Wednesday 3 March 2010

Cairngorm Funicular Criticised By Public Accounts Committee

The Cairngorm Funicular Railway is an ugly scar on the mountain that should never have been built. Now the business case for its construction has been condemned by the Public Accounts Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a report called Review of the Cairngorm funicular railway. The findings of the committee are damning and basically say that Highlands and Islands Enterprise funded the construction with public money without bothering to properly assess the business case for the funicular. This meant, says the committee, that “the project was pushed forward without proper regard to the risk to the public purse.” The committee also says that HIE was determined “to proceed with the project at any cost”. This comes as no surprise to those of us who opposed the construction of the funicular as it was apparent then that there was little chance of it being profitable but that HIE wanted to expand the ski resort and, smarting from losing two public enquiries about plans to expand into Lurchers Gully, was determined to defeat conservationists . Private business thought so too and not a single penny of private investment could be raised. This was wise as the funicular has operated at a loss since it opened in 2001. The total of public money spent on this white elephant is now £26.75 million. And HIE want more, leading the committee to say it is “concerned that, given the history of loss-making by the business, HIE’s commitment to the project appears to be open-ended”. The committee demands that HIE produce a new business plan that “must be founded on a realistic assessment of the future viability of the facility”. HIE’s plan is to spend another £4 million of public money to maintain the funicular and bring it up to a standard where it can be sold to a private operator, if anyone mad enough to take it on can be found. And how come after all that money has already been spent that more has to be spent in the vain hope it can eventually be sold? The whole episode stinks. Building the funicular resulted in massive damage to the mountain, as anyone who observed the construction, as I did, knows, and we now have a useless eyesore that is losing money. The funicular should have no further public funds and should be removed and the land restored as far as possible. It is both an environmental and financial disaster.

Ironically, the funicular is currently buried under deep snow and so out of action at a time when the Cairngorms has the best snow cover for many years.

Photo info: The Cairngorm Funicular. Canon EOS 350D, 55-250@250mm, 1/1250@ f8, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.6


  1. Yes,the whole affair has been a fiasco and continues to be so. As you say Chris the funicular should be removed and the hillside restored, but I have no expectation that this will happen.

  2. Hear, hear. Someone should maybe assess how much it would cost to remove. My only concern would be for those currently employed on cairngorm mountain, however if they could spend £2 million removing the structure and restoring the land, then they could spend £2 million on a new project within the area which could employ the locals and maybe be guided by a conservation body.

    I think the area now deserves to be cared for given the 10 years of recent abuse.

    Anyway, this would at least be £4 million well spent rather than buried in the ground.

    Not holding my breath.

  3. Hear, hear.

    And on a slightly related subject, feeling particularly depressed at the moment as I've just returned from Spain where every western facing hill seems to be colonised by wind turbines. Even the Pico de la Duña - the highest point of the Vía de la Plata, a hill sanctified with a moving series of Christian wooden crosses - is riddled with the buggers.

  4. Here, here too!

    My hope is that the ski buildings and machinery will be dismantalled, that the public road to the ski areas will be closed and broken up giving the Cairngorms the respect it truly deserves and allowing us to be proud that we finally made the correct decision.

  5. As well as all of the above (which I fully endorse) the thing which has always bugged me about the funicular is that it was marketed as "A mountain experience", which it isn't; not in any meaningful sense.

    I can appreciate that there will be people who don't have the physical capacity, or just not the inclination, to walk up onto the plateau, but there are better outdoor experiences to be had around the forests and lochs in that locality than they'll find on the funicular.

  6. Those who have posted comments above are a hardline bunch! My main beef with the funicular is that it is an inefficient means of uplift. Spending a fraction of that money on chairlifts would have resulted in a better ski experience all round.

  7. Personally I think all those commenting above here are just looking at the situation from one viewpoint. You all seem to be seasoned outdoor enthusiasts, and no doubt spend weekends hiking around the cairngorm plateau. And why not? The Cairngorm plateau is big enough without you worrying unduly if one mountain is 'spoiled' by ski infrastructure, so please toddle on up Larig Ghru and enjoy!

    As for the funicular, I think it's an excellent facility, and should never have any requirement to make money. The whole money making thing is what spoiled the national railways and led to horribly inflated fares. As for looking ugly, well we all know that ski runs, lifts and mountain cafes don't exactly make a mountain look pretty, but should the mountains be left inaccessible to all but a few or not?

    Finally is it good or bad for the environment that such development takes place? Well think of all the millions of air miles racked up by british people jetting off to the Alps, partly because they could find no comparable facilities in the UK.

  8. The funicular has no purpose except to make money. It doesn't make the mountains accessible to people - it just shows them an ugly ski resort.

    And people come to Scotland to get away from the despoilation of the Alps.

  9. Not with you at all on this.

    I would like to see the end of the closed system and a mountain bike track from the top station.

    Roger Webb

  10. Roger, if you mean a track from the top station down to the car park then I would have no objection to this while the funicular is there. There are tracks that could be used by mountain bikers now.

  11. I was thinking of something more radical!