Ro-ro ferry access "by next month"

OCTOBER has now been identified as the month when Rothesay's ferry service should finally be transformed to full roll on, roll-off vehicular operation.

The installation of the new end-loading linkspan is now complete, and positioning trials have been carried out by MV Bute, using both her bow and stern ramps, meaning all that is needed now is certification from the Department of Trade and Industry.

Meanwhile, work continues to make the new passenger gangway ready in time for the beginning of October. The new facility should be much easier for passengers to use than the existing one - for a start it has two passenger lifts, each with room for ten passengers, rather than the single lift on the present structure.

The new gangway is also longer, meaning the ramps won't be nearly as steep as those on its much-maligned neighbour - and the ramps are twice as wide too.

Balfour Beatty's project manager Keith McLean and resident engineer Stuart McTavish gave us a general update on progress in the harbour area on Monday afternoon.

Keith told us the new gangway's lifts won't be restricted to disabled or less mobile passengers either, while the wider ramps should allow the process of getting everyone on and off the ferry to be considerably speeded up.

Unfortunately the full passenger access arrangements won't happen until early next year, once the new pedestrian bridge to the mid pier is installed.

Once the new linkspan is in use, passengers will continue to walk up and down the main pier, as at present, though the present temporary waiting room will be moved nearer to the new berth, to ensure pedestrians don't find themselves walking across the path of vehicles boarding and disembarking.

"All the fendering work is complete and there are only a couple of bollards to put in place," Keith told us.

"Once the new berth is in use we will start to reinstate the existing berth by timber piles and fenders, and Caledonian MacBrayne will remove their dolphin.

"There will be no need for an emergency timetable as the berth will still be safe for overnight berthing by using pneumatic Yokohama fenders to ensure that the ferries do not damage any of the work."

Keith then took us on a tour of the inner harbour and middle pier works, showing us how the the walls are being strengthened to allow work to be carried out below 'mean low water springs'.

He said: "We need to dig down to get the piles in and we can't do this while the inner harbour is still 'wet'.

"Many of these piles are temporary, but we need to have all this work carried out before we can remove the cofferdam at the entrance to the inner harbour.

"Once the cofferdam is away we can put the new bridge in place, but even then we will have to wait until all the plant is away from the mid pier before we can put the Cabbie's Rest in position - so it will be early next year before passengers will feel the full benefits of the new berth."

We asked Keith how he feels about the length of time the project is taking compared to the original estimate of 34 weeks.

"It is a challenge," he admitted.

"Dewatering the inner harbour has to be done, and we had a trial last week, which was a mixed success. We are monitoring for movement, but the pumps are coping now.

"Once all the work is complete the inner harbour will be fitted out with pontoons, giving capacity for 40 boats, and the consequent benefits to the island's economy."