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Injured passenger at Dawlish sparks calls for new route

Injured passenger at Dawlish sparks calls for new route

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 4:50pm 16th January 2020.

Written by Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporter

The injury to a passenger after a wave smashed the windows of a train travelling past Dawlish has once again re-opened the debate about whether there needs to be a rail line that avoids the sea.

When built back in the 1840s, the difficult terrain inland between Exeter and Newton Abbot led Isambard Kingdom Brunel to adopt a coastal route for the South Devon Railway,

However since 1846, the seawall has often been damaged by marine erosion and overtopping, the coastal track flooded, and the line obstructed by cliff collapses.

So with train services once again being suspended through Dawlish due to the weather, comments underneath the stories were demanding that the inland route to connect Plymouth and Exeter be sorted out as soon as possible.

“Plymouth to Exeter via Okehampton! Get it sorted ASAP”, said one.

Another added: “When are they going to move this moneypit railway line? It might be pretty but it’s not financially viable with climate change.”

A third added: “Reopen the Tamar Valley line (Okehampton – Bere Alston) and then Dawlish can open and close when weather is poor.”

Others questioned why Network Rail were considering further up the line at Holcombe moving the railway further out to sea, saying: “What will happen if the move the railway line further out to sea like they propose?”

But studies have concluded that it simply isn’t viable financially to have two lines running between Exeter and Plymouth, the new Dawlish sea wall currently under construction will cut overtopping of waves by 90 per cent, and the plans to move to the railway line at Holcombe out to sea are because the main issue there is not the sea but the cliffs.

And it has been concluded that it simply isn’t financially viable to have two rail lines running between Exeter and Plymouth and none of the potential ‘Dawlish avoiding routes’ offer value for money.

dawlish alternative routes
The five new alternative routes considered and discounted

WHY CAN’T THERE BE A DAWLISH AVOIDING LINE?

Following the storms of February 2014 which resulted in an eight-week closure to the line, Network Rail was asked by Government to report on options to maintain a resilient rail service to the South West peninsula, and to find out if in addition to enhancing the Dawlish route, there would be value for money in establishing a new diversionary route capable of running current and foreseen services in the case of disruption on the main line.

Five options were outlined in that report, ranging from doing nothing, reopening old railway lines, or building new lines, but it concluded: “These tests show that, even if certain revenue and unpriced benefits were doubled and the capital outlays halved in combination, the financial business case and transport economic case for each new route option remain unpromising, with each one still offering poor value for money.”

Speaking back in March 2018, when the Teignbridge Locality committee were being given a presentation over the future proposals for the future of the Dawlish line, Julie Gregory, Senior Commercial Scheme Sponsor, Western Route, Network Rail, said the alternative routes were not economically viable.

Mrs Gregory said: “The work we are doing is to provide a strong and resilient line for the rest of the 21th century. After the storms of 2014, we did looked at alternative routes, and economically they were not an option for us and they would take the line away from the communities that need it. We are looking to maintain the line for the next 100 years.”

THE NEW ROUTE OPTIONS THAT WERE REJECTED

The reconstruction of the former London & South Western Railway route from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton.

The reinstated railway would use the original alignment throughout as much as possible, although a new structure would be required, adjacent to the existing Meldon viaduct, as it is too badly deteriorated for re-use, from Meldon Quarry to Bere Alston, the dismantled line would need to be replaced as some structures have been removed and the trackbed has been sold, and that the route would not meet current maintenance clearance standards.

At 53 minutes, the theoretical non-stop Exeter to Plymouth journey time is estimated to be only 4 minutes longer than via Dawlish, but because of the reversals of the train required at both Exeter St David’s and Plymouth, a further 10 to 14 minutes would be added to through journeys, and this would impact on capacity on those stations.

The report added: “Because of the longer journey time, it is assumed that through trains would not routinely use the route, and the addition of any local service significantly worsen the performance of the option in the appraisal.”

The cost of the route with double track throughout was estimated at £875 million, but the track would need to be raised through areas of flood risk at an additional £290 million. The trackbed in the River Creedy valley will need to be raised, and a number of overbridges will require renewal, and these works would require closure of the Barnstaple line for an extended period, the report added.

And the cost of re-opening of the line between Bere Alston and Tavistock has since risen from £18.5m to £93m, adding additional costs to the former Okehampton route since the initial study was carried out.

dawlish okehamption route
The Okehampton Route

A new railway on the alignment of the former Great Western Railway Teign Valley route from Exeter to Newton Abbot.

The route leaves the main line south of Exeter St Thomas station, and follows the alignment of the former GWR Teign Valley railway, but would need a new alignment around the A30, Ide, at Trusham Quarry, between Chudleigh and Chudleigh Knighton, while other sections are occupied by housing, including Christow and Ashton stations.

Construction, including moving tunnelling machinery and removing spoil, would be difficult owing to limited road access, the report, says, adding: “This route offers the lowest speeds of any option, the route traverses a relatively sparsely populated area, it is unlikely that any intermediate stations could be justified, and considerable lengths of the proposed route lie within a flood risk area and the route is considered to be at major risk of fluvial flooding.”

At a cost of £470 million, this route was no considerable to be a sustainable option.

Alternative Route C1 – new route between Alphington and Ware Barton

This route leaves the West of England main line immediately south of the built-up area of Marsh Barton Trading Estate. It crosses an area of flood plain, then crosses under the A379 road (which will be raised) before entering a tunnel to bypass Exminster village. There are two more short tunnels separated by bridges over local watercourses before the line crosses the River Kenn near Pennycombe Farm. The line then runs in tunnel to Ware Barton on the Teign estuary, where it rejoins the West of England main line. This option is estimated to cost approximately £3.10 billion

Alternative Route C2 – new route between Exminster and Ware Barton

This route leaves the West of England main line north of the former Exminster station, passing under Station Road and through the former station site, crossing the l ood plain west of the railway on a low viaduct and turning south-west to climb. It passes under Powderham ridge in a short tunnel before crossing the Kenn valley on embankment and bridges. It continues running south-westerly on surface and in cutting before entering tunnel. It then runs in tunnel all the way to Ware Barton on the Teign estuary, where it rejoins the West of England main line. This option is estimated to cost approximately £2.51 billion

Alternative Route C3 – new route between Exminster and Ware Barton

This route leaves the West of England main line at the former Exminster station and crosses the flood plain west of the main line on a low viaduct. It passes under Powderham ridge in a short tunnel before crossing the Kenn valley on an embankment and bridges. It passes to the west of Kenton, mainly in cutting, with a short tunnel south west of the village. After the tunnel the line turns south west, before entering the main tunnel. It then runs in tunnel to Ware Barton on the Teign estuary, where it rejoins the West of England main line. This option is estimated to cost approximately £2.25 billion.

Alternative Route C4 – new route between Exminster and Bishopsteignton

This route starts by following the same alignment as Alternative Route C3. It leaves the West of England main line at the former Exminster station and crosses the flood plain west of the main line on a low viaduct. It passes under Powderham ridge in a short tunnel before crossing the Kenn valley on an embankment and bridges. It passes to the west of Kenton, mainly in cutting, with a short tunnel south west of the village. There the line diverges from the route of C3, continuing in a southerly direction before entering a tunnel under the ridge on the eastern side of Dawlish Water. It runs in tunnel to the north of Teignmouth and east of Bishopsteignton before passing under the A381 road and joining the West of England main line south of Bishopsteignton. This option is estimated to cost approximately £1.56 billion.

Alternative Route C5 – new route between Dawlish Warren and Bishopsteignton

This route leaves the West of England main line south of Eastdon crossing the coast road and turning south-west and then west to avoid the holiday camp areas east of the road. It passes north of Shutterton bridge, crossing the A379 road and then turns southwest again to follow the stream until entering a tunnel north-east of Langdon Road. The route then runs in tunnel to join the alignment of C4 to the north of Teignmouth and east of Bishopsteignton before passing under the A381 road and re-joining the West of England mail line south of Bishopsteignton. This option is estimated to cost approximately £1.49 billion

All five routes will mostly traverse open country at the north end and would in a tunnel at the south end, but following a range of tests, they show that even if certain revenue and unpriced benefits were doubled and the capital outlays halved in combination, the financial business case and transport economic case for all of the additional route options appear to remain signifiantly negative, with each one still offering poor value for money

Schemes with a benefit to cost ratio greater than 4.0 are deemed to offer very high value for money, whilst schemes with a BCR of less than 1.0 are considered to offer poor value for money, with the Teign Valley route, the best of the appraisal, only offering a 0.20 BCR.

dawlish teign valley route
The Teign Valley Route

WHAT IS BEING DONE INSTEAD?

Dawlish Sea Wall

Work has begun on the £30m scheme that will see a new sea wall built at Dawlish.

The plans will raise the wall from its current height of 5m to 7.5m, widen the walkway to 4m from its current 3.1m width, and include a barrier between the pedestrians and the edge of the to stop people falling off the wall.

The design is set to prevent stormy conditions from damaging the railway at Dawlish and aims to improve the long-term resilience of the railway linking Devon and Cornwall to the rest of the UK and secure the future of the line for the next 100 years.

The new concrete sea wall that would be 2.5m higher than the existing wall, but it was the height needed in order to provide the solution that Network Rail require.

Colin Field, from Network Rail, told Teignbridge council planners when the scheme was approved that the catastrophic failure of the sea wall in 2014 had devastating effects and was not something that we want to happen again as it impacted across the whole peninsula.

He said: “The project will significantly reduce overtopping of the waves by more than 90 per cent. It will protect the railway from further protection from the sea. It is an important part of the community and an essential infrastructure and protect for generations to come.”

Work is due to be complete by the Spring of 2020, but Network Rail have stated that as the project is so dictated by tides and weather, it is very likely that they will cause further delays.

waves at dawlish
The railway line at Dawlish is often battered by big waves in stormy weather

Holcombe

A second round of consultation over Network Rail’s plan to realign the railway track between Holcombe and Teignmouth and move it further out to see will begin on Monday.

The six-week consultation will include further details of the proposed realignment of railway, stabilising measures and new public amenities.

The stretch of railway between Parsons Tunnel, near Holcombe, and Teignmouth is at potential risk from rising sea levels and landslips from steep, unstable cliffs.

This risk was highlighted when the cliff failed in 2014, severing 50 Devon and Cornwall towns, cities and communities from the rest of the UK rail network for six weeks.

Initial proposals to protect the 1.8km of railway between Parsons Tunnel and Teignmouth were unveiled in July 2019 and include moving the railway away from the sections of cliff that pose the greatest hazard and out towards the sea.

The design would require some land reclamation to allow a buttress – a sloping rock structure to stabilise the cliffs and protect the railway – to be built, and to protect the realigned railway from the sea, a rock revetment or enhanced sea wall will also be required to absorb the energy of the waves and allow for the railway to be relocated away from the cliffs.

The proposals also include enhanced leisure access, cycling and walking routes and new amenity areas so that users of Holcombe beach continue to enjoy the space and views of the Devon coastline. A footpath on the sea wall next to the railway line would be maintained, but a new footway/cycle path would be created on the inside of the line between it and the cliffs.

Speaking at the first of ten consultation events for the first round of consulation, Dean Shaw, Media Manager, for Network Rail, said that the proposals aim to ensure the railway line is to be better protected from cliff falls, land slips and damage caused by the sea during extreme weather.

He added: “The 1.8km stretch of railway was devastated by a landslide from the cliffs back in 2014 which blocked the railway for six weeks and which caused huge disruption to the whole south west. The realignment of the track will be slightly moved to take it away from the hazardous cliffs, and will be supported by buttresses and will be supported by sea defences. At Dawlish, the sea is the biggest hazard. But here, it is the cliffs.”

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