The railway will remain out of service over the winter 2019-20, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) has confirmed following the publication of an updated report on investment priorities at the resort.
US-based consultant SE Group was commissioned last year by HIE, owner of Cairngorm estate. Their brief was to study Cairngorm’s potential as a premier Scottish ski centre and visitor attraction, and identify potential investments that would maximise its drawing power and contribution to the local economy.
In October 2018, however, as the report was being concluded, safety concerns raised in an engineers’ inspection led to the Cairngorm funicular railway being taken out of service.
In light of this, SE Group was asked to review their findings and address immediate priorities for investment at Cairngorm while the funicular is not running.
Although the funicular presents no immediate danger to the public, investigations by specialist engineers have concluded that piers, beams and foundations all need to be strengthened, and new bearings installed, before it can run safely again.
HIE said that it has consistently stated that its ambition is to repair the structure and return the mountain railway to service and that all investigations carried out so far indicate that this would be technically achievable.
A combination of public procurement regulations and extreme weather conditions over winter mean that the earliest a programme of repairs could begin would be spring or summer 2020.
Douglas Cowan, director of communities and place with HIE, said: “Cairngorm is a key asset for Scotland, both environmentally and economically, and the funicular is a key asset for Cairngorm.
“It’s absolutely vital that we continue to address the serious challenges caused by the funicular being out of action and ensure that Cairngorm Mountain remains a significant driver of the local economy.
“HIE and the Scottish Government are agreed that repair is the preferred option in principle, though it’s important to stress that we need to conclude the engineers’ reviews and determine costs and funding sources before this can be approved.”
While it is not running, snowsports access is planned to be maintained through a combination of artificial snow-making at lower levels and ski tows to the higher runs. A new aerial chairlift is also proposed.
SE Group’s new findings focus on investments with the greatest potential impact to improve the visitor experience and generate more business. Proposed enhancements would also aim to create a more efficient and economically viable operation capable of maintaining its popularity throughout the year. The consultant notes that the funicular has played a vital role in enabling all-season access to the mountain and concludes that it can again become a central part of the visitor facilities.
Increasing the resort’s summer appeal is seen as equally important. While the consultants remain convinced of the value of introducing a mountain coaster, they have reviewed the location and now recommend that the staging area is within the base area, improving ease of access for all visitors.