A well attended business breakfast (despite a time that was very difficult for many in the hospitality sector) was held in Aviemore on Wednesday morning with Highlands and Islands Enterprise about the CairnGorm Funicular.
Sadly lacking was new information and pardon the pun concrete update that many expected. There was notable frustration in the room with the persistent lack of straight and meaningful answers from HIE.
At this stage HIE couldn't tell the room what went wrong with the funicular. We did learn that HIE do not yet have a final report on the engineers findings, and when they do have a final report on what needs done it will need to be peer reviewed.
What HIE did say was that their understanding at this time was the funicular was 'repairable'. However, the accompanying on screen slide and verbal information stated that:
- Pier foundations require re-enforced
- Piers need repaired / strengthened / realigned
- Beams need strengthening
- All bearings need replaced on the piers
Basically each component of structure needs work by the sound of it - repairable in this sense could mean anything up to practically rebuilding the funicular viaduct.
HIE also stated that an invitation to tender would require to be advertised in the OJEU (official journal of the European Union) and the threshold for that is for works greater than £4.5 million at present. The tender process was stated to be likely to require 3 to 4 months.
In other answers, it was likely to be a month before the final reports and peer review could be completed. James Gibbs of HIE did say that it would be at least end of June before any work people could be on the funicular - however an audience member justifiably pointed out that in light of HIE's other answers a time machine would be required to start repairs in July!
The summer works window for repairs is short. Even after a tender is awarded there will be a mandatory standstill period of as we understand it at least 15 working days before any activity relating to the tender award can get underway.
HIE did state that Cairngorm Mountain were working on contingencies for no funicular in winter 2019/20, but were not forthcoming with more information.
Given the totality of the presentation and answers (as such as questions were answered) the only reasonable conclusion is that the funicular is very unlikely to run in winter 2019/20 or for that matter summer 2020.
Reading between the lines it also sounded as if HIE simply don't have the funds for the scale of the repairs to give the funicular a long term future and the Scottish Government would have to step in and fund CairnGorm directly.
We also understand from local sources that the funicular control and safety systems are obsolete and nearing end of support and will require to be replaced in the near future for a further £1.5 to £2m.
Take in totality with repair works over the OJEU threshold of £4.5m then upwards of £6m looks required to be spent. Perhaps substantially more as HIE did on several occasions say cost of demolition and reinstatement would be a factor.
However, the funicular has not proved to be attractive to non skiing repeat visitors and has struggled to maintain summer visitation compared to the Nevis Range gondola, while proving much more expensive to operate. It has repeatedly proven itself to be dysfunctional in winter, problems with the tunnel mouth and frequent over drifting resulting in regular late openings or days with no funicular. Mid-station stops causing capacity to drop to less than half the old chairs.
In winter it is not the funicular per se that attracts a section of the snowsports market, particularly families, snowboarders and early intermediates, it is being able to access the whole Cas side and the M2 from non surface uplift.
Perhaps time to start thinking the previously unthinkable?
Certainly a complete and absolute rethink on the strategy pursued over the past 20 years is required, we have learnt the hard way with 2 financial failures 10 years apart that a single base ski area almost entirely focussed on Coire Cas with a high cost funicular is not a sustainable and viable business.
Edited 1 times. Last edit at 11.20hrs Thu 2 May 19 by alan.