The beleaguered Cairngorm funicular will remain closed all summer, and possibly beyond that, amid alarming safety fears – sparking concern on the impact to local tourism and the economy.
Concerned business and community leaders have called on Cairngorm Mountain, owned and operated by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), to “publicise their plans to protect summer revenues”.
Amid calls for clarity last night, HIE bosses insisted: “Our goal is to have the funicular up and running as soon as is safe to do so.”
The ski resort’s mountain railway was put out of action in October over concerns about its supporting structure.
A detailed investigation by specialist engineers highlighted essential work was required to strengthen the piers, beams and foundations, and install new bearings with higher load and movement capacity.
Mark Tate, chief executive of Cairngorms Business Partnership, admitted the news was “a serious blow”, adding: “It is a disappointment. It will have an impact on tourism and the broader economy.
“It is significant. It is a major attraction to the area, although there are many others, but a lot of coach parties went there and it can make a difference between them staying at hotels for an extra day.”
Mike Dearman, director of Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust, said: “We are very saddened.
“It is essential that when the repair estimate is ready, HIE engages meaningfully with the community over the options available.
“It is essential that Cairngorm Mountain publicises their plan to protect summer revenues, to give community and visitors confidence in the future.”
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Kate Forbes MSP added: “It is really unfortunate and disappointing. The sooner we have clarity the better so that work can commence and the funicular can transport people up and down the mountain once again.
“The Aviemore and wider Strathspey and Badenoch community have been incredibly resilient during this period of uncertainty, and I hope that much better times are ahead.”
Strathspey councillor Bill Lobban said: “While this news is disappointing there is so much more that Aviemore and the rest of Badenoch and Strathspey have to offer.
“Cairngorm only forms a very small part of our overall tourist provision and I fully expect summer visitors to continue to flock to the area whether we have a funicular or not.”
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.”
HIE’s subsidiary operator, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Limited – which took over the resort following the collapse of the previous operator – is starting to develop a range of alternative options for summer visitors.
Interim chief executive Ross Harris said: “The funicular is 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.”
The engineers concluded that, while the structure does not present an “immediate danger”, the safety margin was “lower than desirable” and a series of measures should be put in place to address the weaknesses.
HIE is exploring the scope and cost of the works required, and this alone is expected to take several weeks.
They said work on the structure can only be carried out during summer months when the mountain is more accessible to contractors – resulting in the lengthy closure.