Dawlish emergency rail works

Year:2014

Duration:2 months

Cost:£35m

Country: UK

What did this project achieve?

Repair a major railway route so that it can be quickly reopened

Opened in 1846, the South Devon Railway is the only rail connection from the south west (including the whole of Cornwall) to the rest of the UK. It is accustomed to extreme weather conditions. However, the severity of the storms in February 2014 caused chaos across the south and west of the county.

The emergency works highlighted the true meaning of engineering with teamwork, inventiveness and quick intervention being the real priorities. These major works were completed in eight weeks.

Engineers survey the site - the railway is literally metres from the coast.

Engineers survey the site - the railway is literally metres from the coast.

Difference the project has made

Restoring the railway line helped thousands of people resume their normal travels to work, school, etc. And in time for the Easter holidays.

How the emergency railway repairs were done

On the night of 4 February 2014 engineering contractors BAM received a first call from Network Rail and by the next morning a joint inspection team had convened at site to assess storm damage from 80mph winds and 5m high waves.

Priority was given to protecting the exposed formation supporting the residential properties (immediately above the washed out track). Suspended rails were cut and sacrificial concrete-sleepered track was laid across the formation. Sprayed concrete was applied to prevent further destabilisation of the area.

On 6 February, less than 48 hours after the first call, a joint team comprising Network Rail, BAM, AMCO, Dyer & Butler, Sisk and Tony Gee & Partners planned the repairs. Within the first week a temporary breakwater was made from shipping containers welded together and filled with sand and stone to protect the works against high tides.

On 14 February another storm struck causing works to stop and also a 20% increase to the amount of work the project had to tackle. The temporary breakwater was swamped by ferocious seas during the night which battered and damaged the 10-tonne shipping containers.

The breach of the original sea wall increased by 30% with a secondary breach near to Dawlish Warren. More shipping containers were brought in and the teams began work on clearing additional debris down the line.

Through late February and March the joint team worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to repair and reinstate the railway line. Reinforced concrete foundations were laid, protective walls restored, pre-cast concrete L-sections installed at both the main and secondary breach sites.

In early March a further challenge faced the team. Around 25,000 tonnes of rock and earth had fallen away from the cliff face onto the track near Teignmouth. BAM and Dyer & Butler worked with AMCO to evaluate and trial different methods to safely move the material including the use of a helicopter to pour/spray the earth fall in seawater.

A controlled landslip was created using several high pressure water cannons, turning the red earth into slurry to run off into the sea.

Eight weeks on from the first destructive storm, after battling with high waves, rain, gales and a further landslip – the rail link to south and west Devon and Cornwall re-opened on 4 April.

“​‌

Our army of engineers has done an amazing job of putting back together a railway that was ravaged by the elements. They have overcome every obstacle thrown at them, winning many battles along the way to restore this critical piece of the network, ahead of schedule, and in time for the Easter holidays.

Mark Carne

Nation Rail Chief Executive

Fascinating facts

Works continued 24 hours a day, 7 days a week after the first storm

There were an average of 300 people each day and 150 each night onsite

Cost to the economy for the disruption estimated at £1.2bn

People who made it happen

  • Client: Network Rail
  • BAM
  • AMCO
  • Dyer & Butler
  • Sisk and Tony Gee & Partners

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