UNCONFIRMED reports suggest that the DfT is about to publish a report which examines an alternative route to the far south west avoiding the vulnerable sea wall at Dawlish in south Devon.
Two fierce storms closed the route in early February after a stretch of the coastal line was demolished by high seas. It was not the first time that the stretch along the front at Dawlish had been damaged in this way, but on this occasion the damage was particularly bad.
Heroic efforts by Network Rail teams meant that the route could reopen in early April, but in the meantime there was grave concern that the economies of Plymouth and Cornwall were being damaged by a lack of train services to the rest of Britain. The economic damage would probably have been even worse had the link been cut at the height of the holiday season.
In the wake of the storms, Ministers and Network Rail promised to examine a relief route avoiding the sea wall, and their report is said to be imminent.
It is thought that a reopening of the former Southern main line between Okehampton and Bere Alston is unlikely, and making use of a former inland branch line via the Exe Valley has also apparently been ruled out.
Instead, it is understood that five alternative new inland routes have been sketched out between Exeter and Newton Abbot, but the cost of such a new line could be as much as £3 billion.
A line avoiding the sea wall was planned by the Great Western Railway in the 1930s, more as a means of increasing capacity than providing greater resilience, but the project was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939 and never resumed.