The long-awaited return of the Cairngorm funicular is coming soon, with a price tag nearly £9 million more than initially intended.
It is now estimated the repair and refurbishment project will have cost around £25m in its entirety, far more than the £16.16m originally allocated to the refurbishment.
The attraction closed to the public in October 2018 due to safety concerns and was due to reopen in autumn 2021.
One year on, having endured spring blizzards, Covid, Brexit and technical challenges, works are in their final stages. It is hoped the funicular will carry people up and down the mountain again early next year.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which owns the funicular, has put the budget increase down to cost inflation in the construction sector and the weakness of the pound in international exchange rates, as well as the extra time it took to finish the project.
The agency commissioned specialists to look into the condition of the structure after it closed.
Investigations led it to have “serious concerns” over the failure of key parts of its infrastructure after less than 17 years of operation.
As a result, HIE is suing original builders, Morrison Construction, for £14.5m over defects found after the railway’s closure and breaches of contract.
If HIE is successful in this legal action, the money gained will be put back into the project to recoup public funding.
The rest of the difference in the budget has been made up of £7m extra Scottish Government funding and uncommitted funds from the Cairngorm masterplan.
Dave Macleod, head of property and infrastructure with HIE, explained the complexity of the project even without the additional challenges of the last year.
“The funicular reinstatement programme is undoubtedly one of the most challenging civil engineering projects currently taking place in Scotland,” he said.
“Essentially, it involves strengthening a series of 94 interconnected bridges which are part of a 1.2-mile structure, each with its own challenges and at high altitude in a difficult mountain environment. The loop section where the carriages pass one another on separate tracks is another feature that required a great deal of ingenuity to solve.
“Balfour Beatty have truly pulled out all the stops to reach this vital stage in the project and it’s really exciting to think that we are now looking at the prospect of passengers riding on this spectacular mountain railway again early next year.”
New control system
People visiting Cairngorm Mountain Resort might catch a glimpse of the funicular moving up and down the mountain for the first time in four years.
Balfour Beattie has been strengthening the viaduct supporting the UK’s highest railway since its closure but is now stepping down to make way for Swiss company Garaventa / Frey to install a new control system.
After a period of extensive testing, the railway will need certificates from the Department for Transport before it welcomes passengers back on board.
By the time the funicular opens early next year, the resort should also have a new carpark for visitors and a new conveyor system on the slopes.
With access to it reinstated, the Ptarmigan bar and restaurant will also reopen following an extensive makeover. Visitors will be able to enjoy a shop, exhibition space and viewing platforms along with its food and drink offering.