Chris Grayling has made a long-awaited and widely trailed announcement of ‘up to’ £80m to bolster the sea defences at Dawlish, over five years since the rail line there was washed away.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said upgrades to the sea wall will increase its height by 2.5 metres and include wave returns to reduce the impact of waves and the likelihood of the line being closed during adverse weather.
What the new wall at Dawlish could look like
On a visit to Dawlish on Friday, the transport secretary said: ‘We cannot allow the disruption and damage endured by Dawlish and the South West to happen again. This significant investment demonstrates our cast-iron commitment to delivering a resilient and safe railway, giving passengers, businesses and residents confidence in a reliable service.'
The announcement comes just over a week after ministers were criticised for not having pledged the cash by the fifth anniversary of the February 2014 storm, which caused huge damage to the rail line.
Last week, local Labour MP Luke Pollard told Transport Network’: 'We know they are ready to launch it, we know they have the press release ready to go. Why haven't they announced this on the fifth anniversary? I honestly expect an announcement in the next couple of weeks from Chris Grayling. And the question will be: "Why didn't you announce this earlier?"’
Cllr Tudor Evans, leader of Plymouth City Council, said: 'Chris Grayling’s announcement, or rather re-announcement, is a bit like when you have waited for a long delayed train – when it finally turns up you feel relieved but also pretty furious at the inconvenience it has caused.
'This announcement is not only years too late, it only takes us part of the way. It is literally a drop in the ocean – it raises the sea wall at Dawlish but doesn’t solve the resilience problem as there’s £250m still needed for works between Dawlish and Teignmouth, including stabilisation of the cliffs.'
The Peninsula Rail Task Force, a campaign group representing local councils and businesses, described the move as a welcome ‘first step’ but said it would continue to campaign for Network Rail and the Government is to deliver plans and funding for resilience works elsewhere on the line, from Parsons Tunnel to Teignmouth.
Chair Cllr Andrea Davis said: ‘It is essential that the rail line remains open to protect the South West’s economy. The line’s vulnerability during adverse weather cannot be allowed to dictate the level of service endured by passengers in the region.’
The DfT said work on the new sea wall will begin in the spring and is expected to be complete by 2021.
It added that Network Rail is continuing to develop solutions for the cliffs along the coast immediately north-east of Teignmouth, including the development of an application for the necessary planning consent for work to maintain the cliffs and protect the railway.
Last week, Network Rail told Transport Network that works to the sea wall at Dawlish would cost approximately £30m but that other, uncosted works were needed between Dawlish and Dawlish Warren.