Posted 5th February 2015 | 7 Comments

Dawlish closure 'could have cost £1.2 billion'

SEVERE weather in early 2014 which badly damaged 80m of the sea wall at Dawlish and destroyed a section of railway may have cost the regional economy as much as £1.2 billion, a new report has claimed.

The assessment, from the non-profit Devon Maritime Forum, said the 60-day closure of the line, which severed the only rail link to Plymouth and Cornwall, was followed by a poll of more than 340 business by the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce. This discovered that many firms in the city were losing between £100 and £1,000 a day as a result of the loss of train services.

The line was reopened in early April at a cost of £35 million, and the report praises Network Rail's response as 'quick and efficient'.

The report has been published on the first anniversary of the initial storm, which was followed by another on 14 February last year.

The estimates of the possible total losses sustained by businesses in the region vary greatly, and can only be put at between £60 million and £1.2 billion.

However,  the Great Britain Tourism Survey for 2014 reported a 10 per cent reduction in the number of trips to the South West during the first quarter of 2014 compared with 2013 and a £135 million reduction in holiday spending over the first half of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013.

The report comments: "While this 7.9 per cent reduction compares unfavourably with the England average of 4.5 per cent, and undoubtedly represents a huge hit to the region’s economy – it could have been significantly worse."

The forum's co-ordinator Dr Stephen Gilbert said the 'famous image of the hanging line at Dawlish' gave the impression that the far south west was 'closed for business'.

Network Rail is examining a number of options to improve rail links to the region, which range from several possible new inland routes to reopening the former LSWR main line from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock for a possible price of £600 million, which is said to be favoured by the Prime Minister.

However, although reopening this line would have the welcome side-effect of improving access to much of northern Dartmoor, critics do not accept that it would be a complete replacement, pointing out that journey times would be extended, partly because trains to Cornwall would have to reverse at both Exeter St David's and Plymouth. Closing the sea wall line in favour of the Okehampton route would also isolate south Devon, including the major resorts of Torquay and Paignton.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Tim, Devon

    Electrification of the South West is not happening, so the Dawlish question is largely irrelevant. The lines being electrified are London to Reading to Bristol and Wales.*

    (*Let's not forget Newbury and Oxford (and north from there as part of the electric spine.--Editor)

  • Joseph Locke, Attercliffe

    The other solution to the problem of reversing trains between Paddington and Plymouth via Okehampton at Exeter is to build a cord across the north of Cowley Bridge Junction.*

    (*Yes, in theory, but such trains would no longer call at Exeter St David's (a principal stop). It does not seem likely that there would be a business case for an 'Exeter Parkway' station on or near such a chord either.--Editor.)

  • Joseph Locke, Attercliffe

    Is it possible to put AC overhead on the sea wall at Dawlish, given the wires would get a liberal soaking in salt water several times a year, or would electrification to the South West have to come via the Okehampton route ?

    Trains from Paddington to Plymouth would have to reverse at Exeter, but Trains from Waterloo to Plymouth would not.*

    (*That is right, but I have not seen any suggestion that there should (or could) be such services these days. The journey times would be significantly longer (the time from Waterloo to Exeter St David's via Salisbury is at least 3h20m, but from Paddington via Westbury the fastest trains manage 2h00m) and there would be capacity constraints both at the London end and west of Salisbury.--Editor.)

  • Roger Collett, Darlington, Co.Durham

    Chris, don't forget that there still a lot of officials with 'no-brains'.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    It's time to seperate out solving the Dawlish problem with better access to the South West peninsula .

    The Oakhampton route is more about re established rail route than avoiding Dawlish sea wall .

    As for Dawlish are there any non rail solutions like building a barrage or even rerouteing the route along a new structure built above the sea and thus less likely to fall victim to land slides ? A barrage with a railway on top !

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Restoring the whole of the Okehampton Line to maybe single track with passing loops would give some protection in case of another Sea Wall breach at Dawlish. It would serve the purpose of opening up Dartmoor for the walkers and cyclists and other tourists whilst offering a line that could be used in Emergencies if the Dawlish line was blocked - which probably won't happen that often except possibly for Engineering work.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Guess this makes up to £700m to reinstate the Okehampton line a no-brainer then.