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High risk cliffs?!

Network Rail have always maintained that the cliffs between Parsons Tunnel and Teignmouth Cutting are the main reason behind the resilience works planned for this section of track.

The model they brought to the public consultations in February, along with a number of sketches show large areas of the cliffs marked in red to indicate they are at 'very high risk of failure and/or landslides' with other areas marked as being high or moderate risk. When asked what the chances of falls were, assuming this had been modelled to inform the allocation of risk for each section, the engineers were unable to give anything more than a vague answer with no evidence to back up their risk assessment for the cliffs.

After the cliff failure in 2014, a considerable amount of time was spent by the committee researching other historical falls along this stretch of track but we were unable to find any reports of slides which caused closure of the line for more than a day. In December 2011 there was a minor fall which caused damage to the fence at the side of the track but did not obstruct the track itself. The line was closed to allow for clearing of the debris and repair of the fencing. When I wrote to Network Rail asking for any information on slides or falls that had impacted the track/caused closure they agreed that the incident in 2011 was the only one on record.

When you consider the fact that this track has been here for over 173 years, one extended closure (which was caused by the line failure at Dawlish NOT a cliff failure at Holcombe as has been suggested countless times in the media and by Network Rail), is surely not a reason to spend an estimated £500, 000, 000 and 8 - 10 years of construction on a concrete monstrosity.

We have seen some of the wettest weather on record over the last few years and yet there has been no significant movement recorded on the cliffs above this stretch of track. Even in the area which has motion sensors in place. Although there may have been a fall caused by the storm in 2014 (no evidence has been found on this), the much publicised and dramatic cliff failure at Holcombe in 2014 was in fact caused by Network Rail who took advantage of the line closure at Dawlish to pump thousands of gallons of sea water on the cliffs to induce the cliffs to fall. Even then, it has been suggested that despite the thousands of gallons of seawater pumped over the cliffs, the failure was not as big as they estimated it would be.

If the cliffs, at least in some sections, really do pose such a high level of threat to the track and trains, it is reasonable to ask why are Network Rail still allowing trains to use the line? With the announcement of a year delay in finalising the plans before they are even submitted for approval, added onto the estimated 8 - 10 years construction, how high risk are the cliffs really?!


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