Storms that lashed Britain today washed an 80-meter (260-feet) stretch of the Great Western rail route into the sea, leaving tracks dangling above the waves and severing the counties of Devon and Cornwall from the network.
The section of the Dawlish sea wall, which has protected the line between London Paddington and Penzance for more than 150 years, collapsed under the weight of crashing waves, with ballast and foundations falling into the sea. Network Rail Ltd. said the route beyond Exeter is closed “until further notice.”
FirstGroup Plc’s First Great Western franchise, which operates 125 mile per hour expresses on the route, halted trains beyond Exeter and said it was struggling to provide a replacement bus service after the extreme weather blocked roads.
“We’re on site at a number of locations in the southwest of England and are making repairs where the weather conditions permit,” Network Rail said on its website. “We’ll carry out an initial assessment of the damage at Dawlish as soon as the weather subsides to help us identify the extent and scope of repairs required.”
Remedial engineering work may allow some services beyond Plymouth, the biggest station on the detached section of the route, to resume today, though the Exeter-Plymouth route will remain closed, Network Rail said.
The damage to the sea wall is the worst in living memory, according to the company, which runs Britain’s tracks and stations. While repairs will be made to restore service in the short term, the collapse could bolster arguments for a new route to Cornwall using a closed line north of Dartmoor.
“High tide is currently being experienced in the area,” the Devon & Cornwall Police said. “Multi-agency teams are working across the region to deal with a large amount of calls relating to road debris, damage to property and flooding.”