Car transport on the ferry service between Stornoway and Ullapool will undergo an estimated suspension of up to six weeks during spring next year.
Ullapool Harbour trust have announced plans for works on the car ramp that will be upgraded to two lanes.
Ullapool Harbourmaster Kevin Peach said: “As part of the improvement works at Ullapool, the ageing linkspan will be replaced with a modern double-lane facility which will allow for more efficient loading and unloading of vessels particularly for commercial traffic.
“Works commenced on 3rd November with the civil works contractors on site preparing the piled access bridge.
“The Swedish linkspan manufacturers have ordered key long lead items to ensure a timeous delivery of the new infrastructure. The new linkspan will enable a wider range of CalMac vessels to fully utilise the harbour, increasing resilience on the Ullapool to Stornoway service.
“Whilst they will cause some short term disruption to services of around 4-6 weeks in the spring of 2015, these modernisation works will deliver long-term benefits to port users and the local communities alike.
“CalMac are currently exploring the alternative travel options. Ullapool Harbour Trust apologise in advance for this inconvenience, and the impact locally of an intense 9 week period of pile driving. The new linkspan facility will bring to an end the harbour’s ferry infrastructure improvement programme.”
CalMac have confirmed working towards alternatives for the route. A CalMac spokesperson said: “We are currently working through our options to find a way of minimising the impact on our customers of the planned works on Ullapool linkspan in the early part of 2015 and will make an announcement in due course once all options have been fully explored.
“We would prefer not to comment on any specific option at this stage. We currently do not envisage these works having impact on the ability of the MV Loch Seaforth to enter service on the route.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil has been in contact with Calmac following reports of a six week disruption to the Stornoway-Ullapool vehicle ferry service.
Angus MacNeil said: “This is a huge shock to the transport network in Lewis. The question has to be asked of CMAL as to when this situation became apparent.
“Calmac have told me this evening that they are working on timetables and that they will meet with community stakeholders to work round this problem, but again, it begs the question why this was not on the radar long before now.
“It appears that the problem is not with the Loch Seaforth per se. The problem is due to modifications required at Ullapool Harbour for the new vessel which means that vessels such as the Clansman or indeed
an altered Isle of Lewis would not be able to use Ullapool as it currently stands. Ullapool has one of the oldest linkspans in the Calmac network.
“It seems therefore that CMAL and Ullapool Harbour have decided to make alterations to the linkspan this winter rather than next winter.
“My big concern is the impact this will have on ferry users, both businesses and the wider community of Lewis, and it very important that communities and business are consulted urgently.”
CalMac today announced the arrival of the MV Loch Seaforth in Scottish waters.
A spokesperson said: “We expect her to arrive in Greenock tomorrow morning (November 7) and there are a number of activities planned for her including completing work on the passenger areas, addressing some outstanding technical matters from build, further Class & MCA inspections and carrying out sea trials and crew familiarisation exercises.
“Once we are fully satisfied that everything is in order, and subject to the completion of the Stornoway Harbour works, we will make arrangements to bring her to Stornoway and, in due course, will bring her into service on the Stornoway/Ullapool route.
Pictured is the MV Loch Seaforth now in Scottish waters, picture courtesy of Peter Therkildsen.”