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HIE boss pledges to get Cairngorm funicular up and running ‘as soon as possible’

Cairngorm's funicular railway has been out of service for almost three years.
Cairngorm's funicular railway has been out of service for almost three years.

Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) interim chief executive Carrol Buxton has said all efforts are focused on getting the Cairngorm funicular railway back to operating.

A £16 million funicular repair project started in the spring, with the aim of getting the mountain train running again in time for this year’s winter sports season.

But the Covid-19 pandemic and blizzards have pushed back the reopening, which is now planned for the second half of next year.

The mile long railway was opened in 2001 at a cost of around £26.75m after being designed and constructed by Morrison Construction.

However, it was taken out of operation in October 2018 due to safety fears.

Legal action raised by HIE

In July this year it was revealed HIE was suing Morrison, now part of the GallifordTry construction company, based in Uxbridge, England for £14.5m.

HIE said it had “serious concerns” over the failure of key parts of its infrastructure after less than 17 years of operation.

The case is understood to centre on defects found after the railway’s closure and breaches of contract.

Ms Buxton has said the economic agency’s priority is for the funicular to be operational.

She said: “HIE absolute ambition is to get the funicular up and running as soon as possible.

“It’s in everybody’s interest that Cairngorm Mountain operates as effectively and efficiently and we want to get it into that position as soon as we can.

“That’s where we are focusing our efforts.”

Covid-19 delayed repair work

In October 2020, it was announced the line was to be repaired as part of a £20m project to make the struggling Cairngorm resort a year-round attraction and Balfour Beatty was appointed to carry out the work.

The start of work on the funicular repairs was held up by the Covid-19 pandemic.

HIE is footing £10.35m of the bill, using nearly £8.5m raised from the 2019 sale of the Centre for Health Science to the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

The Scottish Government is contributing a further £10.6m to the project.

Area manager of HIE’s Inner Moray Firth area James Gibbs said: “Works are proceeding.

“They’ve been paused over the winter because of weather conditions.

“It will resume in the spring when weather allows construction to continue. Beyond the delays that were announced there’s been no significant changes.

“The resort now has a confirmed chief executive and there’s a clear strategy in place.

“There is consulting on the masterplan and it’s implementation to improve the site over the next five years.”

Susan Smith

Earlier this month Susan Smith was named new chief executive of Cairngorm Mountain after a two-year secondment.

Ms Smith has been interim CEO since 2019, when she left her job as head of business development at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to lead resort operator Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) – CMSL – on a temporary basis.

Stuart Black, who has led HIE’s economic and community development agency’s Moray team since February 2020, will take up his new post as chief executive in January.

Speaking about his appointment HIE chairman Alistair Dodds said: “Stuart is a very positive person who has excellent ideas. He will make sure we continue to improve. I’ve every confidence in him.”

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