The Orange Army fixes flood-damaged Exeter railway in record time: Cowley Bridge has reopened early

Wednesday 23 Nov 2016

The Orange Army fixes flood-damaged Exeter railway in record time


Trains started running through the South West again today after Network Rail’s ‘Orange Army’ battled round the clock to fix damage caused by Storm Angus. Passenger services began to return to normal on the vital route 15 hours earlier than expected.

The railway at Cowley Bridge, Exeter reopened at 1pm having been closed since the early hours of Tuesday 22 November. Work to repair the line, which suffered severe flood damage, was initially expected to take 48 hours. 

The closure was necessary at Cowley Bridge after flood water washed away track and ballast causing disruption to Great Western services between Exeter St Davids and Tiverton Parkway. However, rail travel to and from the South West was still possible with diversions in place via Yeovil and more than 40 replacement buses were laid on by GWR to keep passengers moving.

The damage could have been far worse had recent resilience improvement work not been carried out to raise the signalling equipment in the area. That work, which formed part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan, followed flooding a few years ago that disrupted services at Cowley Bridge for three weeks. It involved placing the electronic signalling equipment on raised platforms, keeping it dry and meaning Network Rail only needed to replace the ballast and track, rather than repair the entire signalling system as was required following the previous major incident in 2012.  

Network Rail's Railway Upgrade Plan for the line between Taunton and Exeter will see further flood alleviation measures being installed at Cowley Bridge and Hele and Bradnich, reducing the likelihood of flooding from one in three years to one in 20 years. Work is due to be complete by 2018.

Network Rail’s Mark Langman, route managing director for the Western route, said: “The amount of rainfall that fell on the South west on Tuesday was remarkable and I sympathise with communities that have been so badly affected. Equally remarkable is the achievement of the Orange Army in repairing the damage to the railway and getting the line reopened so quickly. The railway is vital for passengers, communities and businesses in the south west.

“We appreciate the patience shown while the work was undertaken and we now look to the future and ensuring the risk of a similar incident is reduced. The upgrade works carried out following the floods of two years ago have helped minimise the disruption on this occasion. We are committed to upgrading the railway in the south west further including a full solution to flooding at this location which is now in the final stages of planning.”

GWR managing director Mark Hopwood said: “We have provided additional staff on the ground, and over 40 buses have been carrying passengers around the affected area, and we thank them for their patience shown in the last 48 hours.

“We recognise only too well the vital role rail plays in the local and national economy and we are pleased Network Rail has worked to reopen the line so quickly.”

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Network Rail owns, manages and develops Britain's railway - the 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations (the largest of which we also run). In partnership with train operators we help people take more than 1.65bn journeys by rail every year and move hundreds of millions of tonnes of freight, saving almost 8m lorry journeys. We employ 38,000 people across Britain and work round-the-clock, each and every day, to provide a safe, reliable railway.

About the Railway Upgrade Plan

The Railway Upgrade Plan is Network Rail's investment plan for Britain's railways. It makes up two-thirds of Network Rail's £40bn spending priorities for the five years to 2019 and represents the biggest sustained programme of rail modernisation since the Victoria era. It is designed to provide more capacity, relieve crowding and respond to the tremendous growth Britain's railways continue to experience; passenger numbers have doubled in the past 20 years and are set to double again over the next 25 years - so we need to continue to invest in building a bigger, better railway. For passengers, that means:

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  • better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.

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