Sound of Barra Ferry
The key to economic survival on the islands is seen as developing the islands' ability to supply themselves through an internal market created by the north-south Spinal Route.
Critical to the final success of this project is the ferry service from Eriskay to Barra - which is expected to mimic the runaway success of the Sound of Harris ferry with commercial carryings up by almost 600 per cent in the first four years of operation.
Formerly consumers and firms in Barra were unable to easily cross to South Uist by car - a ferry linked Castlebay and Lochboisdale as part of the Oban service but this was only three times a week in summer and less often in winter. Equally events and organisations in Barra are cut off from a major source of potential participants to the north. Similarly tourists are unable to easily travel to all the main islands.
From 2003 the Loch Bhrusda will be transferred from the Sound of Harris service and a new bigger vessel provided there. Then it will be possible to travel from Ness in northern Lewis to Barra in a single day by car - actually only about 130 miles but until 1996 when the Harris ferry link began, a wholly impossible dream.
The aftermath of the Harris ferry start-up saw a vast growth in coach traffic as groups from Lewis and Harris - who had formerly only thought in terms of local trips or visiting the mainland - crossed the Sound to find out about the other part of their own islands which very few had ever visited.
Commerce has followed as firms - both north and south of the Sound of Harris - have moved to gain from the increased size of the local market. Overall, 70 per cent of the population live in Lewis and Harris (with almost 50 per cent in the Stornoway area alone) while 20 per cent live in the Uists and the remaining 10 per cent in Barra and Vatersay.