MORE than £16 million is to be spent reinstating the UK's highest railway two years after it closed.

Ministers said £20m will be invested in Cairngorm mountain to make it a year-round attraction, with the majority of this going towards bringing Scotland’s only funicular railway back into use by next winter.

They hope the move will boost the local area and Scotland's wider tourism sector. 

It comes after auditors warned the Cairngorm Mountain resort may no longer be able to rely on skiing and other snowsports to make money.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said the resort's troubled history showed neither the private nor the public sector have been able to avoid losses.

Funded by the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), ministers said more than £16m will be used to bring Cairngorm Mountain Railway back into service during winter 2021-22.

They said the decision to reinstate the funicular was taken following a detailed options appraisal that also considered replacing it with "alternative uplift infrastructure", or removing it entirely.

Initial work to strengthen the 2km structure, which has been out of action since 2018, is expected to start later this month. 

Once up and running, it is expected to attract thousands of visitors a year, generating benefits for the wider economy in Badenoch and Strathspey, where the tourism and hospitality sectors have been hit hard by coronavirus.

A further £4.35 million has been approved for such works as building improvements, electrification of snow cannons, existing tow infrastructure, paths and car parking.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “We want to unlock the full potential of Cairngorm to make it a destination people can enjoy all year-round, and this significant investment couldn’t come at a better time.

“We know our tourism and hospitality sectors have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and in Badenoch and Strathspey a quarter of the workforce is in the accommodation and food services sectors - more than double the proportion for the Highlands and Islands as a whole. 

"By investing in the mountain we can generate significant economic benefits for the local area and our tourism sector.

“The business case for reinstating the funicular, which HIE has published today, made clear that repair and reinstatement was the preferred option. 

"Removal was estimated to cost approximately £17 million and would limit options around seasonal diversification on the mountain.    

“The funicular will not only transport thousands of annual visitors up Cairngorm again next winter, it will also bring access to the mountain environment to a broad range of visitors, including children, older people and people with disabilities.”

Charlotte Wright, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: “Cairngorm is more than a mountain. 

"It’s at the heart of the community and a key driver of the local economy, providing high quality jobs and supporting the wider tourism sector in Strathspey and Badenoch.

“Today’s announcement signals the importance of the Cairngorm estate as a national asset for Scotland, with its potential as a mountain resort alongside its unique natural habitats. 

"This investment will ensure it is ready to welcome thousands of visitors in all seasons of the year.

“With the funicular now set to be reinstated, and a range of other priority investments planned, we can continue to work with local stakeholders to ensure the surrounding business and communities can really begin to unlock Cairngorm’s potential and secure its future for decades to come.”