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Alternative route options post-Dawlish are poor value

Alternative rail route options being proposed to improve resilience in the South West, following this winter’s wet weather which led to the line collapsing at Dawlish, do not offer value for money, a new government-commissioned report has revealed.

Instead, options will be worked up to further strengthen the existing railway. That report is due in early 2015.

Network Rail’s West of Exeter Route Resilience Study detailed several options to give the region a train link fit for the 21st century. The options considered are:

  • Option 1: The base case of continuing the current maintenance regime on the existing route
  • Option 2: Further strengthening the existing railway. An early estimated cost of between £398m and £659m would be spread over four control periods, with a series of trigger and hold points to reflect funding availability, spend profile and achieved level of resilience
  • Option 3 (Alternative Route A): The former London & South Western Railway route from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton would be reconstructed at an estimated cost of £875m
  • Option 4 (Alternative Route B): Constructing a modern double track railway on the alignment of the former Teign Valley branch line from Exeter to Newton Abbot. This has an estimated cost of £470m. However, there is doubt as to whether a resilient railway is practical on this route
  • Option 5 (Alternative Routes C1 to C5): Five alternative direct routes would provide a new line between Exeter and Newton Abbot at an estimated cost between £1.49bn and £3.10bn

Network Rail appraised each of the alternative routes in line with Department for Transport guidelines, where the project benefits and costs ratio (BCR) measures the net economic benefits per pound.

On this basis, schemes with a BCR of greater than 4.0 (£4 of benefit for every £1 spent) are deemed to be of very high value for money, while schemes with BCR of less than 1.0 are considered to offer poor value for money.

Within the report, Network Rail stated that the Route A scheme offered a BCR of only 0.14, route B getting a figure of 0.29 and the C1-C5 alternatives getting between 0.08 and 0.17.

The report also stated that the “financial appraisal of the alternative route options, consistent with DfT guidance, demonstrates that each represents poor value for money, even under more favourable sensitivity tests”.

It was even noted that even if certain revenue and unpriced benefits were doubled and the capital outlays halved in combination, the financial business case and transport economic case for all of the additional route options would remain “significantly negative, with each one still offering poor value for money”.

In response to the report, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Network Rail’s West of Exeter route resilience study reflects the government’s commitment to delivering world class transport infrastructure in the South West.

“It will be treated as a material input for Network Rail’s long term planning process and will be incorporated in the Western Route Study, a draft of which will be published for consultation later in 2014.

“It is imperative that this work leads to improvements to the resilience of the railways in the south west that ensure there is no repeat of the disruption we saw earlier this year. I expect to make a further statement in the autumn regarding the West of Exeter Route Resilience study and our next steps.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email


Paul, Bedfordshire   19/07/2014 at 07:27

There are only 20 miles of missing track on the LSWR between Exeter and Plymouth. Most of the trackbed is intact (with a lot owned by the council) and only a handful of buildings on the track. Most of the structures are granite, intact and well maintained with only two small road bridges and Meldon strengthening needed. £875 million beggars belief. Did they price for full blown double track 125mph running with four aspect signalling or did the price the sensible option of single track with loops at Okehampton, Lydford and Bere Alston to allow an hourly extensions of the Class 159s from Waterloo and provide a diversionary route if the line is closed at Dawlish? I fear the same anti Southern agendas and axes to grind that were at work among western region staff when the line closed may still be at work.

Nigel Blackmore   23/07/2014 at 17:59

I agree with many of the comments made by Paul, Bedfordshire. The activities of the old BR Western Region when they took over the Southern Region lines west of Salisbury was a disgrace that made Beeching look a Saint in comparison. What they did was little short of treason and a massive disservice to the country. Unfortunately it is unlikely they will ever be brought to justice and suitably punished. Anyway what is done is done and can not be undone. Some of the "Withered Arm" lines would have probably had to go anyway but not Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock. I think Paul has underestimated the cost of reinstating the missing twenty miles and upgrading what is still extant. A good fast service via Tavistock and Okehampton would bring massive benefits to those two towns and the surrounding areas. It would also improve freight capability to Plymouth and from that further west. The ability to commute to Exeter, and Plymouth, and travel to Bristol and London etcetera from a much larger number of major towns would be of major benefit to the County of Devon. What also needs major consideration is the Exeter to Waterloo line west of Salisbury. This desperately needs upgrading. As a final comment - Eurostar spent a fortune on Waterloo only to abandon it. Now people from the South and West have to traverse London from Waterloo. How stupid. Nigel, Isle of Wight.

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