Dawlish railway line could be repaired by army engineers

Dawlish railway line could be repaired by army engineers

Network Rail says it is in talks with Ministry of Defence but flood damage will close mainline for at least six weeks.

Army engineers may be asked to help repair the railway mainline at Dawlish in Devon as business leaders and politicians in Cornwall and Devon said the disruption would cost the economy hundreds of millions of pounds.

The priority for Network Rail (NR) on Thursday was shoring up an 80-metre stretch of line badly damaged by stormy seas this week before the next blast of bad weather expected on Friday and over the weekend.

NR, which owns and operates Britain’s rail infrastructure, said it will be at least six weeks before the line can be reopened, until when no trains will be able to reach west Devon and the whole of Cornwall.

A spokesperson said: “We’ve mobilised a range of specialist contractors, engineers and suppliers from across the country to help with the work needed at Dawlish and we’ve also taken up the offer of discussions with the Ministry of Defence to see if there is any help which can be provided by the armed forces.

“Initial estimates are that it will take at least six weeks before we can reopen the railway, but the immediate priority is to shore up the damaged section using a concrete-spraying machine. A period of calmer weather is predicted once the weekend’s storm system has passed, which will allow us and our partners to fully assess the damage and how long it will take to begin the task of rebuilding the railway.”

In the Commons, the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, said if soldiers could help they would be used. The Royal Engineers built a bridge in Workington, Cumbria, in 2009 after storms destroyed a crucial river crossing there.

The break in the line at Dawlish, which runs within metres of the sea, reignited the controversy over a failure to make the rail link to the far south-west more resilient. Suggestions have included rerouting the line inland or covering it with a shelter.

The Exeter MP, Ben Bradshaw, published a copy of a letter from the Peninsula Rail Taskforce, which includes local authorities, MPs and business leaders, sent to the government last month asking what had happened to £31m promised in 2013 for the resilience work.

The St Ives MP, Andrew George, warned that south-west MPs could withdraw their support for the HS2 and Crossrail projects unless the government showed commitment to providing a long-term solution to the vulnerability of the railway at Dawlish.

The transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said a review of the “long-term resilience” of the line would evaluate a number of suggestions which have been put forward.

First Great Western said trains were terminating at Exeter and a limited road shuttle was operating between there and Plymouth. Limited rail services were working between Plymouth and Penzance. The Night Riviera Sleeper service between Penzance and London Paddington has been cancelled until 28 February.

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