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Campaigners call for Okehampton route reopening on Dawlish anniversary

IT IS seven years since the first of two savage storms destroyed several hundred metres of main line along the sea wall at Dawlish in south Devon, on 4 and 5 February 2014.

Attempts to provide some emergency protection using freight containers filled with sand and stones did not prevent a second wave of destruction during the evening of 14 February, when another storm swept in.

The line, which is the only rail connection between Exeter, Plymouth and Cornwall was reopened on 4 April, just after prime minister David Cameron had visited the site and praised  Network Rail’s ‘orange army’ workforce.

Work on a new and more resilient wall started in May 2019, and the first section was completed in July last year. The wall was officially opened by rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris in September. It runs for 360 metres west of Dawlish station.

Work on the second phase has been affected by local objections to some of the details, particularly the plan to move the railway towards Teignmouth further away from the cliffs. A local protest group claimed such a move would ‘leave a colossal carbon footprint and destroy sensitive marine habitats’.

In response, Network Rail arranged a six week consultation in January last year, saying its proposals now included a revised design and environmental research.

Work to install piling started in November, using an innovative eight-legged, self-contained walking jack-up barge, known as a ‘Wavewalker’. The prohect is expected to be completed in early 2023.

Meanwhile, a campaigning group. the Tavistock Okehampton Reopening Scheme, is calling for the former Southern main line to be reopened between Exeter and Plymouth, to provide a more resilient alternative to the Dawlish route.

TORS director Jim Collins said: ‘Continuity of service while the coast line engineering works are underway or when serious storms strike at high tides is one of a wide range of benefits the TORS project brings to the region. We shouldn’t let slip the opportunity of the ‘Northern Route’ to ensure the safety and resilience of the South West’s rail connections.’

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