What’s the story?

In early February 2014 a section of the sea wall in Dawlish, Devon collapsed and left the railway to Cornwall suspended in mid-air. Residents of homes on the Somerset Levels were evacuated amid fears flood defences could be overwhelmed.

Immediate measures put in place at the time to cope with the loss of the rail line included more domestic flights from Newquay to Gatwick, discounted fares and a replacement bus service.(1) The Prime Minister subsequently announced £61 million to help repair damaged roads and build greater resilience into the railways of the south west. This included a £31 million scheme to deliver 10 rail resilience projects including works at Cowley Bridge in Exeter, to improve resilience to flooding.(2)

The rail line reopened on 4 April 2014.

In September 2014 Network Rail published a Route Weather Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the Western region.

In December 2014 the Government announced £86 million of flood defence funding across the South West, including a Dawlish Warren and Exmouth Beach management scheme.(3)

Western Route Study

In July 2014 Network Rail published a West of Exeter Route Resilience Study. This examined a number of options form strengthening the existing railway to reopening the former London & South Western Railway route from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton; constructing a modern double track railway on the alignment of the former Teign Valley branch line from Exeter to Newton Abbot; and five other alternative direct routes to provide a new line between Exeter and Newton Abbot.(4)

This fed into the Western Route Study, published for consultation by Network Rail in late 2014. The final study was published in August 2015. On South West resilience, this said that the provision of a four track railway for part of the Route Section between Exeter St Davids and Newton Abbot “would be difficult to accommodate along the current coastal route. However, should capacity for a four track railway be required by 2043 to deliver the full 2043 ITSS, this could be provided through a combination of the existing two-track formation and a new two-track railway as investigated under the West of Exeter Route Resilience Study. However, this is one choice that will be reviewed as further work is undertaken to consider the resilience requirements over future control periods up to 2043”.(5)

It also evaluated all of the options presented in the West of Exeter study and found that they all represented “poor” value for money (p200).

South West Peninsula Rail Task Force

In January 2015 the Chancellor announced he was working with the Secretary of State for Transport to establish a south-west Peninsula Rail Task Force, to develop a comprehensive rail strategy for the region. This would look at the case for re-opening the inland rail route between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock.(6)

In March 2015 the Government announced an infrastructure package for the South West. The Task Force was asked to bring forward their proposals by June 2016, for consideration in the CP6 (2019-24) rail planning period.(7)

In October 2015 the Peninsula Rail Task Force published an interim report focusing on how to deliver three priorities:

  • Resilience: Flooding schemes at Cowley Bridge and Somerset levels, Dawlish seawall and cliffs stability, GRIP 2 studies for passing loops between Exeter and Yeovil for mainline services.
  • Journey Time Improvements: Part 1-Maximisation of the benefits of the AT300 introduction in December 2018, Part 2- GRIP 2 study between Westbury and Penzance to inform CP6 and Part 3-PRE-GRIP study to close the gap between GRIP 2 outputs and PRTF ask.
  • Increasing Capacity: through the GRIP 2 study, between Exeter and Yeovil, evaluation of the Northern Route, and the Dawlish Line.(8)

Most recently the Government has said that it is working with Network Rail and the Task Force “within the context of the changes that will come from Hendy re-profiling and the Bowe review to establish which further studies are required to inform the Peninsula Rail Task Force report of June 2016 and the funding that could be available to support this development work”.(9)

Relevant PQs and Parliamentary debates on the work of the taskforce can be found here.

 

References

  1. DfT press notice, “Transport Secretary visits Dawlish in south-west”, 7 February 2014
  2. DfT press notice, “Further flood support from government”, 12 February 2014
  3. DEFRA press notice, “£86m to be spent on new flood defences across the South West”, 2 December 2014
  4. Rail infrastructure, 15 July 2014
  5. Network Rail, Western Route Study, August 2015, p198
  6. Long term economic plan for the south-west, 26 January 2015
  7. HMT press notice, “Infrastructure package for the south-west announced by Danny Alexander”, 2 March 2015
  8. PRTF, On Track – the 20 year plan interim report, October 2015
  9. HCWPQ24864, 3 February 2016

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