Southwest England has been reconnected with Britain’s rail network after the Dawlish seawall destroyed by storms in February was reopened following repairs costing 35 million pounds ($58 million).
The first trains crossed the Victorian structure this morning at the end of eight weeks of construction involving 300 engineers, Network Rail Ltd., which maintains the U.K.’s 20,000 miles of track, said in a statement.
The Dawlish defenses that protected the Great Western line for 150 years were washed away by high seas on Feb. 4, leaving 430 feet of track dangling above the waves and isolating most of Devon and Cornwall, including Plymouth with 250,000 people. Network Rail had set a target of reopening the line by Easter.
“Our focus now moves to the medium and long term, looking at what can be done at Dawlish to make the current coastal route more resilient and, by the autumn, understand what the best viable relief route might be,” Network Rail Chief Executive Officer Mark Carne said in the release.
Britain is looking at redrawing its rail map with a new route to the southwest after the Dawlish collapse left more than 1 million people cut off from the rest of the system.
FirstGroup Plc ran an initial train over the restored link at about 5:30 a.m., forming a local service from Exeter to the seaside town of Paignton, followed by the return of First Great Western’s 125-mile-an-hour London expresses.
Prime Minister David Cameron inspected the repairs today after arriving on the first train from the capital.
The Dawlish wall was stabilized with a breakwater formed of 18 containers filled with 70 tons of ballast. Concrete was then sprayed on the cliff to stem erosion before the wall was rebuilt with 6,000 metric tons of concrete and 150 tons of steel.
Network Rail is developing engineering options for strengthening the barrier, while saying it’s open-minded about whether the Dawlish line should be retained in the long term.
The most radical rerouting would reopen a track north of Dartmoor shut in 1965 at a cost probably exceeding 100 million pounds, Network Rail said in February. Local businesses say that line should be for diversions only and that Dawlish must remain.