Network Rail engineers have started work to try and prevent any further damage to the railway at Dawlish as another Atlantic storm system is forecast to hit on Saturday.
Around 80m of sea wall has been destroyed by high tides and stormy seas, causing a significant stretch of railway to collapse into the sea. The road adjacent to the railway and several houses have also been significantly damaged, along with damage at Dawlish station itself.
Network Rail has mobilised a range of specialist contractors, engineers and suppliers from across the country to help with the work needed at Dawlish and has also taken up the offer of discussions with the Ministry of Defence to see if there is any help which can be provided by armed forces personnel based in the south-west.
Initial estimates are that it will take at least six weeks to reopen the railway, but the immediate priority is to shore up the damaged section on Thursday and Friday using a concrete spraying machine which was until recently being used to refurbish Whiteball Tunnel in Somerset.
A period of calmer weather is predicted once the weekend’s storm system has passed, which will enable Network Rail and its partners to fully assess the damage and how long it will take to begin the task of rebuilding the railway.
Network Rail’s route managing director for the Western route, Patrick Hallgate, said: “We absolutely understand the importance of the railway to the south west and will do everything we can to rebuild the railway at Dawlish as quickly and safely as we can.
“After a quieter night’s weather, we have been able to begin delivering machinery to our site compound with a view to protecting the exposed section of railway and the land behind it. We need to make sure we limit any further damage this weekend so that the significant repairs that are needed do not become greater still.
“We will continue working with the Government, Environment Agency, local authorities and other partners to explore ways of improving the railway’s resilience to extreme weather. The disruption to rail services in the south-west highlights the importance of that work and the need for all forms of transport to ensure that they are fit for the future.”
In addition, engineers are on site at a number of locations in the south west of England and are making repairs where the weather conditions permit. Services have resumed between Plymouth and Newton Abbot, but there will be no trains east of Newton Abbot to Exeter until the line is repaired at Dawlish.