Rail passengers face another long wait before they see any action to protect the vulnerable coastal line at Dawlish.
Network Rail yesterday announced plans to build an improved sea wall at Dawlish, to protect the line and trains which use it.
The announcement came five years after the line was severed by a ferocious storm.
On the night of February 4, 2014, a vicious storm pummelled the Westcountry, flooding homes and leaving hundreds of people stranded.
At Dawlish, where the main railway line follows the coast, storm-driven waves tore away Brunel’s sea wall and left 50 metres of track hanging in mid-air.
Just over a week later David Cameron, the Prime Minister, told Parliament that the government would look at “longer-term alternatives” to the crumbling rail mainline at Dawlish.
Subsequently, ministers have promised anything from £200million to £400million for rail resilience work.
The wall is the first phase of a long-running scheme which the company said could take “many years”.
But even this £30million first phase of the project still needs planning permission – and funding from the government.
And there was confusion about why Network Rail chose to make an announcement at all.
The Department for Transport refused a request for an interview with a minister.
Devon Conservative MP Sir Gary Streeter said he could not understand the timing of the announcement.
Network Rail yesterday submitted plans for an improved sea wall on the west side of Dawlish – the opposite side to the damage caused by the 2014 storm – to Teignbridge District Council.
Watch the video above and below to see sea waves batter Dawlish
The wall will stand 7.5 metres high, with a walkway about a metre wider than the existing promenade.
Sir Gary said: “I’m not quite sure why they’ve announced this. I’m expecting a major announcement on February 14.”He said he had been assured that funding had been found and the work would go ahead this year.
Speaking on the station platform at Dawlish, Richard Griffiths from Network Rail said: “Should funding be allocated by government, and we get the right planning permissions, we are hoping to be on-site this year and it will take nine months from start to finish.
“Phase 2 [the second sea wall to the east of Dawlish] will depend on future funding being provided.”
Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, said: “I have no doubt the government will keep its promises to fund the work.”
Mr Griffiths defended the time it has take to get this far.
“There’s a lot to do on this coast,” he said. “We started out with about 500 options of things that could be done, and we have narrowed it down to three priority areas.”
These are: Dawlish sea walls; the cliffs around Holcombe; and from Parson’s Tunnel towards Teignmouth.
“This could be a project that could run for many years,” Mr Griffiths said.
By contrast, in the 19th Century Brunel’s Great Western Railway was up an running in less than five years.
The company was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament in August 1835 and ran its first trains in 1838.