The UK’s highest railway re-opened to the public on 26 January – four years after structural problems caused it to be closed for strengthening. The Cairngorm funicular near Aviemore, owned by public body Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), had been out of action since September 2018 following the findings of an investigation COWI was asked to carry out. COWI successfully collaborated with leading property, construction, and infrastructure consultancy Pick Everard to deliver the funicular’s return to operation for HIE and its subsidiary, operating company Cairngorm Mountain Scotland Limited.
As civil and structural technical advisor to the project, COWI was initially engaged to investigate concerns, identified by the Operator’s inspectors, in the structure supporting the funicular. Site investigations were undertaken to inform an assessment of the structure. The assessment findings concluded that the structure would require strengthening measures to be installed to allow a return to operation.
Scott Allan, Project Director, COWI in the UK, said: “COWI developed strengthening solutions to remediate the structure and address the concerns identified in the viaduct structure. These solutions included external strengthening of the main beams and bracing system, replacement and alteration of the structure’s mechanical bearings and strengthening of the existing piers. We continued to support this technically challenging project through to completion of strengthening works and advised on structural matters for the Operator’s safety case.”
Pick Everard was appointed by professional services provider Perfect Circle via the SCAPE Consultancy framework, to deliver multi-disciplinary services to the funicular, comprising project management, quantity surveying, health and safety and technical assurance.
Jamie Marshall, Director at Pick Everard, said: “Everyone at Pick Everard is hugely proud of the cross-collaborative effort delivered by our multi-disciplinary teams. Dedicated support is vital in a project like this, where health and safety is paramount. But thanks to the close working relationship with HIE, CMSL, COWI and the project team, we were able to deliver detailed test and inspection services that have allowed the Cairngorm funicular to reopen safely and successfully.”
Victoria Brambini, Managing Director of Perfect Circle, added: “The Cairngorm funicular is one in a lifetime project to work on. I’m delighted that Perfect Circle, via Pick Everard, was able to deliver the vital professional skills to remediate the funicular and to see it reopen to the public last month.”
One of Scotland’s most distinctive tourism attractions, the Cairngorm funicular opened in 2001 and offers year-round access to the stunning mountain environment for a very wide range of ages and abilities. The track runs for 1,970 metres and rises through 462 metres, with a maximum gradient of 23° (1 in 2.5 or 40%). Each carriage can accommodate 100 people standing. As is common practice with funicular railways, there is a single track (2,000 mm – 6’ 6.3⁄4” gauge) with a passing loop halfway, just above the middle (Sheiling) station.
At the top, on the approach to Ptarmigan station, the railway runs for 250 metres through a cut-andcover tunnel. Maximum operating speed is 22mph (36km/h) and the railway can operate in wind speeds of up to 75mph (120km/h).