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New research outlines resilience options for south west railway network

The Commons Transport committee is hearing evidence tomorrow for its inquiry into rail flooding and winter resilience.

Lord Tony Berkeley, Rail Freight Group chairman and a member of RTM’s editorial board, has urged those representatives from local authorities and businesses in Devon and Cornwall to insist on the urgent re-opening and long-term protection of the Dawlish part of the line, both from the sea and landslips from above.

He is also calling for urgent action to prevent a re-occurrence of the flooding of the River Exe north of Exeter, and dredging of the Somerset levels to reduce the risk of rail flooding there.

Berkeley says that in addition to undertaking these works to keep the lines open, an inland route to avoid Dawlish and provide a resilient route must be developed quickly. 

He says that “most experts believe” that the former Southern Railway line through Okehampton (the North Dartmoor line) is the best option and, by connecting the current tracks between there through Tavistock to Bere Alston, such a route is achieved. 

This would provide rail access from these towns to both Plymouth and Exeter, as well as a resilient diversion route for main line services when Dawlish is closed.

However, with a little more vision, in addition to the above, Cornwall could be connected to London and the Midlands by a faster route to save around 40 minutes on the journey time, by rebuilding the straighter parts of the former SR Route to 90mph standards and then constructing two cut-offs for Cornwall – London/Midlands trains to avoid the long detours to Plymouth and Exeter.

He adds that a link from Rewe south of Tiverton Parkway to Sweetham on the Barnstable branch could be easily built to save reversing at Exeter.A route from Bodmin Parkway past Bodmin and then following the route of the A30 via Launceston to near Okehampton would, for most of the route, enable high speeds to be achieved, and would avoid the Dartmoor National Park. A new connection from this route to Bere Alston would provide a faster route to Plymouth.  

This paper by JRC Consulting gives all the details and route options.  

Berkeley said:  “I believe that a combination of a resilient inland route to the South West for when Dawlish is closed, combined with a 40 minute time saving from many parts of Cornwall  would provide the economic benefit that the region deserves after its economy losing £20m per day with the current – and last year’s – line closures.”

(Image, copyright JRC Consulting, shows options for improved Plymouth, West Devon and Cornwall rail accessibility, with rail investment available to support economic growth)

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


Simon R   28/02/2014 at 15:59

A high speed line from London to Cornwall that doesn't go to Exeter or Plymouth? That doesn't sensible. Exeter and Plymouth are the two biggest population centres. I agree with providing a faster route, but it's got to serve both those towns to be viable. And realistically that's likely to mean a new direct line from Exeter to Newton Abbot and then either work to straighten the line from there to Plymouth, or if that's not feasible, a new parallel line.

Andrew S   28/02/2014 at 16:51

The critical locations appear to be (a) Cowley Bridge Junction, north of Exeter, which is often flooded, and (b) the sea wall section near Dawlish. Reopening the former South Western main line through Okehampton would bypass the latter but not the former. A better solution might be to supplement a new inland Exeter - Newton Abbot route with double-tracking the line between Castle Cary and Yeovil Junction, then on to Exeter via Honiton. That would give a good quality diversionary route and reduce delays caused by running heavy traffic over single track sections.

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