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Rail bosses probe five lines to tackle Dawlish problem

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: February 26, 2014

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Rail bosses are to look at least five routes as possible additional links into Devon and Cornwall to end train misery.

Engineers today outlined their thinking in Parliament as Westcountry council and business told MPs of the rising cost of waiting for the repairs of the crumbling mainline at Dawlish to finish, and the damaging effects of long-term transport under-investment in the region.

MPs on the cross-party Transport Select Committee convened a one-off evidence session in response to the recent storm devastation in the South West.

Mark Carne, chief executive of rail quango Network Rail, revealed a three-stage plan to ensure travel between the peninsula avoids being brought to its knees again.

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He hinted immediate repairs to restore the line would be quicker than the mid-April completion date announced last week, so the impact on the Easter tourism season would be eased.

Mr Carne, originally from Cornwall, said the next step would be to make the line more “storm tolerant”.

The third stage to start “very shortly” will involve a report to be handed to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin by July on at least five lines to “complement” the fragile coastal train path.

He insisted there was no preferred option, but candidates for closer examination are certain to include the costly restoration of the Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton line and a one-time state-approved route through Dawlish that was halted by the Second World War.

Against disagreements over the best option for the Great Western line into the region, all those giving evidence agreed the far South West deserves a better deal.

Tudor Evans, Labour leader for Plymouth City Council, said: “What we need is something fit for purpose.”

Giving evidence, Mr Evans said the Dawlish stretch is now a “Peruvian rope bridge masquerading as a railway line”.

He added the rail disruption was costing the city £5 million a day, while Plymouth City Council chief executive Tracey Lee told MPs three global businesses based there were unable to bring head office staff to the west.

“They do not want to show them the region because of the connectivity issues,” she said, telling Parliament the rail replacement bus from Plymouth to Tiverton Parkway is quicker than the train.

Gordon Oliver, the Conservative mayor of Torbay, warned bookings on the English Riviera were down 75% and Phil Norrey, chief executive of Devon County Council, said transport problems were discouraging businesses from moving to the area.

Mr Norrey also criticised “a pattern of repeat offences following crises” where the region is promised transport aid that belatedly – if at all – materialises.

Some £31 million expected from ministers after floods at Cowley Bridge near Exeter that closed the line for three weeks last year were only confirmed by David Cameron this month.

“It is like a pea under a cup,” he told MPs, warning of the risk of “warm words”. “We haven’t actually seen it, the money hasn’t been committed, work hasn’t started.”

Chris Pomfret, chairman of the Cornwall and Isles Local Enterprise Partnership, who was also representing Cornwall Council, warned tourism in the area had been hit to the tune of £8 million.

But he warned the iconic coastal line should not receive a quick fix. Mr Pomfret told the committee: “Will it be resolved to be resistant enough for many, many years? There’s a lot of talk about alternative, additional routes, which is important, but that’s some way off.”

Torbay Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders, who serves on the committee, made a plea for “unity” amid fears lobbying for sub-three hour London train services to Plymouth will put services to south Devon at risk.

Alluding to the £400 million-plus price tag to restate the Okehampton line, he argued a second mainline could not be paid for at the same time as the Dawlish route – which he said should be the priority.

“You’re not going to retain both lines,” he said. “At least in what remains for my lifetime it is Dawlish – what we therefore have to do is improve the line east of Exeter.”

But Mr Evans countered the region should be “more ambitious than simply restoring the line speeds to what they were three weeks ago”. “The money is there if the will is there,” he said.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the committee he is expectingNetwork Rail's report on alternative routes to Dawlish on his desk by July.

Network Rail said they would provide a further update on restoring the Dawlish line next week.

Mr Carne said creating a “storm tolerant” route may involve building a breakwater in front of the sea wall.

Of complementary routes, he talked of restoring some of the older railway lines closed in the 1960s, or potentially creating another route around Dawlish.

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14 comments

  • johndavies  |  February 27 2014, 8:58PM

    I seem to remember when Network Rail just wanted to reinforce the Dawlish defenses, they were stopped until an 'environmental impact study' had been completed ( See this from 2008 - http://tinyurl.com/olnd3ae), Now, creating a "storm tolerant" route may involve building a breakwater in front of the sea wall. Have the bunny huggers now changed their minds ???

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  • Dave123Cook  |  February 26 2014, 5:55PM

    Firstly, the GWR inland route was not a straight line. It would not be possible to run a tunnel to Newton Abbot on a straight line under Telegraph hill. At Exeter, the line leaves in the direction of Starcross, so a bend must be incorporated in the line somewhere around Exminster. Put a line under the hills from there in a straight line, and you get a line that comes out between Teignmouth and Newton Abbot, which will also need quite a bend to meet up with the existing line. No way will anyone fund a tunnel like that and spend money keeping the sea wall route open just for tourism and train spotters to take nice pictures (Network Rail would give the sea wall over to the local councils to maintain). Both curves will slow trains down, so we still do not have a fast straight line from Exeter to Newton Abbot. Now look at the line from Newton Abbot to Plymouth. Slow, with steep gradients and curves everywhere. That is the slow part. Engineering a brand new fast line through granite is not as simple as putting TBM's through clay across London. So I think we can forget a straight line tunnel and viaduct route across the edge of Dartmoor, even if nimbys were to roll over and accept what would quickly be called HS3. And the problems with a slow line do not actually stop at Plymouth. The line from Plymouth to Penzance is very scenic, but really slow. In fact, HST's on that stretch are barely faster than the slow 158's on the stopping service. And we have people in Cornwall demanding a faster line from Penzance to Plymouth, as well as faster all the way through. As was stated in the debate yesterday, the only place where HST's actually get to 125mph is the first bit between Paddington and Reading. If anyone really wants to open a new line through to Plymouth and Cornwall, I'd like to see the planned route. Because from where I'm sitting, you do not have to be a specialist surveyor or a Luddite to see the impracticalities of building a completely new railway line alongside a main road. Cars take bends far quicker than trains do. Fast trains need straight lines, and gradual gradients. Forget the 1 mile radius of the planned pre war GWR line. that just gives you bends like the ones on Hemerdon, Rattery, and Dainton.......

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  • MikeTavistock  |  February 26 2014, 5:18PM

    The average speed of the Exeter to Newton Abbot trains is 63mph for the circuitous 20 miles. By road it is 15 miles via Telegraph Hill so a high-speed line roughly following its course at an average speed of 90mph would reduce the journey time by half rather than '1 minute'. A high speed line from Exeter to Plymouth following the A38 (42 miles rather than the current 52miles) would shave 1/2 hour off the current Plymouth to London timing. Nobody is advocating closing the Dawlish line for local services or the coastal defence it provides, but Torbay, Plymouth and Cornwall do deserve something rather better in the form of a faster, resilient alternative.

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  • hstmtu4000  |  February 26 2014, 5:01PM

    So what your advocating basically is to throw unlimited funds at the sea wall in order to preserve the past while ignoring the future. Not on mate. The south wests main rail link west of Exeter has stood still for far too long. If we have to build, like HS2 we should build for the future not the past as your advocating. A heritage main line is no longer acceptable for Plymouth and Cornwall in the 21st century. Luddites were simply not tolerated 80 years ago!

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  • hstmtu4000  |  February 26 2014, 5:01PM

    So what your advocating basically is to throw unlimited funds at the sea wall in order to preserve the past while ignoring the future. Not on mate. The south wests main rail link west of Exeter has stood still for far too long. If we have to build, like HS2 we should build for the future not the past as your advocating. A heritage main line is no longer acceptable for Plymouth and Cornwall in the 21st century. Luddites were simply not tolerated 80 years ago!

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  • Dave123Cook  |  February 26 2014, 3:42PM

    The problem is, making an avoiding line will not speed up services to Plymouth and Cornwall by very much. Use the TBM's from Crossrail to make a straight line tunnel through the Haldon Hills and you will shave about a minute from the existing 19 minute fastest services round the sea wall. And you still need the sea wall to protect Dawlish and Teignmouth. So you may as well chuck all the money at the sea wall and do a good job that'll last at least 50 years. Like making the sea wall at least as good as the armoured stretch between Langstone Rock and Dawlish Warren. That has huge boulders in front of a solid concrete wall. The bit currently protected by the containers has the low level path which is usually closed at high tide, so it has only a foot of old stonework holding the railway back. Anyone who walked along just after it was destroyed by the waves, like me, will be wondering how it ever held up for so long anyway. The real question about the Okehampton route is really about having a secondary route for tourism into Dartmoor, running services from Okehampton and Tavistock into Plymouth, and even running west from Okehampton towards Halwill and Bude. All possible with enough support, money and passengers who would actually use the line once open. Saying you want something and using it are of course two different things: http://tinyurl.com/oq9369v Being someone who has been almost alone on the existing Sunday services from Exeter to Okehampton last summer, I do not hold out much hope for enough passengers to open the whole route as a viable service. The reason it closed was because the trains were virtually empty in the 1960's. All the investment went into the roads, which is why the rail replacement bus from Plymouth to Exeter is faster than the trains. Don't just blame Hitler for the loss of the Dawlish avoiding line by the way, just before WW2, Mallard took the all time speed record for steam, and A4's were regularly running at 90 - 100 mph on the Elizabethan and Flying Scotsman trains. After the war, everywhere was in a complete mess, nationalisation was seen as a simple panacea to the problem. Sadly, much money was wasted replacing some very good modern steam engines with poor quality unreliable and expensive to run diesels which cost a fortune to replace soon afterwards, and only in the last 15 - 20 years have the railways enjoyed a real renaissance. Sadly, the feeder lines which were so useful, and the alternative lines, which could help alleviate the ridiculous situation for anyone past Exeter, have all been ripped up, sabotaging any attempt at rebuilding parts of our rail infrastructure that could easily be re=opened were the need there. Putting my own cards on the table, I'd love the route via Okehampton and Tavistock re-opened, as I have friends at Tavistock and visiting by train would then be simple. But there would be no point on having a service with just myself and wife on the train. A good business case would have to be made. And that would need more than just personal points made by people like me in our newspaper.

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  • hstmtu4000  |  February 26 2014, 3:18PM

    Also I would also point out that it was not only just about the Dawlish avoiding line scheme but a new line was also surveyed at the same time westwards from Newton Abbot bypassing Totnes and the torturously slow Dainton and Rattery banks and rejoining the present rail route near the A38 at Marley Head, both schemes being engineered to a minimum one mile radius curvature for higher speeds with hopes of a further fast extension at a later date all the way to Plymouth. So It was not just about a Dawlish avoiding line but speeding up the entire route to Plymouth and that was nearly 80 years ago!

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  • richall  |  February 26 2014, 1:22PM

    you are right that the dawlish seawall was seen as problematic before the war but the avoiding line was a solution to problems for the GWR. the LSWR route via tavistock was a separate and competing service before nationalisation so it was in the interest of the GWR to find a solution to its problems. post nationalisation the issues of duplicate lines came about for one national organisation. i find it hard to believe it would cost 700 million to replace a railway of 11 miles in length when it is costing half of that to replace 30 miles of railway (closed and sold off around the same time) in scotland - including one substantial viaduct and complicated earthworks. the cards are stacked against a practical solution for the vulnerability of the dawlish route ever happening. politics is of course the reason. there is no need for the tories to do much in safe seats and little reason for labour to do anything in seats they will never win. hence the reason why urban areas get all the investment - thats where elections are won and lost not the shires alas.

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  • hstmtu4000  |  February 26 2014, 1:06PM

    Frankly I think the North/South Devon debate is irrellevant here. Let me explain why I say that. I heard on the BBC news yesterday that Network Rail were already saying to the Parliamentary select committee on Transport that they had already established a figure of between £500/700million just to put back the former LSWR route via Okehampton AS IT WAS when open. There words not mine. Read into that figure what you like. They have also said that beyond reopening the Dawlish route ASP, the next phase of work there will involve making the sea wall more storm resistant, no doubt involving further serious investment. Now what you have to bear in mind about railway finances is that it is only the longer distance "Inter city" type rail business that is profitable, not commuting or regional railways which will always require massive ongoing subsidies even into London itself. Even though a branch line or commuter train may be full and standing it is still is not covering the cost of providing that service. Thats why its the long distance year round "high value Inter city" routes like the West Coast and the East main lines that seem to get the major investment, because they are truly profitable. When it was first privatised Great Western Trains like todays West and East coast main lines rail franchises was a profitable stand alone "Inter city" business. However todays "integrated" Great Western franchise now includes the heavily subsidised westcountry "regional" services and the Thames valley commuter services into Paddington which were formally seperately subsidised franchises back then, which no doubt now involves an element of cross subsidy from the profitable "inter city" part to help reduce the burden of the "integrated" franchise on the wider tax payer. Which takes me back to the thorny question of alternatives to the Dawlish route. If your going to spend a large amount of money on a rail route today in Devon it has therefore to be on a main "inter city" corridor that adequately serves the main population centres in Devon like Torbay/Teignbridge and of course Plymouth which can provide that crucial year round "Inter city" base load of passengers and not just on aroute used as an occassional diversionary route serving a corridor that is relatively sparcely populated. ie you would not upgrade the single carraigeway A379 road from Plymouth/Tavistock/Okehampton to a dual carraigeway when improvemnts to the A38 or A30 or indeed A303 are needed. It simply would not pass the treasuries cost/benefit analysis assessment. That is why for reasons of financial logic and not personal preference I expect that despite a "mock" trial, the political decision has already been made behind closed doors to retain the Dawlish route warts and all in the short/medim term with perhaps one "direct" route option selected for further scutiny longer term. Bear in mind we been here before. Back in 1930s a brand new "Dawlish avoiding line was the chosen option even though the Okehampton and Teign valley routes were still open then and used for diversions when the Dawlish route was unavailable. So if there ever is to be an alternative to Dawlish, history has already shown us the preferred option.

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  • TopMinstrel  |  February 26 2014, 12:30PM

    There's loads and loads of TALK and suggestions but little action. In this country if something has to be done the Politicians, Local, County and National form a circle and all talk whilst looking inwards. Hence the extremely costly and unwanted High speed proposal between London and the Birmingham and the North, plus the under estimated cost of the Cross London link and all it's problems, the vast above budget cost of the Channel Tunnel (much needed I hasten to add, but poorly marketed). All we want for the West of England is a good reliable service to at least the Bristol/Westbury area. I was a Southcoast to London commuter for 10 years and have travelled extensively throughout the UK for many years. The secret to getting to your destination in time or with time to spare is planning and leaving earlier. better to have a coffee or tea when your there than complain about being late. JUST GIVE US A GOOD RAIL LINK............NOW NOW NOW NOW

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