Network Rail’s Dawlish seafront transformation is finally nearing completion with plans to open 415m of new promenade, along with other fully accessible public areas ahead of the summer season, a triumphant moment after the major storm of 2014. Accompanying this, the second section of the new Dawlish Sea wall was opened on Thursday 25th May, futureproofing infrastructural safety against extreme weather and rising sea levels. This section links to the first portion as it stretches between Coastguards and Colonnade breakwaters, running parallel to the railway viaduct.
The culmination of this £80m Government-funded project means that the local community and visitors can enjoy the accessible high-level promenade and safer rail travel through protection for the track. Accompanying this will be the reopening of the beach between Colonnade and Coastguards breakwaters, following the completion the construction.
Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot, said: “It has been an incredible journey since that fateful night when the sea wall came down to what we now have in Dawlish. The new wall, the promenade, rockfall shelter and the footbridge provide the additional resilience this essential piece of infrastructure needs to ensure the long-term viability of the line. Network Rail have been hugely impressive in their dedication to the task at hand. I look forward to continuing to work with them as the work further up the line to Teignmouth continues."
This period of construction saw innovations such as the use of an eight-legged, self-contained walking jack-up barge, known as a ‘Wavewalker’ – representing the first time in which this type of barge was used in upgrades to the UK rail network. This was key to progression as it afforded the team to conduct works across high tidal ranges that particularly impact the South Devon coastline.
The sea wall itself was substantially completed in July 2022, at the point in which all 164 front panels, 203 pre-cast blocks and 189 recurve units were in place for the second section. Through these improvements, this historic stretch of railway immediately received greater resilience against waves that could flood the track.
Since this stage, the contractor involved with the project has been working to finish the link bridge, promenade, seating areas, ramped access, and a new stilling basin. Whilst the new sea wall is very much a modern piece of infrastructure, offering 21st Century resiliency and accessibility, it is still enriched with the town’s history with the wall in front of the station featuring outlines of the alcoves that previously provided seating.
Designs for the updated sea wall, which sits 2.5m taller than its predecessor, were developed through years of detailed studies, designs, and collaborative working between world-leading marine, coastal and railway engineering experts. Being developed as a portion of the South West Rail Resilience Programme, this project has provided the local community with an economic boost worth £15m, boosted through the commitment to utilise local labour, materials, and accommodation where possible.
Ewen Morrison, Network Rail senior programme manager, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be opening this new section of sea wall and would like to wholeheartedly thank the community of Dawlish for their patience and support while the construction took place close to their homes and businesses over two-and-half years.
“The project has not been without its challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the discovery of an uncharted gas main and some particularly wet, cold, and stormy conditions over the past winter. It is testament to the efforts of the teams involved that they have worked around the clock, whatever the weather, to deliver this huge feat of engineering.
“The project is vital not just for Dawlish but for the whole of the south west peninsula as the railway connects communities in 50 towns and cities with the rest of the UK. The railway is now better protected, and we hope the new wall, promenade and footbridge will be used and enjoyed by generations to come.”