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Cairngorm 'summer' challenges funicular builders

SKIERS AT Cairngorm, one of Scotland's most popular winter sports areas, are enjoying a more comfortable journey to the piste thanks to the mountain's new funicular railway.

The 2km line, the highest railway in the UK, opened in December after two years of construction work in a highly sensitive environment in extreme weather conditions.

Starting in autumn 1999, design and build contractor Morrison Construction carried out most of its work in the summer months. But with wind speeds of more than 56km/h for half the time, snow falling in June each year and temperatures plummeting to -9infinityC in August, work was never easy.

At the beginning of 2001 the team had to clear up to 7m of snow before work could restart, after some of the heaviest snowfalls in 30 years.

The Cairngorms are the UK's largest national nature reserve.

Covering some 67,000ha, the mountain range is the largest single mass of high ground above 900m in the country. The Cairngorm Ski Area, near Aviemore, is surrounded by sites of special scientific interest, so the design had to give prime consideration to protecting the landscape and minimising disruption to the sensitive environment.

Morrison, appointed by Highlands & Islands Enterprise and ski area operator The Cairngorm Chairlift Company, developed a project implementation plan with all those affected by the scheme, including Scottish Natural Heritage, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and The Highland Council.

During construction 560m 2of turf was removed and stored with all the corresponding subsoil labelled and bagged. Lichen and mosscovered boulders were also stored and reinstated 'sunny-side up' at their original locations.

The railway, effectively a cable car system on rails, has two carriages that are pulled up and lowered down a single track by a pulley system driven from the top station.There is a passing loop at the midpoint where the track splits in two.

For the last 250m of the upward journey the carriages run in a cut and cover tunnel.

The scheme included construction of the top, bottom and middle stations, the Ptarmigan Centre restaurant and visitor facility at the top station and a sewage treatment plant at 640m.

All materials were transported by cableway or helicopter to minimise disruption.Two heavy duty cableways designed and installed by Gantner Cableways hauled 11,000t of concrete, as well as other materials and supplies, to the top of the mountain. A helicopter was used to airlift 430m 3of materials to the new top station.

The Ptarmigan Centre will be officially opened this spring.

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