'Ladies and gentlemen, the station you’ve all been waiting for': Dawlish reopens to train passengers two months after storm damage

The Independent's Simon Calder becomes the first passenger to step off a train at the newly repaired Dawlish station

“Ladies and gentlemen, the station you’ve all been waiting for,” announced the guard aboard the 5.34am westbound train from Exeter St David’s. “Dawlish will be the next stop.”

Shortly before 6am, I became the first passenger to step off a train at the South Devon station for two months.

Friday had not begun well for rail passengers in South-west England. Two months earlier, the only line between Exeter and Plymouth had been severed in the February storms, obliging passengers to use bus-replacement services. Thursday night's final bus departure from Exeter to Newton Abbot had left on the wrong day, due to the unexplained late arrival of the train from London.

But the handful of passengers on the first service to run over the restored line were joyful about the return of the train.

 

"It's an emotional pull," said Dave Lovering, an environmental administrator from Exeter. "I've grown up with the railways. My father worked on the railways - it's in the family blood."

Phil Hoult, a property manager at Exeter University, said: "I met my wife on the platform at Dawlish station. We normally take the train to Dawlish on our anniversary, but we couldn't this year."

The first passengers were welcomed by David Crome, general manager west for First Great Western. "We never thought we'd be so happy to see a train come through Dawlish. Obviously for our customers it's been a massive undertaking for the last few months. Now they can start taking the railway for granted, which is what they need to be able to do."

Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western line clings to the South Devon shore for four miles between the mouths of Exe and Teign rivers. At the height of the February storms, the track was left suspended in mid-air.

Hundreds of Network Rail staff and contractors overcame formidable challenges to repair the track bed and strengthen the sea wall. They even organised a landslip above the line to minimise the risk of future problems. The 54-day project cost £15m.

Mark Smith, founder of the Seat61.com website, said: "Network Rail made excellent use of social media in showing people photos of the damage at Dawlish. We could all see that this wasn't a trivial matter, and the reactions I have heard have not been 'Why has it taken so long?' but 'They've done a great job in repairing such damage so quickly'."

But as The Independent revealed a week ago, some trips will actually take longer by train than the bus-replacement services. The first departure from London to Britain's south-westernmost city, Truro, does not arrive until the afternoon - slower than temporary bus link from Tiverton Parkway.

Visit Truro tweeted: "Truro is a great little city with great access with or without the trains." First Great Western, which operates the route, has launched a consultation to accelerate the earliest westbound high-speed train.

Tourism leaders claim that the two-month closure has cost businesses in Devon and Cornwall more than £50m.

Carolyn Custerson of Visit Devon said: "Bookings leading up to Easter are estimated as being 23 per cent down and current reckoning is the crisis has cost the county around £31m." Malcolm Bell of Visit Cornwall said "We estimate we've lost about £18m. If the railway had stayed closed over Easter, that figure would easily have doubled."

The closure of the only line connecting much of Devon and most of Cornwall with the rest of the country exposed the lack of resilience in the rail network.

"There's a clear need for an alternative all-weather link," said Mark Smith of Seat61.com. "It would not be a replacement for the current line, as the wonderful section of line through Dawlish serves important communities, but an alternative."

Network Rail is due to report in June on the feasibility of an additional line. The two main proposals are for a new link to be cut a short way inland from the existing line, and for the reinstatement of the old line between Exeter and Plymouth through Okehampton and Tavistock. The central part of the route, which skirts Dartmoor, was closed in 1968.

Mr Smith said: "Given the extent of the markets which could be served by reinstatement of the old Southern Exeter-Plymouth route under normal circumstances, with its use as a back-up route purely a secondary benefit when problems affect the main line, I'd favour that option."

Sir Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project in Cornwall, told Radio 4's Today programme: "One of the problems we face down here is a sort of political inertia." He called for improved road and rail links, saying "We're still trying to get up to 1970s technology".

The first through service from Plymouth to London Paddington for two months was a 1970s High Speed Train. June Gurry, a passenger from Dawlish, was on board. "In a way, we needed this to show how vulnerable the line is. It's amazing how quickly they've turned it around." She added that the town had seen "A massive increase in visitors," as the repair work became a temporary tourist attraction.

But old problems beset the new stretch of line. The First Great Western express arrived 10 minutes late at Exeter, because of "Speed restrictions at Dawlish". Catherine Hayden from Brixham missed her connection to Andover, because the service - operated by rival South West Trains - was not held. But she remained positive about the return of rail travel to South Devon: "It's still better than driving, and I can work on the way." Then she kindly bought me a cup of tea.

Read more: Dawlish rail line repairs delayed
Cameron blames Britain's 'abnormal' weather on climate change
Storm chasers
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before