no other access save for surface lifts the main ski field requires natural snow cover or machine made snow to avoid a long walk to the snowline. Cralessly the previous operator scrapped all of the resort's chairlifts.
The investigation, by specialist engineers COWI, was commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which owns the facility, following safety concerns raised in a general inspection last autumn.
Engineers have concluded that the structure does not present an immediate danger to the public. However, the safety margin is lower than desirable and a series of measures should be put in place to address weaknesses before resumption of service.
COWI carried out the investigation between September and December last year, including excavating around foundations and intrusive investigations of the structure.
Work is required to strengthen the piers, beams and foundations, and install new bearings with higher load and movement capacity.
HIE is currently exploring the scope and cost of these works, and this is expected to take several weeks.
At the same time, HIE is commissioning an independent peer review of COWI’s report, in line with industry best practice for complex investigations of this nature.
Work on the structure of the funicular can only be carried out during summer months when the mountain is more accessible to contractors. It will therefore remain out of service for the remainder of the current winter season and throughout the summer months and possibly longer.
New snow making equipment began operating in December and is proving popular with beginners. Up to 100 skiers a day can access artificial snow on the lower slopes, and ski tows can provide uplift to higher parts of the mountain when there is enough natural snowfall and conditions are favourable.
Looking forward, HIE subsidiary operating firm, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Limited (CMSL), is starting to develop a range of alternative options to offer summer visitors, presumbly involving walking uphill.
Susan Smith, HIE’s head of business development, said: “We have considered carefully the implications of the investigation and concluded it will take considerable time to design, procure and complete the necessary works.
“Our goal is to have the funicular up and running as soon as is safe to do so, but in the meantime, we anticipate it will remain out of service throughout the summer months and possibly beyond. We will provide further updates as things progress.”
Ross Harris, interim chief executive of CMSL, added: “Cairngorm Mountain is an outstanding all year-round tourist attraction. The funicular is of course a unique feature of Cairngorm, but there is so much more to experience. We are working hard to ensure that we continue to provide the best experience possible for our snowsports customers who can access the mountain using our network of tows and we are confident we can build on an already attractive offering for our summer visitors. We are focused on making Cairngorm Mountain a ‘must visit’ destination because we know that in doing so the resort will continue to provide economic benefits for the entire Strathspey area for years to come.”