Local communities and organisations have successfully worked together to protect the South West’s main rail line from extreme weather, but there remains more to do to make the network resilient, according to the chairman of Peninsula Transport, the Sub-national Transport Body (STB) for Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay.
Speaking on the 10th anniversary of the storms which swept away the line at Dawlish in 2014, Peninsula Transport chairman Councillor Andrea Davis said efforts to repair and strengthen the critical stretch of track show what partnership working can achieve.
Councillor Davis said: “The destruction inflicted at Dawlish was a massive set back for the South West in 2014. But the commitment shown by local authorities, the rail industry, business organisations and others to work together to make the line more resilient was unique, and it has put us in a far better position ten years on.
“There remains more to do, but we must pay tribute to all those who have come together and worked hard to make the rail network less vulnerable to extreme weather.”
The government has committed to fully implement the South West Rail Resilience Programme which is designed to safeguard the line at Dawlish.
Other important parts of the rail network remain at risk from rising sea levels or flooding and require further protection, as outlined in Peninsula Transport’s Rail Strategy.
These include sections of the main London line at Cowley Bridge junction near Exeter and through the Somerset Levels. Both have benefited from resilience schemes, but services are still sometimes disrupted by floods.
Services between Plymouth and Totnes have also been affected by floods twice since the start of 2024.
Councillor Mark Coker, Chair of the Peninsula Rail Task Force, said: “A great deal has been achieved since the South West lost its rail link to the rest of the country for two months back in 2014. We must continue to work together across councils and industry to ensure the railway can withstand future extreme weather.
“A resilient rail network is vital to the region’s economy and must continue to be treated as a priority.”
The Peninsula Rail Taskforce (PRTF) is Peninsula Transport’s strategic rail sub-group. It was set up in 2013 following rail disruption caused by severe storms, and responded on behalf of communities and businesses following the sea wall collapse at Dawlish the following year.
A Network Rail video showing some of the work which has been carried out in and around Dawlish can be seen here.