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Delays and cost hikes hit Balfour Highlands rail job

Balfour Beatty has been forced to push-back the completion date of its £16m contract to repair the UK’s highest railway.

The Scottish Government’s Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agency has confirmed the Cairngorm furnicular will not reopen until the “second half of 2022.”

The railway at the ski resort was due to reopen early next year following strengthening work on the 1.9km viaduct that supports the track.

Balfour began work in April 2021 but delays have arisen due to “technical challenges associated with designing and implementing effective solutions to an existing structure, as opposed to a new build.”

Work has also been hampered by the impact of Covid and extreme weather including blizzard conditions in the spring.

HI added that “extra effort has also been required to source vital construction materials that are currently in short supply across the UK.”

HIE interim chief executive Carroll Buxton said: “We’ve always been upfront in describing the reinstatement programme as one of the most complex and difficult civil engineering projects in Scotland.

“As well as managing technical challenges, the team has to take great care to protect the mountain environment, and deal with difficult terrain and extreme weather conditions that can quickly become hazardous.

“The original schedule was very ambitious, even without the impacts of the pandemic lasting as long as they have and before the more recent problems in sourcing construction materials of suitable quality.

“With limited time available to complete these works before winter, postponement has become inevitable.”

The funicular was built by Morrison Construction and opened in 2001 but was taken out of service in 2018 after an engineers’ inspection identified structural defects that raised safety concerns.

Buxton said: “We’re now working with our designers and contractors on a revised schedule for the remainder of the project.

“Harsh mountain conditions mean that all work will need to halt over winter and resume next spring. To ensure safety, there also needs to be a period of testing and certification at the end of the programme, so our current expectation is that the funicular can be relaunched in autumn 2022.

“Clearly, a longer timescale will also have a financial impact. We’ll be reviewing costs very carefully and will publicly confirm a revised budget as soon as it’s possible to do so.”

HIE has also approved up to £780,000 for an extensive refurbishment of the Ptarmigan building that sits on the plateau and includes the UK’s highest restaurant, a shop, exhibition space and viewing platforms.

Following competitive tender, resort operator Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Ltd (CMSL) has awarded a contract for the first phase of the Ptarmigan works to Simpson Builders Ltd, based in Beauly. The refurbishment is due to start at the end of August and be completed by the end of 2021.


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