The main railway line into Cornwall through Dawlish in Devon has reopened after part of the track was destroyed during winter storms.

The track was left smashed after being battered by storms this winter, with cutting the UK off from Cornwall and Devon.

The cost of the repairs is estimated at £35million, with the work carried out by an 'orange army' of over 300 contactors and Network Rail staff.

Somerset County Gazette:

The first passenger train on the line was the 05:34 BST from Exeter to Paignton, with the Prime Minister calling the reopening a "great day".

Mark Carne, chief executive, Network Rail, said: “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.

“The biggest thanks must be reserved for passengers and local communities and businesses who have been hugely supportive and patient over the past two months as we worked flat-out to rebuild this vital rail link.

“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.”

Time-lapse shows two months of repairs in two minutes

Network Rail’s army of 300-strong engineers, known locally as the ‘orange army’, has battled for over two months to overcome every obstacle thrown at it by Mother Nature; work that has included:

The repair in numbers:

  • Building a temporary sea wall from 18 welded shipping containers to protect homes and engineers as they worked to repair a 100m breach at Riviera Terrace, Dawlish, following storms on 4 and 14 February
  • Rebuilt and fortified the breach with more than 6000 tonnes of concrete and 150 tonnes of steel
  • Removed 25,000 tonnes of collapsed cliff at Woodlands Avenue, Teignmouth, following a landslip on 4 March, using high pressure water canon, fire hoses, helicopter-borne water bombs, specialist roped access team and ‘spider’ excavators
  • Repaired dozens of other sites along a four mile stretch of coastal railway, clearing hundred of tonnes of debris and repairing over 600m of parapet wall
  • Rebuilt half of Dawlish station with a new platform, new canopy and repainting throughout with the finishing touches provided by TV gardener, Toby Buckland, and members of the ‘Friends of Dawlish station’
  • Installed over 13 miles of new cables, designed and installed a new temporary signalling system and replaced over 700m of track and ballast

Somerset County Gazette:

David Cameron, Prime Minister, said: “This is a great day for the hard-working people of Dawlish, and for businesses and commuters across the South West whose lives have been turned upside down by the devastating loss of their train line.

"Back in February when I visited the town to see the damage for myself, I promised to do everything I could to get this vital artery back up and running as quickly as possible. I am delighted to say that promise has been delivered today. A promise which says that the South West is well and truly open for business.

“The impact of the extreme weather shows the importance of making our railways strong enough to weather any storm. That is why we announced a £31 million package of improvements and asked Network Rail to examine every option to ensure the resilience of this route, all part of our long-term economic plan to boost business and create more jobs in the region.”

Mark Hopwood, managing director for First Great Western, said: "The reopening of the railway line is good news for the South West and for our passengers. The railway plays a vital role in the prosperity of the region, and we are grateful to the hard work Network Rail and their teams have put in to get this line up and running as quickly a possible.

"Over the past two months we've put on thousands of extra buses and drafted in volunteers from FirstGroup companies across the UK to keep people moving. Throughout it all, our customers have been extremely patient and I would like to thank them for their support.”

Cornwall Council Leader John Pollard has welcomed today’s re opening of the mainline rail route from London to Cornwall.

“It is excellent news that the rail line has re-opened much earlier than originally predicted and I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of Network Rail in achieving this” said John Pollard. “Over the past two months everyone has worked together to keep Cornwall connected, with staff from First Great Western and Cross Country Trains ensuring that transport services were maintained while the rain line was shut. Now the line has re opened we will be working with First Great Western to promote travelling to Cornwall by train.

“Cornwall Council is committed to supporting rail travel and we will now be working with our MP’s and other partners to ensure that the Government invests in long term solutions to ensure that there is a sustainable rail link to and from Cornwall.  It is not acceptable for the main rail link to be shut for long periods of time and we look forward to seeing this commitment from the Government”.

The re opening of the rail line has also been welcomed by Malcolm Bell, Head of Visit Cornwall, the Cornwall Development Company tourism service.

“Everyone has pulled together to ensure that Cornwall has remained Open for Business. There were also additional flights operated by Flybe from Newquay Cornwall Airport to London“ he said. 

“The reopening of the line from Paddington to Penzance is the final piece of the puzzle.

“The re opening has come just in time for the Easter break and the team who have worked around the clock to repair the damage should be applauded for their efforts.”

With the most critical phase of the restoration now completed and the line reopened, engineers will now move to the less critical phase that includes:

  • Fully restoring the signalling and electronic equipment – currently a normal service is running with some minor retiming owing to a temporary signalling solution being in place
  • Removing the shipping container temporary sea wall
  • Rebuilding Brunel’s original sea-wall at the breach site using original stone and craftsmen repairing
  • Restoring the public footpath on the seaward side of the sea wall so the much loved coastal path from Dawlish to Teignmouth can reopen
  • Rebuilding the ‘lost road’ at Riviera Terrace so residents cut off by the breach can fully return to their homes again