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some frustrated skier

Funicular repair & Master Planning
Date Posted: 20.57hrs on Thu 21 May 20
Report in the Strathy.


HIE bullying their way through the planning process?

Edited 1 times. Last edit at 10.03hrs Sat 25 Jul 20 by alan.


Posts: 55
Joined: Dec 2004
Last Visited: 20:17
26th Jan 2022
Re: Funicular Repair approved this morning
Date Posted: 11.02hrs on Fri 22 May 20
Technically it wasn't approved until this morning when passed with no voting objections at the CNPA planning committee.

The final words on the subject came from Willie McKenna - "As a locally elected member for this area fo the CNP I find this is a very very wise decision you have made today."

Nothing could be much further from reality. Even before the funicular closed CairnGorm's market share of Scottish snowsports had reduced to a historical low. Indeed the strong correlation between being able to ski the Carpark Run to demand is a reflection of the level of snowsports customer dissatisfaction with the Funicular as a means of winter uplift.

Contrary to comments by Planning Officers at this morning's planning meeting, repairing the funicular completely prejudices the master planning process currently being undertaken. If the funicular is repaired, it locks in the Funicular and locks in the present ski area structure of a Cas centric ski area dependent on road access to Coire Cas. It also locks up significant public capital expenditure which could be used to significantly re-imagine CairnGorm with better snowsports facilities and much less intrusive and better maintained built environment.

The Funicular is dysfunctional in winter, none of it's inefficiencies and high costs will be addressed, indeed the operating costs are only likely to be going in one direction (up), thus undermining the viability of the operator and therefore further threatening the sustainability of snowsports on CairnGorm Mountain.

David Hayes - Landmark Forest Adventure Park in the Guardian on Wed 28th April 1999:

With hindsight it is difficult not to concur with David Hayes statement because:

CairnGorm Mountain Limited accumulated £2.753 million of losses during the period the Funicular and the current Ptarmigan Restaurant were both in full operation.

CairnGorm Mountainís operator was twice taken into public ownership by HIE in 2008 (to stave off a formal insolvency) and again in 2018 (after entering administration).

The case to repair the Funicular is very weak, the case against repairing it strong and wide ranging. The National Park authority notes that between 2009 and 2016 visits to the Park increased 13.4%, while over the same period funicular usage declined 3%.

It is clear that funicular railway is not the economic success and importance that HIE proclaim in support of the planning application, rather the funicular has been a financial millstone around the neck of CML that has directly contributed to the run down and derelict nature of the built environment on CairnGorm and the related loss of uplift capacity and extent.

THE SE Group reports admit that in reality the Funicular falls far short of theoretical capacity, at best matching the Chairlifts it replaced and falling far below that of modern chairlifts.

The issue of snow burial and tunnel mouth problems mean the Funicular loses more days of operation than either the Nevis Gondola or the Glencoe Access Chair in February, the most key commercial month given half term. Further the staff resources tied up in getting the Funicular operational increases costs, lowers income and diverts staffing resources away from preparing and opening other uplift and terrain - all to the detriment of the snowsports experience.

Perhaps most importantly, fixing the funicular viaduct along with associated upgrades to control / running gear and rolling stock, plus HIE proposed Ptarmigan redevelopment will consume at least £14.5m of public funds.

Instead of using that capital investment to restore a failed and economically unviable status quo, it should be used for other projects both on CairnGorm and indeed the other areas - where significant economic and customer experience benefits could be achieved. Removal of the Funicular viaduct could then be incremental, beginning with the most highly visual intrusive higher reaches.

That is perhaps all the more imperative in the economic aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, that public investment generates real benefits and return on investments.

Edited 3 times. Last edit at 11.18hrs Fri 22 May 20 by winterhighland.

Attachments: dh-funicular-quote.png (3kB)  

Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 16.25hrs on Fri 22 May 20
Its a shitshow. A white elephant. And an eyesore. Knock it down.

Cairngorm are falling into the trap of sunk costs.

some frustrated skier

Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 22.37hrs on Fri 22 May 20
I wonder what the story will be in 5 years when the business model fails again.

At least Jansen admitted the winter profits kept the lights 'on'


Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 08.26hrs on Sat 23 May 20
The damage was done when the decision was made to try to build a lift to guarantee all weather access up to the Ptarmigan. That has not proved possible.

A strategy of maintaining the existing uplift and accepting that there are going to be a lot of days when it is not possible to reach the Ptarmigan would have been more sustainable. The harm was choosing an expensive railway option and then deciding to build it in concrete.

CNPA has made what is probably a logical planning decision. Viability or unpalatable economic judgement is not a material planning consideration. From a land use perspective the funicular is already there lawfully and in accordance with policy, so there is no planning reason not to permit relatively minor additional works.

The fact that we donít agree with spending that money is not a consideration that the planning committee can legally give weight to. A call in request to the Scottish Government to review the decision could be made but I donít see that being changed on the basis of the planning merits of the proposal.

The real argument is not about planning permission. Itís about the economic sense in spending more public money in this way. Surely that is an area for scrutiny by the Scottish Government ?


Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 16.01hrs on Sat 23 May 20
"so there is no planning reason not to permit relatively minor additional works. "

but it is not minor work


It's an absolute feckingnightmare. That will be repeated no doubt.

The Scottish government really need to decide that this is NOT a suitable way to spend taxpayers cash.

The mountain can be developed in a more sustainable and, just as importantly, practical, manner for a fraction of the cost of these repairs and the ongoing maintenance.

As to maintenance, it really makes you wonder what maintenance was actually going on if the structure could get to a point where it was a danger to life and limb and had to be shut down immediately.

Do we trust the owners to properly maintain it this time? Proper maintenance is very expensive, which is, I hazard a guess, why it was not being done in the past. Maybe the Scottish government needs to get some independent engineers to go through the maintenance work permits etc to see what was actually going on, and how often.

Edited 1 times. Last edit at 16.02hrs Sat 23 May 20 by WeeSam.

some frustrated skier

Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 20.09hrs on Sat 23 May 20
I wonder if a track engineer has even inspected the rails or fastenings in the almost 20 years of operation, never mind a Civil Engineer inspecting the foundations or columns.


Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 10.46hrs on Sun 24 May 20
The ownership of the ski area and the infrastructure on it has always been a bit of a mystery to me (it seems deliberate, along the lines of "Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.Ē (Rickover)

Was the maintenance paid for in part out of the public purse? If so, then The Freedom Of Information Act can be used to obtain copies of the maintenance schedule.


Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 00.10hrs on Fri 19 Jun 20

If they go ahead with the repairs, once they get started, you can bet it will reach £20M and beyond. All sorts of inconvenient but essential environmental hurdles will be found. The repairs will be more extensive that previously thought. Because its a national park, all sorts of hoops will need to be jumped though. Maybe make that £25M.

Imagine what you could do with £15M...


Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 07.05hrs on Fri 19 Jun 20
By the time they stop throwing money at this they could have built an underground funicular from top to bottom !

some frustrated skier

Re: Funicular repair approved by planners
Date Posted: 09.32hrs on Fri 19 Jun 20
I feel it is time to remove and install a Funitel or something similar.

Repair costs are more than the initial cost.

The designer/builder must be over the moon that the warranty has lapsed......


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Re: Funicular repair & Master Planning
Date Posted: 10.25hrs on Sat 25 Jul 20
Yesterday HIE published a 61 page draft CairnGorm master plan. This is in response to the consultation exercise conducted pre lockdown, but basically has little to say on snowsports and even less about the financials of turning CairnGorm around.

This is a process that should be an all options appraisal covering not just the Cairn Gorm Estate in the ownership of HIE, but seeking a coherent integrated vision for the Glenmore corridor and the mountain.

Instead the master plan process is completely prejudged by the 1st working assumption - the Funicular will be operational.

Further this map should concern all skiers, the end of Ciste uplift below Top Basin is implied. On top of that the new lifts as proposed in the SE Group report provides no redundancy to the funicular for non skiers and early novices.

The proposed lifts other than the inline replacement of the Ptarmigan T-bar have serious issues that have been raised repeatedly regarding placement into avalanche runout zones for the West Cas Chairlift and the extreme exposure of a line providing lift access to the Marquis Well via the White Lady / crest of Coronation Wall.

Above all though, there's no financials, no mention of the steadily rising estimated cost of repairing the Funicular (a cost which is more than HIE can meet from its normal budget). A range of £10-15million for just the viaduct repairs according to a recent Audit Scotland report.

That such a scale of further funding could come from the public sector is highly unlikely and having spent somewhere in the region of £15 to £20m on the Funicular and Ptarmigan Restaurant restoring the failed and commercially unviable Funicular status quo there is no credible hope of the operator being able to raise £20-£30m of capital investment required for the SE Group vision on commercial terms.

In terms of climate change and snow making the subjects are intertwined, but both brushed over with little evidence or detail. The referenced report on snow lie in the national park is a broad brush study for the entirety of the national park, that explicitly states it did not have the time or resources to look specifically at the 3 snowsports areas.

Fixing the Funicular seems almost certain to sound the death knell for CairnGorm Mountain after a short term dead cat bounce. Without the means to raise capital to invest further, a retreat to the Ciste & Ptarmigan, plus Coire Cas T-bars as the Pomas become uneconomically life expired seems to be both inevitable and the closest we'd get to the SE Group vision in the above map.

The problem then would be a snowsports area far below the capacity required to sustain the cost of operating a dysfunctional funicular railway. Either ongoing public subsidy or tax payers footing the final removal of the ski area would be the remaining options.

View the MP draft: []

Edited 2 times. Last edit at 10.30hrs Sat 25 Jul 20 by alan.

Attachments: HIE-CGM-MP-Map.jpg (299kB)  

Re: Funicular repair & Master Planning
Date Posted: 12.28hrs on Sun 26 Jul 20
And the survey link to comment on the report currently says:

"This survey is currently closed. Please contact the author of this survey for further assistance."

Impressive approach to public consultation!


Re: Funicular repair & Master Planning
Date Posted: 22.33hrs on Sun 26 Jul 20
Sounds like more of the same, which risks a similar outcome. The strategy for skiing is clearly secondary and looks like managed decline. There is no stated aspiration to provide skiing above the level of beginner despite the good intermediate terrain at Cairngorm.

The suggestion of three new (presumably) chairlifts to replace all the existing uplift seems naive to me. Even if the money were found what about the technical feasibility ? Unless surface tows are retained there would be no skiing on windy days, other than waiting for the funicular. That will not improve resilience or the reputation of Cairngorm. Also the height of new pylons are likely to be more visually intrusive than the existing towers , at least higher up the hill.

The continued uncertainty around the future of the existing tows is probably not great for their maintenance. Would it not be cheaper, safer and more sustainable to just refurbish the existing lifts, keeping this money and these skills (eg. apprenticeships?) within the Scottish economy rather than exporting more of it to the Alps?

The option of connecting the sheiling to Glenmore by Gondola is not mentioned, presumably because there just wouldnít be any money after repairing the funicular. That is a shame because that option might deliver a lot more against the masterplan objectives and in pursuit of national park purposes. It could for example bring environmental enhancement in terms of the removal of Corrie Cas car park, eliminate carbon and other emissions from the hill road and help return tranquility to Cairngorm. From a financial perspective there would be a year round revenue from ticket sales and a great new option to extend the cycle network. All the educational and other benefits of a purpose built Cairngorm Mountain centre could be better achieved at a new base station down in Glenmore, closer to Speyside and maintaining access in most weather. On days when it is too windy to run the Gondola there would still be plenty to do at the base station which would have the space, capacity and footfall to gradually develop all manner of year round activities and accommodation.

Removing the funicular even over a 10 year period would itself enhance the mountain, and save £15m in repairs. Some might even pay just to see it being removed ! It could be replaced by second hand chairlifts running from the car park up to the sheiling then up to the Ptarmigan. In summer the chairlifts would once again allow walking from the Ptarmigan, free from the closed system which is tied to the funicular, and thereby generating future repeat custom.

Good to see they are finally looking at renewable energy options after being championed for years by Save the Ciste. No mention of the potential for clubs, volunteers or other not for profit groups to support the Masterplan and activities on the hill ?


Re: Funicular repair & Master Planning
Date Posted: 08.16hrs on Mon 27 Jul 20
The wind argument isn't that major any more. Modern detachebles can operate at winds speeds you don't want to be on a mountain anyway.
I was in Schlick2000 a few years back with 8bft. gust at 2000m, chair operates a bit more slowly (and then canopy down is great). But locals said if there was any more wind it would be the skiers that would stop before the wind.
Also, chairlifts use less but bigger pylons, so it wont look as bad as people think.
The problem witch Cairngorm is not that this plan is bad as such, it's the double standard compared to other resorts. Plus the obvious sinkhole that railroad up the mountain is.

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