ALTERNATIVE RAIL ROUTES TO THE SOUTH WEST
Visitors to the site may be interested in the following correspondence between member Tim Hewett and the club's Webmaster about the possible route of an alternative railway line to west Devon and Cornwall. The background, of course, is the terrible damage that Brunel's route suffered during the storms of February 2014, especially at Dawlish.
Tim: I noticed your comment on the website about alternative routes to the damaged Dawlish line. There happens to be another option to the Okehampton route which runs from Exeter to Newton Abbott down the Teign valley past Chudleigh, tunnelling under the hills to get there from Exeter. Some of it has been subsumed by the A38 unfortunately. In one respect this route is preferable so as to not leave Torbay 'dangling' on a spur east of Plymouth.
Webmaster: Yes, you're right, although the A38 is a problem for railway reinstatement along the Teign Valley, as are the lack of population, and speed, along the route. At least Okehampton and Tavistock are large population centres, and Tavistock to Bere Alston is already up for re-opening. Did you know that Longdown Tunnel has collapsed in the middle as well? That would need to be dug out again if the Teign Valley route were re-used.
An ancillary issue which came to my attention recently is that many old lines - and even lines that are still operational today - would not be passed for construction under modern regulations because the bends are too tight. There are, no doubt, other issues which could make life difficult for a reinstated Teign Valley line, perhaps including things like gradients and tunnel clearances.
The Minister of State for Transport (Patrick McLoughlin) may, of course, have a new inland route in mind. Exminster or Starcross to Newton Abbott is the key section, and here a couple of minor rivers flowing towards the coast offer possibilities. Personally, I think that the days of Dawlish as a railway town are numbered. It will be interesting to see what Mr. McLoughlin comes up with. If I were a gambling man, I'd put my money on the Okehampton to Tavistock route, largely because some work on re-opening south of Tavistock has already taken place. I think it was in 2012 that a member living in Bere Alston told me that engineers had been out - presumably from Network Rail - checking the structures on the Tavistock to Bere Alston section. The other advantage that this route has is that the formation used to - and still could - accommodate double track.
Tim: Perhaps a 1 mile tunnel under Dawlish is an idea to be considered before moving away from the whole coast route; I don’t think the rest of the coastal section is as vulnerable to the weather and it is cherished. A railway expert mooted the idea of a base tunnel on the news earlier, and also pointed out that work did once start on a Dawlish bypass route from Starcross in 1939 (before world events intervened), covered by a 1936 Act of Parliament. Probably not possible now due to the nature of the countryside it would cut through.
The Result? In February
2014, Network Rail announced that its preferred option was to reinstate
the line between Okehampton and Bere Alston. According to the BBC News
website on the 10th of that month, 'Network Rail has chosen an additional
alternative railway route to the storm-stricken Dawlish line along the
Devon coast … The route would head from Okehampton to Plymouth via
Tavistock and go through parts of Dartmoor National Park. There is no
timescale for the plan, which Network Rail concluded in outline proposals
last year would cost hundreds of millions of pounds. However, Network
Rail said abandoning the Dawlish route was "not an option"'.