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Network Rail announces plan to protect Great Western Main Line from flooding

Network Rail has announced its preferred solution for protecting Devon and Cornwall’s main line from repeated flooding in Exeter.

Over the past two years, flooding at Cowley and Stafford bridges in Exeter has resulted in four weeks disruption, meaning numerous delays and closures on this part of the Great Western Main Line; loss of profit for businesses in the area; and a huge inconvenience to local residents.

To fix the problem, Network Rail plans to remove three weirs close to the bridges to lower the water level in that part of the River Exe. It says that once the three weirs are removed, the river will be returned to its ‘natural’ state, meaning that in this part the water level will fall by up to a metre.

The plan also involves dredging the river to improve its flow and building a new culvert to divert floodwater. Embankments will also be constructed to reduce the risk of the river bursting its banks.

Network Rail said such flooding should only happen once every 20 years.

The plans were unveiled at a meeting of the Peninsula Rail Task Force, where Network Rail said the work would cost about £15m and start at the end of 2015.

Joanna Grew, Network Rail’s commercial scheme sponsor for the project, said: “Over the years, flooding at these two bridges has caused huge disruption on the Great Western Main Line, severely inconveniencing passengers and harming the region’s economy. As a good neighbour, we are also aware of the extensive problems it causes the local community, which is why we have been working to find a long-term solution.

“The preferred option of removing the weirs is the most favourable as it would not only limit the chances of flooding in the future, it is also the option that provides good value for money for the public.

“We are now working with the council and other stakeholders to gather their views on our proposal and will keep the local community updated on our progress.”

George Arnison, from the Environment Agency, said: “We are pleased to support Network Rail’s work to improve the railway’s resilience to flooding.

"It’s great to see a solution emerge that complements the Exeter Flood Defence Scheme proposals and seems to offer both flood risk and environmental benefits.”

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