Cairngorm Mountain Railway

(Cairngorm Funicular Railway)

Cairngorm Funicular Railway
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Cairngorm Funicular Railway

Located 6 miles (10 km) southeast of Aviemore, just to the south of the Glenmore Forest Park, is the Cairngorm Mountain Railway. Opened in 2001, at a cost of £14.8 million, this is the highest railway in the UK. It replaced the White Lady chair-lift, which first began operation in 1961, as a means of raising tourists and skiers to the Ptarmigan Station, just 122m (400 feet) below the summit of Cairngorm. This high-speed funicular railway can travel its route of 1¼ miles (2 km) in less than five minutes and can carry up to 1200 passengers per hour. It carried around 300,000 visitors annually in 2017, representing around a 50% increase in winter usage compared the chair-lift and a 300% increase in summer.

The railway was developed amongst great controversy, with protestors claiming significant environmental damage to the delicate sub-arctic eco-system during a 10 year battle against the development. Such concern has ensured that there is no public access to the mountain from the top station during the summer. However, visitors can enjoy panoramic views from the Ptarmigan Station, together with a mountain exhibition, shops and a large restaurant.

In winter, the railway runs at high speed with a priority of efficiently transporting skiers up the hill. The railway can operate in wind speeds of up to 85 miles per hour (137 km / hour), allowing considerably improved utilisation over the old chair-lifts. In contrast, during the summer months, the journey is completed at a more leisurely pace allowing tourists to enjoy the experience in greater comfort.

The railway closed in 2018 due to structural problems with the concrete pillars, beams and foundations that support the track and require strengthening at an estimated cost of £10 million. Debate continued as to whether the railway should be removed.

The railway is owned by a public body, Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

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