Engineers have replaced more than 700m of track and ballast and in total the repairs have cost �35m

Dawlish line reopens two weeks ahead of schedule

The main railway link to the southwest of England has reopened two months after part of the track was swept away by the sea.

High tides and stormy seas breached the sea wall at Dawlish in Devon on February 4, washing a stretch of the coast-hugging line into the sea, during the severe weather that hit the UK this winter.

Further flooding and landslips cut off all rail links to Devon and Cornwall and the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce said a survey of businesses in the city put the cost to the local economy at more than £1m for each day the rail link has been shut.

Prime Minister David Cameron declared the south west of England "open for business" again as he visited the town today, calling for three cheers for the 300-strong Network Rail (NR) team that has worked round the clock for eight weeks to restore the 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," said Cameron. "I am delighted to say that promise has been delivered today."

Work to repair the line was hampered after another severe storm on the night of February 14/15 that saw massive seas batter the 10-tonne shipping containers forming the temporary sea wall, damaging a further 10 to 20 metres of sea wall and requiring more shipping containers to be moved in.

There were further problems on March 4 when engineers discovered that 20,000 tonnes of cliff face near Teignmouth just south of Dawlish had sheared away above the railway, meaning stabilisation work had to be done.

With its teams working around the clock, NR was able to bring the line reopening date forward two weeks, enabling the line to be open in time for the Easter holidays.

NR chief executive Mark Carne 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."

He conitnued: "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."

Engineers have rebuilt half of Dawlish station and replaced more than 700m of track and ballast. In total, the repairs have cost £35m and the government has promised another £31m of improvements for the route.

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, welcomed the reopening of the line but called for a "long-term solution".

"I think for the sake of the whole of Devon and Cornwall and our economy we need a long-term additional line that will ensure we have a reliable railway, even in situations like this," he said.

"What we need is an additional line, I don't think anybody suggests getting rid of this beautiful line. It connects Exeter to Dawlish, through to Newton Abbot and I think that line will continue.

"But it is clearly vulnerable, it will become increasingly vulnerable with climate change and for the sake of the South West economy as a whole, we need a long-term solution including an additional line."

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