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Dawlish railway set for new coastal defence scheme

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Vital repair work is set to be carried out to four breakwaters to safeguard rail lines in Dawlish, Teignmouth and Holcombe, Devon.  

A  repair programme for four breakwaters, to improve protection for the Dawlish sea wall and the railway along the coast, will start next month and run for a further six months. The breakwaters to be repaired are at Boat Cove, Coastguards Point, Colonnade Underpass and Langstone Rock. 

This work will act as a temporary defence measure, while Network Rail spends £15M working up detailed plans for longer-term options. 

Network Rail has established a dedicated South West Rail Resilience Programme to identify and implement the best options to improve the resilience of the infrastructure along this embattled stretch of track. 

In 2014, storms caused part of the sea wall in Dawlish, Devon to collapse. The resulting damage left the rail lines suspended in mid-air. The damage is estimated to have cost the local economy up to £1.2bn

Dawlish rail washout : Dawlish section of track is exposed to rough seas

Dawlish rail washout : Dawlish section of track is exposed to rough seas in 2014

Network Rail director of route asset management Mike Gallop said: “This section of the railway is vital for many residents and communities in Devon and Cornwall and we are committed to safeguarding it for future generations,” he said.  

“However, it’s going to take us time to work out the best ways to protect the railway and then deliver these works, so we wanted to find ways now to make the railway more resilient than it currently is. By repairing the breakwaters we can give some immediate protection to the sea wall, the railway and town behind it, and we are looking at how we can put in place immediate, short term measures to reduce the risk of a landslip on the cliff at Holcombe.” 

In 2016, £10M of extra funding was made available to strengthen the resilience of the railway line from Exeter to Newton Abbot via Dawlish. 

In August, outgoing Network Rail chief executive Mark Carnes told New Civil Engineer that the emergency recostruction of the railway at Dawlish in 2014, was personally satisfying as it “symbolised the ‘can do’ spirit of railway people” and was among his career highlights. 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Philip Alexander

    Whilst the coastal route past Dawlish must be storm-proofed and retained, if the government had used simple commonsense when the closure was forced in 2014, we could be looking forward to re-opening the ex- Southern Railway route through Tavistock in only a couple of years.
    This has to be the proper resilient solution and could be constructed with the small change on HS2. How can it possibly be sensible to spend £100 billion on a vanity white elephant yet not be able to find a fraction of that to provide Devon and Cornwall with weatherproof railway connections to the rest of the country?

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  • Michael Thorn

    In 2014 the Prime Minister visited the damage to the Dawlish route and said "we must ensure that this never happens again". Since then, there has been a lot of talk and little apparent action. This coastal route is so exposed that Cross Country will not venture beyond Exeter in stormy weather: we wait with interest to see whether the new GWR Hitachi trains are as storm-proof as the old HST 125s.
    I understand that in the 1930s, Great Western had plans for a new inland route between Exeter and Newton Abbott, which were interrupted by the war. A new inland route is certainly needed to provide a storm-proof strategic route to the Plymouth Naval Base and the West beyond, at a fraction of the cost of HS2.

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