In October, Network Rail finally presented its Resilience Study and Flood Prevention Study to the All Party Parliamentary South West Rail Group. It has been a long time coming, and so has the delivery of this report, delayed I understand by the Department for Transport.
The Report is designed to provide solutions to the flooding of the Somerset Levels, the River Exe above Exeter and along the coast at Dawlish which, I recall, happened over several years starting 4 years ago. At that time, NR and the Environment Agency kindly met some interested peers to explain how they would prevent this happening again. Their solution then was to put a large blow-up sausage across the tracks to protect Exeter from flooding; we suggested that they had forgotten to put a large sign on the sausage – ‘Devon and Cornwall closed for business’.
Now, four years later, the emergency sausage is to be replaced by two culverts under the railway in 2017 and 2018, and three weirs, the responsibility of the Environment Agency, will be removed to lower the water levels, but ’timing of this is still to be confirmed’. Knowing the snail like pace of any Environment Agency work, this might take another five to ten years.
Along the coast between Dawlish and Teignmouth there are also good plans; stronger sea walls and, in one location where the hillside is the main threat, a sensible suggestion to build a new breakwater out to sea, move the tracks out and build a ‘toe weight’ of soil and rock to stabilise the cliff.
All good ideas, and necessary for the resilience of this important line, but what about the timescale? NR suggest that in 2015 the likelihood of a ‘severe event’, involving 2 to 7-day closure of the line, is 1 in 0.38 years. An ‘extreme event’, involving line closures of several months as happened in 2014, the likelihood is 1 in 1.5 years.
Their delivery programme stretches to 2079 – over 60 years! On that basis if I calculate it correctly, there will be 30 to 40 occasions when the line is closed for months. Devon and Cornwall closed for business rather too frequently to attract serious investment.
So much for the Government’s commitment to resilience on this vital line to the South West!