Cut off!

It seems the southwest is very largely cut off from the rest of England.  And now it’s indefinite!

The main railway line across Somerset has been closed for some time, along with many roads.  An inconvenience, but at least an alternative (much slower, single-track) line to London remains open.  But now the serious problem has happened: the Dawlish/Teignmouth coastal stretch has dramatically collapsed.  The BBC has some footage of it here, showing the waves crashing over what remains of the line.  Right now they’re apparently not even running replacement buses: conditions on the roads are challenging too.

This has long been a disaster waiting to happen: that stretch is surely not maintainable (as many of us, including Yours Truly, have long been saying).  Time to get that alternative Exeter-Plymouth line North and West of Dartmoor reinstated, not in many years but as a matter of urgency!

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Posted on February 5, 2014, in devon, railways, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. At least the powers that be are now talking about alternatives, however we all know it takes years to get any significant engineering project off the ground in the UK, especially when the NIMBYs and vested interests get involved. Then there are the public enquiries, consultations, cost-benefit analyses, environmental impact assessments, Transport and Works Act Orders, Compulsory Purchase Orders and all the procedural baggage that goes with them (not to mention the prospect of judicial review provoked by aggrieved objectors). And that’s before a single yard of track gets laid.

    Reinstatement of the Plymouth-Tavistock-Okehampton-Exeter line would be far cheaper and less environmentally damaging than a new diversion around the sea wall (especially given that over half of the proposed route is still a functioning railway and most of the rest is a cycleway); it would be far less disruptive, would be relatively quick to build, and would provide new rail connections to communities in West Devon, so lots of pluses there. Indeed it’s so obvious it won’t be done! My prediction is that Network Rail will patch up the sea wall at Dawlish (it’ll take a few of months and cost a fortune – the damage is very bad – but NR are pretty good at emergency engineering repairs of this kind), the civil servants will place thoughts of a new route in the “too difficult” tray, the politicians will move onto another issue, and the whole matter will be kicked into the long grass for a few more years.

    At a more local level, we have some road disruption too, as last Saturday “white van man” managed to drive his vehicle over the parapet of New Bridge at Gunnislake and into the River Tamar, leaving the bridge severely damaged and closed to motor traffic (though now at least reopened to pedestrians and cycles, and with a periodic bus service being provided on both sides of the blockade). Repairs are forecast to take at least two weeks.

    Hey ho!

  2. Caught the other train to London, it took me 6 hours door to door. Due to a suicide, and fire at a station, closed Tube stations.

    Really I have sympathy for the planners here. The cross Dartmoor route even as good as it is, will be a horrendous price to reinstate. They will almost certainly opt for repairing the existing, because even a high maintenance cost is cheaper than building new railroad a I suspect they will want to maintain the coast track (because people live along it), the alternative would require a lot of construction to keep those communities on railways, so they are likely going to have to pay most of the repair and maintenance for the costal route anyway.

  3. Of course Network Rail should and will repair the coast route and it should be kept open in any event. That will take weeks or months, whereas a new line or diversion will take years to build. However, the sea wall will always be vulnerable, and extreme weather events like this will happen again. The economic costs and inconvenience of having all rail links to Plymouth and Cornwall severed for weeks on end are considerable. Hence why a diversion is now seriously on the agenda even at ministerial level.

    As far as the edge-of-Dartmoor route is concerned, Devon County Council has plans to extend the Tamar Valley Line from Bere Alston to a new station on the edge of Tavistock already. From there it is less than 15 miles to Meldon, where the railway is still in situ and operational as a tourist line all the way to Exeter. Most of the intervening alignment is intact, all the major viaducts and other structures are still in place and appear to be in good condition, and the amount of development on the line is very small, principally some residential and office development in Tavistock itself. So I would suggest that this route is feasible, fast to build, and may well cost less than a brand new inland alignment in south Devon (which is the only other option on the table apart from “do nothing but patch and mend”). It would also serve two sizeable communities that are cut off from the rail network at present.

    My comments on the painfully slow and expensive approval process would apply to any diversionary solution, and indeed something similar happens to just about any other major infrastructure project in this country – not the fault of the planners, but symptomatic of our bureaucratic and political processes in the UK. Just look at how long it is taking to create some new meaningful power generation capacity to replace our obsolete coal and nuclear plants, for example. Even in London, Thameslink and Cross Rail happened decades after the need was first identified, meanwhile our international competitors just got on with it. Then there was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, opened some 13 years after the tunnel itself (the French had their line in place before the tunnel opened)… the list goes on!

  4. Today it seems we’re even more comprehensively cut off, as a landslip at Crewkerne has closed the other line from Exeter. But they’re providing extra flights from Gatwick to Newquay: wonder if I can use my train ticket on one of those?

  5. Interesting update on today’s BBC News website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-26110559 . Seems the Tavistock route is the front runner now.

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