Taskforce to tackle delays to Stornoway-Ullapool route upgrades
A taskforce led by Transport Minister Derek Mackay will seek to resolve issues with improvements to the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry route.
Work to install a new linkspan at Ullapool ferry terminal has been pushed back from February to April because of delays in upgrading Stornoway harbour.
The improvements are needed before a new £42m ferry can be introduced.
Mr Mackay said he shared local communities' frustration with delays in making the improvements.
The new MV Loch Seaforth had been expected to take over the route from the MV Isle of Lewis last year.
The taskforce will involve Transport Scotland, port authorities, Caledonian Maritime Assets, Caledonian MacBrayne and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Mr Mackay said: "I have called for the formation of this taskforce so we can put the delays behind us and bring the focus back to delivering a project that promises to be a significant upgrade for ferry users.
"The first priority will be to get the harbour works at Stornoway completed at the earliest opportunity."
Calmac is planning a revised sailing schedule to work around disruption caused by the installation of the new linkspan at Ullapool.
The schedule involves:
- Up to two daily return sailings from Stornoway to Uig on Skye for passengers and vehicles.
- One daily return sailing from Stornoway to Uig for freight.
- Two daily return sailings from Stornoway to Ullapool for passengers only.
- An enhanced service on the Uig to Tarbert route.
Calmac said provisional timetables have been drafted and it would be talking to interested parties over the coming weeks about how to "optimise sailing times".
Mr Mackay added: "We must not lose sight of the end goal here - improved harbour facilities in Stornoway and Ullapool and a new state-of-the-art ferry for both communities.
"I look forward to seeing the MV Loch Seaforth operating on this route and bringing an improved service to ferry users."
Ullapool's 42 year old linkspan is to be replaced with a new two-lane structure which would allow vehicles to move on and off ferries quicker.
Delaying the work until April pushes the work into a busier period for ferry sailings.
Martin Dorchester, Calmac's managing director, said: "The introduction of the new vessel Loch Seaforth to the route, and the Ullapool linkspan replacement is completely dependent on the completion of the Stornoway improvements.
"However, to allow passengers to plan their movements as much as possible, the closure is now planned to start on 20 April for a maximum of five weeks.
"While we will be planning alternative travel arrangements to commence from 20 April, this is still very much based on work in Stornoway being finished."