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Claims that Cairngorm funicular could be at risk of terrorism attack

By Gavin Musgrove

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OUT OF ACTION AGAIN: The Cairngorm funicular at the Base Station.
OUT OF ACTION AGAIN: The Cairngorm funicular at the Base Station.

Campaigners are claiming that a veil of secrecy is being thrown over the on-going closure of the Cairngorm funicular with one UK government department asserting it could not release requested information because of the threat to national security and terrorism.

Critics have said it appears therefore that neither Highlands and Islands Enterprise nor the Department for Transport (DfT) have a copy of the report of the final inspection by LECS UK which resulted in the funicular being signed off as safe to use by the public at the start of last year.

Eight months later the mountain railway was out of commission again and remains so despite the initial repairs running for more than four years and costing in the region of £25m.

Campaigners had made a request under the Freedom of Information Act (2000) to the DfT – as the ultimate regulatory authority for the Cairngorm funicular – for information it holds on the safety of the uplift.

But this was refused with the DfT stating: "The information contained within the operational safety reports, analyses and technical file that are being withheld and/or redacted would provide any potential hostile actors with detailed information on the safety critical systems and how potential safety risks can be addressed and mitigated, thus increasing the risk of attack.

"Whilst the possibility of a terrorist attack being aided by the release of the information may be relatively low, we should not completely dismiss this scenario.

"We recognise that terrorists can be highly motivated and may go to great lengths to gather intelligence.

"This means there are grounds for withholding seemingly harmless information on the basis that it may assist terrorists when pieced together with other information they may obtain."

The rebuttal – the latest of several under FoI legislation – has left campaigners gobsmacked.

NICK KEMPE: Has described national security claim as 'nonsense'.
NICK KEMPE: Has described national security claim as 'nonsense'.

Nick Kempe, of the Parkswatch blog, commented: "The funicular – a target for terrorist attacks!

"Some would no doubt wish that had happened long ago providing no-one was hurt as it might have saved a lot of public money which could have been far better spent.

"This claim is nonsense.

"The cables on the funicular, just like those on much uplift infrastructure across Europe, are readily accessible and there is absolutely no need for any would be terrorist to understand how the control system operates.

"If there were anything in the terrorism argument HIE should be applying for planning permission to surround the whole funicular structure with barbed wire fences and deploy dogs in the new enclosure."

Outlining his suspicions for the stance taken, Mr Kempe said: "It now appears possible that DfT staff may have failed to scrutinise their reports (for the signing off of the funicular) properly, have belatedly realised that they are deficient and as a consequence have resorted to 'national security' as a means of covering up these failures."

He said all reports held by HIE and DfT including LECS UK's final inspection should now be published.

Grantown-based campaigner Gordon Bulloch had requested the information from the DfT and will be appealing the decision.

He said: "This cover up might not have the scale of the Post Office cover up but I believe it is certainly just as serious and demonstrates a callous carelessness in the management of public funds by HIE."

Critics have said there continues to be some alarming gaps in information covering:

• the design and build of the 2019-2022 repairs to the mountain railway.

• The approval process for the funicular going back into service in January 2023.

• What the full extent of the faults were which caused HIE to close the funicular again in August 2023.

• What work has been undertaken since then and what technical design and approval was conducted on these latest ongoing repairs.

• Is the DfT undertaking a further approval process before any decision is made to put the funicular back into service.

• What role if any has the Health & Safety Executive had in the last eight years or more.

Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain said much more transparency is needed over the on-going delays.
He said: “There may well be some security implications but the issues around the railway are such that it’s important local people understand why there are these continued delays.

“It would help if HIE was more open about the problems they are facing and how they are resolving them.

“Its continued secrecy, and indeed the secrecy being attributed to national security, are not helping the overall situation.”

Strathspey MSP Fergus Ewing (SNP) said: "Whilst the possibility of such an attack seems remote it's the decision taken. I do think that critics of the funicular might want to spare a thought for people who work hard on the hill

"Surely the aim is to support them and the contribution they make and have made for decades to the local community and economy."

An HIE spokesperson said: “HIE has received a considerable number of Freedom of Information requests relating to Cairngorm over the years, and we always recognise the public interest when responding.

"In this particular case, we do not hold a copy of the information that was requested.

"We have published a wide range of previous FoI responses and many can be found on our website at www.hie.co.uk/cairngorm."

The DfT was contacted for comment.

HIE said last week that the Cairngorm funicular remains out of operation for an 'indefinite period'. It last run in August when safety repairs were expected just to take a few weeks.

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