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Water cannon brought in to clear threat to Great Western Main Line reopening

A water cannon is being used to deal with a land slip in Devon that could threaten the re-opening of the Great Western Main Line.

Network Rail is using the high pressure tool to force fallen earth further down a cliff near Teignmouth and out to sea.

The rail body said this week was “critical” to ensure the obstacle would be cleared in time to allow the troubled line to re-open as planned on 4 April.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne told MPs in February that repairs at storm-damaged Dawlish were progressing well.

But engineers became aware on 4 March that about 20,000 tonnes of the cliff face near Teignmouth had sheared away and slumped about 20m.

With the help of Devon & Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, engineers have been spraying thousands of litres of water every minute onto the slip to wash away the earth.

They are trying to encourage the unsafe slip to complete its fall to the railway below. Click on the images above to read more.

Meanwhile a high-level taskforce is to examine possible new routes for the Great Western Main Line.

Network Rail has convened a group including the Department for Transport, the Environment Agency, councils and train operating companies. This taskforce will steer a review of three long-term options for making the coastal section of the route more resilient – protecting the existing route; building a second line; and re-routing the main line.

Options that will be examined for a new line include:

  • Reinstating the line between Plymouth and Exeter via Okehampton
  • Creating a line connecting existing freight routes from Alphington near Exeter and Heathfield near Newton Abbot.
  • Exploring inland options between Newton Abbot and Exeter

Network Rail strategy and planning director Paul Harwood said: “The catastrophic destruction of the Dawlish sea wall by the storm in February has made clear the need to re-think the long-term strategy around changing climate and extreme weather.

“We need to review what viable alternatives exist – otherwise there will be severe implications for local and national economies, mobility and connectivity across the region and the wider UK.”

NCE reported last month on some leading suggestions for re-routing the line away from the coast.


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