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McGowan's work completes on Cairn Gorm funicular

28 Sep 21 McGowan Environmental Engineering has completed strengthening work for Balfour Beatty on the troubled funicular railway at Cairn Gorm mountain.

The operator of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway railway entered administration in 2018 because of cash flow problems during an extended closure to investigate concerns about the structure supporting the tracks.

Following a competitive tendering process, Balfour Beatty was appointed last year as principal contractor with McGowan Environmental Engineering as a subcontractor to undertake part of the structural strengthening works, specifically on the lower section of the existing Cairngorm Mountain Railway.

The Cairngorm funicular opened in 2001 and is the highest railway in the United Kingdom, operating between 635 and 1,097 metres above ordnance datum (AOD). The 2km funicular ascends the northern slopes of Cairn Gorm - the UK’s sixth-highest mountain - providing mountain access for the public, tourists and sports enthusiasts. The site is located within the Cairngorms National Park and is in public ownership through Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE).

McGowan arrived on site in April 2021 and - despite working through the spring and summer months - conditions proved to be challenging and the project team even had snow to contend with in late May.

Balfour Beatty and McGowan strengthened the existing structural piers and installed new foundations for pinning others. Installing structural concrete on a mountain with limited access roads was also a challenge but one that was overcome through detailed project planning and by using specialist equipment to allow pours on site.

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McGowan introduced a range of measures to ensure compliance with guidelines from the Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) and on-site Ecological Clerk of Works (ECoW). The measures included the upgrade of existing access points and installation of temporary access tracks, plant movements and the use of wide-tracked excavators to reinstate natural habitats, peatland and vegetation.

Darren Hendry and Kirsten Sadler (click to enlarge)
Darren Hendry and Kirsten Sadler (click to enlarge)

Darren Hendry, civil engineering contracts manager at McGowan, said: “As a local business headquartered in Aviemore, we know just how sensitive the mountain landscape is and the priority was to undertake the works safely, whilst minimising any impact on the surrounding environment. Various service teams and around 16 of the McGowan workforce have been involved in the project with almost all of them living in the surrounding rural area.”

Kirsten Sadler, the stakeholder engagement lead for Balfour Beatty, said: “We are delighted to work closely with McGowan Environmental Engineering as part of our local supply chain on the Cairngorm Funicular Railway project and partner with a key local employer in the Badenoch & Strathspey region. Scape Scotland and Balfour Beatty see SME and social enterprise engagement as a vital component of the construction industry.”

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