The future of the UK’s highest passenger railway has been thrown into further doubt following a detailed investigation into concerns over its structure.
Cairngorm mountain funicular route will be closed throughout the summer and “possibly beyond” in what is a major blow to tourism sector in the Highlands.
The railway has been shut since the start of October because of safety concerns over structures supporting the tracks.
Specialist engineers COWI were commissioned to carry out a detailed investigation by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which owns the facility.
Experts concluded that the structure does not present an immediate danger to the public but said that the safety margin is lower than desirable and that a series of measures should be put in place to address weaknesses before it reopens.
Work is needed to strengthen the piers, beams and foundations, and install new bearings with higher load and movement capacity.
Allan Brattey of the Aviemore Business Association, which represents over 80 businesses in the area, described the closure as “a disaster” when news broke last year that the railway would have to close.
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.
“We will provide further updates as things progress.”
HIE, which owns the resort and infrastructure, established a subsidiary, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Limited (CMSL), which took over operations on December 14 2018 and all employees of CML became employees of CMSL.
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “We need to ensure that work to have the railway back in working order is undertaken at the safest time for engineers.
“I am assured that Cairngorm remains open to winter sports and outdoor enthusiasts, with artificial snow on the lower slopes and ski tows providing, ski tows will provide access to the higher parts of the mountains.
“I know that Highlands & Islands Enterprise is working hard to resolve all these challenges and to support the local community and businesses through these difficult times.”