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Regular news: Issue Xtra 6 Feb 2014

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Railways, Southwest England

Destroyed Dawlish railway: McLoughlin orders review of South West England rail network

Lee Baker

The transport secretary has pledged to develop "a long-term solution to the resilience of the railway network in South West England".

Patrick McLoughlin has ordered a report to be produced on the options for addressing the problem of the vulnerability of the railway line from Exeter to Plymouth and Penzance in the future. In the meantime, he wants the line "to be brought back into service as soon as possible".

On the coast at Dawlish around 80m of both tracks were yesterday severely damaged by the sea, washing away ballast and the foundations on which the track is built. There is also severe damage to the sea wall and the track and platforms at Dawlish station.

Dr John Disney, a former advisor to the DfT, who told The Guardian that it was "entirely predictable that the sea was going to... sweep away Brunel's coastline railway," suggested re-opening an alternative inland railway line through Devon" to enable through electric trains to operate from London to Plymouth. 


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8 Feb 2014

What an opportunity to work out what the rail industry really wants from HS2 with a micro version of the 'dilemma'

In this case we do have a fully planned high speed line with gentle curves (not less than 1 mile in radius) and gentle gradients, planned to similar standards to the other 20th century main line which Mr McGloughlin's advisers seem to have missed in the claim of No main line built North of London in the past 120 years. This line secured parliamentary powers, bought the land and was being pegged out, when a certain unpleasantness erupted in 1939, so in effect it is ready to roll, but not an immediate start solution.

However there are a couple of other options which may be faster to deliver and provide a contingency and diversionary option which allows the 'coastal' (or near coastal) route to be restored as a quick mending job, and then given serious attention later, through having the alternative route to keep the connection open whilst applying a long blockade.

This would allow the delivery of a new signalling and new track deal with the existing railway (a la 51m scheme) without the massive added costs (parliamentary, legal and compensation) of creating a new route. Perhaps an underscoring agenda for HS2, building a greenfield railway rather than the hassle of doing it within existing corridors, and far less the needs for high speed or capacity.

Of the by-pass routes, there is a neat similarity between the old LSWR main Line West of Meldon, and the Airdrie to Bathgate route, which was rapidly delivered as a new, electrified railway, thanks in part to having been preserved as a transport corridor by a cycle route, with the LSWR option of going via Tavistock North Station site to join the Gunnislake Branch at Bere Alston, a connection already having strong local support to reconnect Tavistock to the rail network, withn a clear run for much of the old trackbed, but a sinuous and slower alignment.

Alternatively the GWR line to Tavistock again has substantial sections preserved by the existence of the Plym Valley cycle path and 1.5 miles of railway still being used. The down side is the need to get through or past blocking developments in Tavistock and Yelverton, but a rail link here would ease the commuter road congestion created by Plymouth, and the alignments look better.

Closer to the site the Teign Valley line still have rails on it at the junction by Newton Abbot and it appears a double track bridge under the A38 but the section between Heathfield and Ide, will take some effort to restore.

One thing is certain, we cannot have only a coastal route where the coastal route is so vulnerable.