The huge storms that have battered the South West over the past couple of weeks have dominated our area and it is clear that the damage being left behind is going to take quite an operation to sort out. The exceptional weather has been relentless and first and foremost my sympathy goes out to all those affected. People have lost their homes and livelihoods and we need to make sure they can get their lives back on track as quickly as possible. Nowhere is the evidence of the scale of the destruction more obvious than the images of the hanging railway at Dawlish which has cut off Cornwall and much of Devon from any train route to London.
The facts at Dawlish make stark reading. To repair the damage along the 80 metre stretch of sea wall will cost an estimated £30 million. Not only is it a huge expense but Council Workers and the Environment Agency are giving estimates of at least six weeks for the line to be up and running again. This is so frustrating for all rail passengers and especially commuters who are now having to change the way they are getting in and out of work. It is an absolutely vital link for our overall economy and every day the line is down loses money for Cornwall.
The main question is what now needs to be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again and what should we expect in the future. In the short term we need to repair the line as it now stands and the immediate wall. This is difficult because of the ongoing weather but repairs have already started and it will at the very least mean services can start running again.
We then need to look into what else we can do. I think a defensive wall further out could help break the waves and act as an important initial check in future bad weather. We should also look at the possibility of a diversionary route in case of further bad weather. Network Rail is already looking into this option via Okehampton and I will be interested to read their conclusions.
These are good ideas but we also need to make sure that whatever is done is not a knee-jerk reaction despite the current situation. I want to make journey times to Cornwall shorter and any changes further up the line need to make sure that happens. As a regular on the sleeper myself I also know how important that service is and current plans for its upgrade, including two new carriages, should still go-ahead. I will be doing my best to make sure that our railway also gets the investment it needs.
George Eustice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.