die belebende Bedenkung

Robustification of Cornish rail connectivity, part two

with 4 comments

Part one

GW severance at Dawlish (Western Morning News)Prior to being appointed transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin showed little interest in railways or transport, so this week’s Great Western severance at Dawlish must have come as a bit of a shock to him. Today he announced a “rigorous review” of alternatives to the coastal Great Western line, raising hopes of “dusting off a £100 million inland link to avoid storm damage”, the Western Morning News reported.

The announcement was probably designed to shore up parliamentary support for the prestige £50 billion HS2 railway intended to run between London, Birmingham, and two Northern cities.

[‘Minister commissions report into battered Dawlish line alternative’, G Demianyk, Western Morning News, February 6, 2014]

Most [South West MPs] want “dual lines” – meaning a new inland route would complement the Dawlish line, as ditching the vulnerable coastal path would leave South Devon cut off and bring the demise of one of Britain’s best-loved journeys.

There are many options that could be considered for re-routing, including reviving a 50-mile stretch from Exeter to Newton Abbot, which closed in 1958.
At Transport Questions in the House of Commons this morning, the Secretary of State Mr McLoughlin said he wanted the service restored “as quickly as possible”, but also pledged a “more rigorous review of some of the other alternatives that may be available”.

In 2006, Labour ministers ruled out the idea of re-routing, arguing Network Rail believed seafront defences in Dawlish were unlikely to fail “in the foreseeable future”.

There must be a question mark over the longer term viability of the Great Western railway on its current course via Dawlish and 25kV ac overhead electrification to Plymouth would pose immense problems. The Beleben view is that an inland link would cost a lot more than £100 million, but be relatively simple compared with, say, the re-routeing of the Nice to Genova railway in Monaco and Sanremo (which was not done for weather resilience).

Protecting the entirety of the Great Western in South Devon from ‘extreme’ weather would be prohibitively expensive. There would seem to be a case for both constructing a shadow route to maintain connectivity to South Devon resorts, and rebuilding the LSWR route to Plymouth via Okehampton. Extending Waterloo — Exeter trains into Mid Devon would certainly benefit its economy.

Plymouth (population 256,000 [2011 Census]) is one of many towns cut off from the rail network by the severance at Dawlish, but HS2 lobbyist Alex Burrows attacked Devon / Cornwall rail resilience concerns


Written by beleben

February 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Financial Times 6/2/2014 quotes Gary Streeter, Tory MP for Southwest Devon as saying “My constituents have pointed out that we are spending £50bn on HS2; if it is a few 10s or 100s of millions to keep our region connected to the rest of England it will be worth it.”

    I hope a few more MPs start to realise that there are far more deserving causes than HS2. It is unfortunate that some government departments think that a scheme having a cost benefit ratio of only 2 is seen as being good value and worth pursuing. That might be the case if funds are unlimited but when they are not only the very best schemes should progress.


    February 7, 2014 at 5:44 pm

  2. […] week’s severance of the sole extant railway to Plymouth and Cornwall has raised awareness of how the South West […]

  3. The Headline “Storm force closure of the West’s lifeline” in The Times 6th Feb, is somewhat overdone. Here is the reality:

    Penzance to Paddington provides one train an hour (11 all day). The journey takes five and a half hours. The open return costs over £120. The typical passenger load on South Western Trains is a 140 people .
    Torquay to Exeter (through Dawlish) offers three trains per hour. However, a recent picture on TV showed a train with only two carriages on the affected stretch.

    Instead of this railway being a “lifeline” it is instead an extraordinarily expensive, fully working, modernised, transport museum.

    Further, it is amusing to note that the money now earmarked for the flood defences in the area, amounts to perhaps £130 million or nearly 400 times less than the £50bn required for HS2, a scheme which, far from being transformational, will increase the nation’s passenger journeys by a vanishingly small 0.05% .
    The flood defences may very well be very much more transformational than that

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