Recovery plans for the South West Railway Line

Posted: 28/04/2015

Following the severe devastation of the storms that recently hit the UK, one town in particular was greatly affected by the destructive waves created by the high winds. This is the seaside town of Dawlish and their main railway line which ran along the coast has almost been completely demolished by the high tides which tore down the surrounding cliff leaving the track suspended in the air. Residents compared the bottomless railway line to the Peruvian rope bridge and residents occupying the houses close to the sea had to be evacuated due to fears that the ground may give way.

As a result of the track being destroyed, the seaside town of Dawlish is losing up to £20 Million a day because they are compensating for the lack of rail lines being open therefore, providing additional bus services to subjected routes with reduced fares. As well as this, there are extra flights to and from Newquay airport in Cornwall and Leader of Plymouth City Council aired that the town “must have the line back quickly”.

With the weather causing part of the main railway line to be destroyed, officials have begun work on devising a way in which they could make an alternative route for the train line so that it does not cause any further disturbance should the weather take another turn for the worse. One transport expert had issued that it would be extremely hard to produce a second railway line that links into the South-West of England as well as it being a task to get approval despite the current mainline already being destroyed.

There had been a model produced by Tom Worsley, a member from the institute for Transport Studies which had been set up to help the minister decide whether the proposed schemes will go ahead. This was made a priority as it could possibly be cheaper than constantly maintaining the current coastal route but whatever decision is made costs will always be an issue. However, Network Rail are making a full accurate assessment of the various options to get Dawlish railway line back up and running. Having analysed their options, Network Rail have produced five proposed routes that could replace the current South West link. Mr Worsley stated;"New railways are very expensive, more land would have to be purchased and there would also be issues about the stations the new route would serve and whether some towns would be bypassed."

The figure for spending on public transport per head in the South West of England is £212, by far the lowest compared to any other region located in England. The historically low transport investment within the region is linked to the number of users the rail lines inhabit and in the far South West around 2.6 Million passengers alone occupy the Plymouth station every year but this figure is nothing in comparison to Bristol were a colossal number of 11 Million passengers commute each year. A professor from Plymouth University, Jon Shaw commented; "We're going to have a lot of competition [for funding], we've got a big hurdle to overcome to convince the government we need the money first this time instead of it going elsewhere”. 

A spokesman from the transport department also said that Network Rail had been asked to look at different options for the replacement of the rail line in Dawlish hoping that they may well be able to re locate or refurbish the current route. He also stated; "We have no pre-conceptions as to the best way forward, but we envisage that whatever solution is adopted, the key south Devon coastal resorts should continue to be accessible by rail so far as practicable, Network Rail is expected to report back to us by early July”.

The line had been completely obliterated in parts on the 4th of February and a few days later further devastation affected the seaside town’s railway line. The good news is the Dawlish line is said to be making a re-appearance on the 4th of April this year. This date had been brought forward from the original one first anticipated.  The South West railway line had always been a major concern to Network Rail and they have had their teams working none stop to make progress, in doing so over the last 10 days immense development has been made explaining the earlier opening date.

The chairman of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise, Chris Pomfret had deemed the news “great” and he went on to tell the BBC News that Dawlish is dependent upon the rail link and that it is critical that it re-opens before the Easter period. The Network Rail managing director stated that they had been working 24 hours a day to fix the railway line and hoped that the process would be brought forward. However, there are still great concerns regarding a “proper” transport link inbound to Cornwall so to speak. Never the less this could include an alternative route which might not run close to Dawlish or even the town of Breakwater to provide transport to the coastal destination.

MP’s were given a brief explanation of each choice after the existing track had been destroyed and one option included reconnecting the Okehampton station which had originally been closed down in 1967 rumouring to cost around £700 Million to pursue. Network Rails other suggestions are as follows:

  • Produce new lines linking existing current freight trains from Alphington which is near Exeter to Heathfield situated new Newton Abbot.
  • Three choices amongst Newton Abbot and Exeter via Teignmouth including newly built tunnels however, the current number of trains coming from the Dawlish route could be maintained.

As well as Dawlish, Somerset had also been a target for high rising flood waters and gail force winds but when all of the rainwater has subsided officials must make sure that all help and interest does not greatly decrease towards the South West. Businesses that offer tourist facilities have recorded a 75% downfall in bookings.

With regards to re-adding the Okehampton line members of the West Devon council have insisted the Government support this option and Deputy Leader of the West Devon Council Bob Baldwin said; "We need to plant a stake in the ground that this route would be a safe alternative”.

What would you do if the decision was up to you? Rebuild the existing railway track and risk the storms washing it away again or would you build a new track elsewhere depriving the seaside towns and costing excessive amounts of money?

Nicole Cran, Pali Ltd

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(0) Comments Town, Transport, Railway station, Rebuild, Dawlish, Recovery

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