Trains are running through Dawlish again – but the replacement bus was quicker

The South-West rail link has been repaired and re-opened but its basic problems remain

“Ladies and gentlemen, the station you’ve all been waiting for,” announced the guard aboard the 5.34am 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.

The only line between Exeter and Plymouth had been severed in the February storms, obliging passengers to use bus-replacement services.

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,” he said. “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 the Exe and Teign rivers. At the height of the February storms the sea wall crumbled, leaving the track suspended in mid-air.

Simon Calder at Dawlish station Simon Calder at Dawlish station
Hundreds of Network Rail staff and contractors overcame formidable challenges to repair the track bed and strengthen the sea wall. In total, £15m was spent repairing the area outside Dawlish station where track had been left dangling, with an extra £20m to repair tracks either side of the town.

Speaking in Dawlish hours after the arrival of the first train, David Cameron declared the South-West of England “open for business” again, and praised the people of the town for their “patience and incredible generosity”.

“It’s been a Herculean effort over 56 days and 56 nights. It’s been a huge task,” he said.

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

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 aftermath of February’s storms The aftermath of February’s storms (Getty Images)
The closure of the 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, the train travel advice website. “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 a short way inland from the existing line, and for the reinstatement of the old Exeter-Plymouth line 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.”

The first through service for two months from Plymouth to London Paddington 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 some 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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A recent rise in net migration has been considered bad news for the Government
voicesYet when we talk about it, the national media goes into a frenzy, says Nigel Farage
Life and Style
Miracle muffin: chemicals can keep a muffin looking good at least a month after it was bought
food + drinkThe alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Sport
Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse come together
football
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
people
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

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic