After months of delay, Scotland’s newest ferry terminal is finally doing what it was meant to do — serving the public. Has it been worth all the trouble and expense? Eric Schofield reports on his first ‘working’ experience of the facility.
At 1040 on Tuesday 22 March Caledonian Isles berthed on schedule at Brodick’s new pier. The terminal building and its passenger access system were finally open for business.
The £30m facility took two years to build and was ready for use last autumn, but issues relating to the certification of its passenger access system forced its owner, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), to postpone inauguration until this month. In the meantime, several CalMac ferries were able to trial the new facility.
The terminal’s most obvious features are the sandstone-clad two-storey reception building and elongated passenger access bridge, dwarfing the modest old pier facilities. What is less apparent to the eye is the new terminal’s energy-efficient design. Rooftop photovoltaic panels and automatic lighting controls are intended to reduce electricity consumption, while a biomass boiler fuelled from local sources also helps to reduce costs and lower the carbon footprint. These features are linked to a building management system that allows constant monitoring and adjustment of performance.
The ground floor of the terminal building has an Oban-style ticket office and toilets. The departure lounge is on the upper floor, accessed by two 13-passenger lifts and a 33-step stairway. From here the passenger access bridge structure (built by the Barcelona-based company Adelte) extends for more than 148 metres, the outward two sections being height-adjustable so as to link up with passenger ships using the east-side berth at varying heights of tide.
Towards the end of the bridge structure is a cabin-style gangway section which moves out to connect with the regular ferry on the west-side berth. The gangway has an inverted U-shaped cover to protect passengers from the elements.
Questions remain. How well will all this work in the years ahead? Is such an expensive system really necessary? Only time will tell.
I had my first experience of the new facility on Sunday 25 March, taking Caledonian Isles’ 0945 sailing from Ardrossan. As I suspected, the configuration of the pier requires the ferry to return to the old practice of sailing past and swinging round to approach from the west — the traditional way exemplified by Glen Sannox in the days of side-loading at the old pier.
Berthing was slowish, but that is only to be expected as everyone gets familiar with the new arrangement. The slowest part seemed to be getting the gangway cabin lined up. I was surprised to see that the U-shaped cover did not deploy automatically but had to be pushed out by hand. My wife Carol and I waited till most passengers were off before disembarking, so that I could have an opportunity to take a picture or two inside the access system. At the shore end of the terminal we were led to a stairway descending to ground level, the doors opening on the landward side.
My initial thoughts were – what’s it going to be like on busy days when over 500 passengers with luggage are piling down these stairs, many anxious to get a seat on their chosen bus connection? The question would be especially pertinent if wind and rain were blowing in from the west. One stumble/trip by someone not paying attention in the melée could lead to a nasty situation.
A friend of mine, a member at Brodick Golf Club, regularly travels to Arran in company with a group of fellow golfers, each with golf bags on powered trolleys. He was concerned that the new access system did not seem to allow a simple means of reaching ground level. With other passengers using the lifts, and six or seven guys coming ashore with sizeable golf trolleys, it is surely going to take some time for everyone to get out.
I challenged one of the shore staff about this and was assured that “it is intended to have a vehicle on the ferry which would be used to carry heavy and bulky items of luggage ashore at no extra charge.” Whether this will work for my friend and his cronies is debatable, but it is certain to take longer.
As I had expected, the size and scope of the new terminal mean that getting a reasonable picture of Caledonian Isles at the pier is not easy, access to the ideal viewing points of the old pier and vehicle causeway being denied. Later I found that a decent enough image could be obtained from the upstairs departure lounge, at least whilst the large glass windows are clean, dry and free of staining.
Good pictures can be obtained from the prom, however, when the ferry is arriving and swinging round the bay, as I discovered when Caledonian Isles berthed for our 1350 return sailing to Ardrossan.
With nearly 100 vehicles waiting to load and the departure lounge looking pretty full, I could tell this was going to be a good test of the new loading arrangements. We were called forward to form a queue in the first section of the access tunnel and eventually released, once stragglers getting off the ship had finally made their way ashore.
On loading there seemed to be a bit of a pile-up at the boarding gangway, the reason becoming clear as we got to that point. A notice on the gangway states that no more than six persons should be on it at any one time, the shore crew stopping the slowly moving crocodile of passengers every so often to ensure compliance, before releasing the next batch of six.
Once aboard we watched the final loading of vehicles whilst the queue of passengers could be seen gradually filtering through the glass tunnel. Come 1350, vehicle doors closed, departure announcements made, and still there were one or two latecomers pecking and panting their way towards the gangway, one of the shore staff even coming forward to gently assist (or should that be ‘surreptitiously speed up’) the final passenger to the gangway.
At least the ship’s departure from the new pier is straightforward, allowing for a speedy power-up to full speed if required.
All in all, I can see a number of areas that could give concern, or raise grumbles amongst the travelling public, but like most new procedures many of these matters will find ready solutions with experience.
One major test is yet to come: how will the natural air ventilation work in keeping the access tunnel and terminal building cool in scorching hot sunny days? Hopefully there will be many opportunities to test that out this summer.
Click below for Eric Schofield’s previous Arran articles:
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