Work to protect the future of Dawlish rail line is starting soon

Work to protect the future of the Dawlish rail line will begin next month.

Network rail has announced a six-month programme to repair four breakwaters that protect the coastline from the force of waves.

Community events will be held in Dawlish, Teignmouth and Holcombe in the coming weeks for residents to find out more about the project.

The announcement came on the day of Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget.

But the work is part of short-term improvements. No major announcements on long term resilience plans will be made until summer next year.

Mike Gallop, director of route asset management for Network Rail 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.

What are the plans for the Dawlish rail route?

Storms like the one that cut the rail link at Dawlish in 2014 could become an annual event over the next 100 years.

Network Rail has a programme of improvements to protect the line between Exeter and Newton Abbot to improve resilience over the next century.

To date, although the investigations are being paid for by the Department of Transport, no funding has been secured for the works and it will have to go through public consultation and the planning process.

It is making the Teignmouth cliffs its priority, with four other programmes in the pipeline.

Climate change is increasing the risk of landslip from the steep cliffs between Teignmouth and Parson’s Tunnel which would block the main Exeter to Plymouth railway line.

Such a landslip happened within days of the track being cut by waves just up the line at Dawlish, but received less publicity.

Network Rail highlights two options for the cliffs.

The first would involve cutting back the cliffs to a 30-degree slope.

The second option is to push the line further out to sea and to stabilise the base of the cliffs. The go-ahead depends on public consultation and government funding.

Network Rail has raised a section of the sea wall walk to meet the higher level along the rest of the Exeter to Newton Abbot stretch. The low level meant that the railway had far less protection from the railway and that contributed to the failure in 2014.

Network Rail also believes that, unless action is taken to protect the line along the Exe and Teign estuaries, we could see scenes like those on the Somerset Levels in 2013/14.

Over the next 15 to 30 years the embankments along the estuaries will have to be raised, and drainage improved.

Finally, on a 10 to 50-year timescale, Network Rail will tackle falling rocks from the cliffs above the Kennaway Tunnel to Parson’s Tunnel stretch of line with rockfall shelters to protect the railway and trains from any falling debris to the east of Parsons Tunnel.

“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.

“Alongside this, we will continue to work up longer-term options for us to present to the local community, local councils and government in 2019.

“We are acutely mindful of the need to consider the views of the local community, the long-term needs of the environment as well as the need to provide a sustainable railway for Devon and Cornwall.”

Repairs will be made to four breakwaters, which are the barriers built out to sea to protect the coast from the force of waves, by expert engineering teams from Network Rail and BAM Nuttall.

In 2016, Chris Grayling Secretary of State visited cliffs and seawall near to smugglers lane, Dawlish, Director Route Asset Management (Western) at Network Rail Mike Gallop (left) Chris Grayling, and MP Sarah Wollaston.
In 2016, Chris Grayling Secretary of State visited cliffs and seawall near to smugglers lane, Dawlish, Director Route Asset Management (Western) at Network Rail Mike Gallop (left) Chris Grayling, and MP Sarah Wollaston.

Transport minister Chris Grayling has said that protecting the route through Dawlish is a national priority.

These immediate short-term improvements to the resilience of the railway will be made whilst Network Rail continues with the £15million detailed development of longer term options for government to consider.

Repairs to breakwaters at Boat Cove, Coastguards Point, Colonnade Underpass and Langstone Rock will start next month after the structures were identified as being in a poor state of repair and not providing the protection that the coast and the iconic stretch of railway line requires.

Along with the breakwater repairs by BAM Nuttall, engineering company Arcadis will continue to investigate whether loose material from the top of the cliff above Parsons Tunnel at Holcombe may be removed to stabilise the cliff and therefore reduce the risk of land slips in the short-term.

Network Rail has now established a dedicated South West Rail Resilience Programme to identify and implement the best options to improve rail resilience of this iconic stretch of railway.

This is to avoid a repetition of the events of 2014 when the line was closed for eight weeks after extreme weather washed away the seawall and a massive landslide blocked the railway with 20,000 tonnes of material.

Cllr Humphrey Clemens, Teignbridge District Council’s portfolio holder for planning and coastal management, said: “Teignbridge has been working closely with Network Rail since the Dawlish 2014 event and remains keen to assist this regionally important infrastructure being made resilient for the future.

“It is vitally important to ensure that residents’ opinions and suggestions, together with enhancements to the public realm, are incorporated within the medium-term plans. Short term we also recognise the need for ongoing works to the existing breakwaters which should continue to offer some protection from storm events.”

The South West Rail Resilience Programme has seen engineers conducting detailed studies along the route between Teignmouth and Dawlish which will determine what is happening to the cliffs and coastline, in order that the viability of a number of alternative solutions can be established.

These options will help to secure the long-term future of this vital rail artery, which serves communities and businesses in South Devon and Cornwall, and connects the region to the rest of the UK.

The community events being held:

  • 30 October – Dawlish Methodist Church, Dawlish, EX7 9PB from 14.30-17.30
  • 7 November – Teignmouth Library – 19A Fore St, Teignmouth TQ14 8DY from 16.00-19.00
  • 15 November – Holcombe Village Hall, Holcombe from 16.00-19.00