Fears are growing that the Westcountry’s main rail link may not reopen until after the start of the Easter break – potentially putting a huge dent in the region’s economy.
Network Rail confirmed yesterday that damage caused by the recent storm was highly likely to delay the progress to repairs at Dawlish.
The line has been closed for almost two weeks after it was severely damaged during the winter storms at the beginning of February, severing the rail link between Cornwall, Plymouth and the rest of the UK. It had originally been hoped the line would be reopened within six weeks, however further damage caused on Friday is likely to set that estimate back.
Business leaders have estimated that every extra day the line is closed will cost
the region anything between £2 million and £20 million. However, they have warned that figure could sky-rocket if completion is delayed until after April 11 and the start of the Easter school holidays.
Although only around 8% of holiday travel to the region takes place on the railway, tourism chiefs warned yesterday of the potentially disastrous impact lengthy delays could have for the region.
Carolyn Custerson, chairman of Visit Devon, said it was important the Dawlish line reopened as quickly as possible to add to the perception that the region is open for business.
“We are all now very worried about Easter,” she said.
“In Devon the Easter weekend is worth £110 million but because of the perception people are hesitating with their bookings.”
Visit Devon lent its voice to the ‘Open for Business’ campaign last week to spread the word that the railway closure had not had an impact on the region’s tourist offering.
However, Ms Custerson said international coverage of the floods had even led to foreign tour operators enquiring about the situation.
Malcolm Bell, the head of Visit Cornwall, said if the railway remained closed past the start of the Easter holidays it could increase traffic on the region’s roads.
He said: “Throughout the year we get around 6% of our holidaymakers come by rail, but when it comes to bank holidays that goes up.
“Another problem [that a delayed reopening] could create is traffic at the start of the Easter holidays. We don’t want to start off with ‘traffic in the Westcountry’.”
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said a delay could cost the region anything between £2 million and £20 million a day. He said: “If this goes on a long time, the closer we get to Easter the more worrying it gets. This time of year is the low point for tourist traffic... but the closer we get to Easter that’s when we could start going towards that £20 million figure.”
Network Rail said it was assessing the impact of the further damage to the sea wall and said it hoped to have a revised timescale in place by the end of the week. It said work was continuing with engineers starting to lay concrete foundations and repairing the station platform.
Patrick Hallgate, Network Rail’s western route managing director, said engineers had been working “tirelessly” .
“But the weather has made the task extremely challenging,” he said. “The most recent storm has unfortunately hampered our work and we are reviewing our plans to repair the recent damage. We remain undeterred to complete the task at hand and will continue to work towards resuming services as quickly as possible.”