Vital rail artery to be better protected as rockfall shelter plans handed £37.4m boost: Rockfall shelter north of Parsons Tunnel in Devon

Friday 19 Mar 2021

Vital rail artery to be better protected as rockfall shelter plans handed £37.4m boost

Region & Route:
Wales & Western
| Wales & Western: Western

Plans to extend a rockfall shelter that will protect the only railway line into the south west for the next 100 years, have today (Friday 19 March) received confirmation of government funding.

Confirmation of the £37.4m of funding from the Department for Transport, will help Network Rail realise its plans to build a 209m long extension of the rockfall shelter north of Parsons Tunnel between Dawlish and Holcombe.

The rockfall shelter will play a major role in helping protect trains against falling rocks along this vital stretch of railway that connects 50 towns and cities across the south west with the rest of the country.

Parsons Tunnel was previously extended 100 years ago and Network Rail proposes to extend that further by providing a rockfall shelter in modern materials, but with open sides rather than the previous brick built enclosed tunnel extension.

Construction is expected to start in August with the work expected to take around a year to complete.

Prior to the funding being secured, Network Rail submitted its plans for the rockfall shelter to Teignbridge District Council in February, with more information available on the Council’s website.

Environmental protection is a key focus for the project and, following early feedback from Teignbridge District Council, Network Rail has carried out additional studies and submitted reports that set out its approach to ecological protection and management of potential impacts on wildlife habitats.

Ewen Morrison, senior programme manager for Network Rail’s South West Rail Resilience Programme, said: “We are delighted to have received the support of the government to build this important rockfall shelter which will help protect the railway in Devon for the next 100 years.

“This coastal stretch of railway is beautiful but also faces a number of vulnerabilities either side of the railway; rough sea conditions on one side can cause flooding whilst steep cliffs on the other side make the railway at risk of rock falls and landslides.

“We’re looking forward to getting started and are excited by the engineering challenge of building such a critical structure in such an inaccessible location whilst minimising the impact on train services.”

Councillor Andrea Davis, Chair of Peninsula Rail Task Force (PRTF), said: "The Peninsula Rail Task Force welcomes confirmation of the £37.4m of funding from the Department for Transport, in order to help Network Rail build the extension of the rockfall shelter, north of Parsons Tunnel, as the next phase of the South West Resilience Programme at Dawlish.

"The line at Dawlish is a vital link between the Peninsula and the rest of the UK and the rockfall shelter is an important element in ensuring people can continue to travel across the peninsula safely and reliably.

“Network Rail has made fantastic progress on the South West Rail Resilience Programme, in spite of substantial challenges in recent months. Completion of all phases of this programme will ensure the long-term resilience of the line, which is vital to the economic success of the region.

"However, there is still work to be done and the PRTF looks forward to working with government to build upon efforts to level up the region, securing a rail infrastructure across the Peninsula that is resilient, reliable and improves connectivity and capacity for years to come."

Notes to Editors

Preparatory work is due to begin at the top of the cliffs overlooking this stretch of railway on 22 March whereby Network Rail engineers will begin cutting back some of the vegetation and installing safety netting to secure the shrubbery on the cliffs and reduce any falling debris. This work will be closely monitored to ensure the least disruption for wildlife habitats and biodiversity.

The construction of the rockfall shelter at this location poses a number of engineering challenges, due to the limited access with the track sandwiched between high cliffs on one side and the sea on the other, as well as ensuring this work doesn’t result in lengthy closures of this critical rail artery to the south west.

The design of the new rockfall shelter is open-sided to allow rail passengers to enjoy the views of the beautiful south west coastline. It will be constructed out of 6.2m long pre-made concrete wall panels and beams on the roof, covered by a cushioning material to absorb the impact of any rockfalls as well as promoting vegetation growth. This design will also ensure it is buildable in this hard-to-access location and that the appearance of the new structure is appropriate to its setting.

The construction of this rockfall shelter will also continue to boost the local economy in Dawlish and Teignbridge by sourcing labour, materials and accommodation from the local area, adding to around £10m already spent during the construction of the new sea wall at Dawlish.

Rocks falling from the cliffs is not a new problem and was the reason for the construction of the original enclosed shelter a century ago. However, recent studies, including drone flights over the cliffs, show that there are active falls from the rear cliff. An accumulation of material on the slope could trigger larger debris slides and this stretch of railway is not currently protected against rock falls from this active area of cliffs above.

This rockfall shelter, which is the third phase of work as part of Network Rail’s South West Rail Resilience Programme following the two sections of new sea wall in Dawlish, is critical to ensuring the resilience of the railway between Dawlish and Teignmouth for generations to come and protecting this critical route from failing debris.

Network Rail submitted its plans for ‘prior approval’ under Network Rail’s permitted development rights. Under this, Teignbridge District Council considers only the design, materials, or siting of the project to ensure that development ‘would not injure the amenities of the neighbourhood’ and be satisfied that it could not be ‘reasonably carried out elsewhere’.

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