Cameron orders review into rail resilience

The DFT has provided Network Rail with £31m to undertake ‘network resilience’ work at ten different locations in the South West affected by the recent flooding.

The railway continues to be closed Dawlish, between Exeter and Newton Abbott, with Network Rail estimating that it will take at least six weeks to restore the railway along the sea wall following the violent storms at the beginning of this month.

The Rail Delivery Group has put the cost of nationwide storm damage to the rail industry (to date) at £100m.

Although restoring the railway remains the immediate priority but transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has ordered a review of options for improving the resilience of the rail network in the South West (LTT 07 Feb).

An open letter to the Prime Minister from Tudor Evans, leader of Plymouth County Council – and signed by his counterparts in Cornwall, Devon and other local bodies – says: “The only rail line to the South West has been left dangling over the sea at Dawlish, and is causing immense damage to the region’s economy.

“The rail infrastructure in the South West has suffered from underinvestment for many years and the region is now paying a very high price for this. We want a modern fast rail route to put us on par with the rest of the UK, not a heritage restoration project.”

In another letter to the PM, Plymouth Chamber of Commerce states: “It is indisputable, even according to the Government’s own figures, that the South West per capita and absolute spend on transport infrastructure is the lowest in the UK. The area has been starved of investment for years.”

The local authorities in the far South West recently warned that House of Commons transport committee that the rail network’s vulnerability to weather events could undermine business confidence in three proposed railfreight terminals at Truro, Plymouth and Exeter.

The DfT’s £31m will fund works at:

  • Cowley Bridge Junction, north of Exeter, which, in recent years, has suffered from flooding of the River Exe, and through which all trains to Devon & Cornwall must pass through.
  • Between Athelney and Cogload junctions (near Taunton)
  • Chipping Sodbury (near Bristol)
  • Crewkerne (between Exeter and Salisbury)
  • Flax Bourton (near Bristol)
  • Hele & Bradninch (between Taunton and Exeter)
  • Hinksey (near Oxford)
  • Honiton (between Exeter and Salisbury)
  • Patchway up Tunnel (near Severn Tunnel)
  • Whiteball Tunnel south (between Taunton and Exeter)

Network Rail has been drawing up plans to reduce the vulnerability of the railway along the Dawlish sea wall. The Western route plan published in 2012 states: “The Devon coastal defences have been identified under the shore management plan as being vulnerable through climate change, and in Control Period 5 (2014-19) we are specifically targeting the future development of Dawlish Seawall for an implementation phase in CP6 (2019-24).” Whether the planned improvements will now be brought forward is not known at this stage.

The RSSB (Railway Safety & Standards Board) has suggested that Dawlish will be more vulnerable because of climate change. “Wave overtopping of the frontage could increase by around 50 per cent for the 2020s, by more than 100 per cent for the 2050s, and by more than 200 per cent by the 2080s,” it has predicted.

The review ordered by McLoughlin could investigate re-opening the former LSWR/Southern railway between Plymouth and Exeter line via Okehampton, a victim of the Beeching 1960s closures. Parts of the line remain open at both ends, but the central section needs reconnecting.

Another option could be to re-open the short inland branch line between Exeter and Newton Abbot via Heathfield a pre-Beeching casualty of the 1950s but still open to freight traffic between Newton Abbot and Heathfield.

The Great Western Railway obtained powers to construct a Dawlish by-pass line during the 1930s, but war intervened just before work began. After the war, the purchased land was sold off, and the powers to construct finally lapsed in 1999.


641/Feb 14



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