Cairngorms construction work pauses for winter
One of the UK’s most challenging civil engineering projects will be paused for the next few months as winter takes hold on Cairngorm mountain estate.
Teams from contractor Balfour Beatty, acting for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), have been busy on site since April 2021, carrying out a range of technical tasks to strengthen the 1.8km viaduct that supports the Cairngorm funicular railway.
Workers are currently demobilising the site for the planned winter shutdown and will return next Spring.
Snowsports season at Cairngorm Mountain is due to begin on December 17, though the resort operators may choose to open earlier if natural snowfall continues in the coming days.
Over the past nine months, Balfour Beatty has completed a programme to install new concrete jackets and props on 59 of the 94 piers that support the funicular viaduct, and carefully restored ground that had to be dug out or disturbed.
The next phase of the reinstatement programme is due to start in April 2022. It will focus on completing bearing replacements at all 94 piers and beam strengthening.
HIE is aiming for structural works to be completed in autumn 2022, at which point testing and certification will be carried out to enable the funicular to resume operation.
James Palmer, HIE’s Cairngorm project manager, said: “From an engineering perspective, the funicular reinstatement is an enormously complex project.
“Essentially, the sub-structure is a linked series of 94 small bridges, each one built to a different height and running up the side of a mountain.
“Then, on top of that, you have a solid platform to support the rails and all the moving parts that are essential to ensure safe operations.
“When you consider all the challenges involved during 2021, the progress achieved by Balfour Beatty has been impressive.
“During the winter, we’ll continue to be busy behind the scenes so that when work resumes on site next spring, we can move at pace to carry out the remainder of the project and get the funicular back up and running again.
“In the meantime, we wish our colleagues and all visitors to Cairngorm Mountain a very active and happy winter season for snowsports.”
Hector MacAulay MBE, Balfour Beatty’s managing director, said: “There have been several challenges this year with Covid and material supplies over and above the engineering works. The team have worked hard to deliver the works and the reinstatement through different weather conditions, managing helicopter flights to achieve programme milestones and to the satisfaction of the environmental inspectors.”