In February 2014, a huge storm struck the south Devon coastline at Dawlish cutting off the only railway line to the south-west. Seven years later, a new sea wall is under construction, following the Government’s commitment to spend £80m on the project.
In May 2019 Network Rail started construction and completed the first section last July. The new, larger sea wall was officially opened by the Rail Minister last September and runs for 360 metres along Marine Parade west of Dawlish station, giving this stretch of railway line immediate greater resilience against waves that flood the track, leading to potential closures and delays.
Work on the second section of the new sea wall began last November. A major feature of this work involves the use of an innovative eight-legged, self-contained walking jack-up barge, known as a ‘Wavewalker.’ Since November, the ‘Wavewalker’, has been used to help deliver the piling at the sea wall.
This second section of the sea wall is anticipated to take around two years to complete and once finished, this 415-metre section which stretches from Coastguard breakwater east of Dawlish station to Colonnade breakwater will link up with the already completed first section of the sea wall at Marine Parade.
By the start of 2023, the completion of this work will increase the resilience of the railway in the south-west for at least the next 100 years and ensure communities remain connected via the railway network.
As part of the designs, the new sea wall will also improve passengers’ experience and access at Dawlish station through a new footbridge with lifts, whilst providing residents and visitors to Dawlish with a high-level, wider and safer promenade and pedestrian access to the beach.
The new sea wall at Dawlish is part of Network Rail’s ongoing efforts since 2014 to improve the resilience of the railway between Dawlish and Teignmouth in Devon, known as the South West Rail Resilience Programme.
Chris Heaton-Harris, Rail Minister, said: “The damage to the sea wall in Dawlish caused shockwaves across the country back in 2014, and it has been a huge feat of engineering to get the new structure to where it is today.
“I have seen for myself the incredible work that has gone into the first phase of the sea wall, and once completed our investment will provide a resilient railway for generations to come.”
Chris Pearce, Network Rail’s interim Western route director, said: “We are pleased with the progress we have made in Dawlish. Many will remember the significant damage to the railway in 2014 and the impact it had on Dawlish and the wider south-west, and the work we are continuing to do in Dawlish will protect the town and region for at least the next 100 years.
“It has been great to see the interest of the local community in our project, particularly the presence of the Wavewalker, which has ensured we’ve managed to continue with the piling at the sea wall despite some of the stormy weather we’ve recently experienced.”
Alison Foden, Mayor of Dawlish, added: “This work is vitally important for Dawlish. We are a seaside town and the railway is one of our unique selling points and is in our history from when Isambard Kingdom Brunel built this beautiful railway.
“The progress Network Rail has made, particularly with the completion of the first section of the new sea wall, is brilliant. We now have a real sea wall promenade and people love coming down here.”
Images: Network Rail