By Phil Marsh

Devon and Cornwall railways reunited with the rest of the UK’s railway network

Published: 6th April 2014

Devon rail repairs completed and celebrated by political statements and visits

The railways have been making the right sort of headlines as repairs to the railways in Devon have been completed sufficiently to allow most trains to operate after a gap of 56 days.

The political pressure was on Network Rail (NR) who delivered the repairs ready for Easter assisted by many outside agencies including the armed forces and the Cornwall china clay industry.

The crucial rail link along the Devon coast was badly hit by two storms in February washing the line away which was also formed the local sea defences. The visible bit that can be seen is the track and ballast, the more difficult part of the repairs was to reinstate the signalling to ensure safety of the line. This meant 13 miles of new cables were laid to enable a new temporary signalling system to work and over 700m of track and ballast were laid.

Highly visible seaside orange army

A team of 300 orange-clad engineers worked 24/7 on design and reconstruction of the sea wall and the railway that runs on the top of it with a few planned bits of maintenance also completed in the area while the line was closed.

The so-called orange army initially constructed a temporary sea wall made from 18 shipping containers welded together and filled with concrete. This protected homes and engineers as they brought the damage under control and commenced repairs to the 100m long breach at Riviera Terrace, Dawlish.

This was rebuilt using over 6000 tonnes of concrete and 150 tonnes of steel while 25,000 tonnes of collapsed cliff at Woodlands Avenue, Teignmouth, was removed after a cliff fall in on March 4. This was done using a high pressure water canon, fire hoses, helicopter-borne water bombs, specialist roped access team and ‘spider’ excavators.

Repairs were also required at many other sites along a four mile stretch of the coastal railway and hundreds of tonnes of debris had to be removed from the track and over 600m of parapet sea wall was repaired. Dawlish station also underwent serious repairs being provided with a new platform and canopy.

They said:

Mark Carne, the new NR chief executive said: “Our army of engineers has done an amazing job of putting back together a railway that was ravaged by the elements. They have overcome every obstacle thrown at them, winning many battles along the way to restore this critical piece of the network in time for the Easter holidays.

“Our focus now moves to the medium and long-term looking at what can be done at Dawlish to make the current coastal route more resilient and, by the autumn, understand what the best viable relief route might be.”

Tom Kirkham, Network Rail’s on-site engineer said: “It has been a genuine team effort, from the guys installing the container breakwater during howling storms, the roped access teams scaling the cliffs to the track workers pushing all the way to cross the finishing line.

“We have had incredible support from outside groups, including the fire & rescue service, the police and the army all who have each contributed enormously.

David Cameron, Prime Minister, said: “The impact of the extreme weather shows the importance of making our railways strong enough to weather any storm. That is why we announced a £31 million package of improvements and asked Network Rail to examine every option to ensure the resilience of this route, all part of our long-term economic plan to boost business and create more jobs in the region.”

Andy Crowley from AMCOrail, one of NR’s key contractors, said: "It has been an incredible eight weeks. Everyone has pulled together and come up with so many innovative engineering solutions to solve some of the tremendous obstacles we've had to overcome. No-one will forget the great sense of family and belonging that has been built up over the last two months. The support from both the community and local businesses has been overwhelming."

Mark Hopwood, managing director for First Great Western, said: "The reopening of the railway line is good news for the South West and for our passengers. The railway plays a vital role in the prosperity of the region, and we are grateful to the hard work Network Rail and their teams have put in to get this line up and running as quickly as possible. "Over the past two months we've put on thousands of extra buses and drafted in volunteers from FirstGroup companies across the UK to keep people moving.

Andy Cooper, managing director for CrossCountry, said: “Reopening the railway through Dawlish is a magnificent achievement and we are indebted to the ‘orange army’ for all they have done. All our services will be running as of April 4 from all over the country to destinations in Devon and Cornwall for Easter and summer.”

What’s next?

The line is open but repairs not yet complete and although trains are running virtually normally, repairs to the signalling and electronic equipment needs to be completed as a temporary signalling solution was made. The shipping container temporary sea wall will be removed and the Brunel original sea-wall needs to be reclad using the original stone and suitable craftsmen.

Then public footpath on the seaward side of the sea wall between Dawlish and Teignmouth can reopen and the ‘lost road’ at Riviera Terrace will be rebuilt. The repairs have cost around £35m but the goodwill generated by the rail industry cannot be measured.

Mr Tom Kirkham, NR's project manager, has said that the line will be closed for two days to complete signalling repairs on April 26-27.

Who was involved?

As well as the usual rail industry players, the following were involved:

Teignmouth Marine Services, GT Jones, Sibelco, MJ Church, CANs Geotechnical, Hanson Concrete & Pre-cast, Chris Sedgeman Scaffolding, Total Rail Solutions, Professional Concrete Services, Lee Brothers, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, the British Army, the Royal Marines; Aerial Technics and Lobster TV.

Catering for all

Besides restoring the railway, the orange army has also made contributions by partnering with four outside catering vans to help raise cash for The Snooky Trust, Cancer Research, Bridge House, Help for Heroes and redrUK. Around £10,000 has been raised from the sale of food to railway workers on the construction sites.

Climate change investigation by October

A rail taskforce, led by Network Rail, will look at the viability of three long-term rail options: Retaining the coastal route; building a second line and re-routing the main line. The group will look at forecast sea level rises, passenger demand, the impact on communities and environmental, social and economic factors.

The taskforce comprises of the Department for Transport, the Environment Agency, First Great Western, Arriva Cross Country, Freight Operators, Peninsula Rail Officers Group, Heart of South West LEP, Plymouth City Council, Devon County Council, Cornwall County Council, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, Torbay Council and Somerset County Council.

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