SEVERE weather in early 2014 which badly damaged 80m of the sea wall at Dawlish and destroyed a section of railway may have cost the regional economy as much as £1.2 billion, a new report has claimed.
The assessment, from the non-profit Devon Maritime Forum, said the 60-day closure of the line, which severed the only rail link to Plymouth and Cornwall, was followed by a poll of more than 340 business by the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce. This discovered that many firms in the city were losing between £100 and £1,000 a day as a result of the loss of train services.
The line was reopened in early April at a cost of £35 million, and the report praises Network Rail's response as 'quick and efficient'.
The report has been published on the first anniversary of the initial storm, which was followed by another on 14 February last year.
The estimates of the possible total losses sustained by businesses in the region vary greatly, and can only be put at between £60 million and £1.2 billion.
However, the Great Britain Tourism Survey for 2014 reported a 10 per cent reduction in the number of trips to the South West during the first quarter of 2014 compared with 2013 and a £135 million reduction in holiday spending over the first half of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013.
The report comments: "While this 7.9 per cent reduction compares unfavourably with the England average of 4.5 per cent, and undoubtedly represents a huge hit to the region’s economy – it could have been significantly worse."
The forum's co-ordinator Dr Stephen Gilbert said the 'famous image of the hanging line at Dawlish' gave the impression that the far south west was 'closed for business'.
Network Rail is examining a number of options to improve rail links to the region, which range from several possible new inland routes to reopening the former LSWR main line from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock for a possible price of £600 million, which is said to be favoured by the Prime Minister.
However, although reopening this line would have the welcome side-effect of improving access to much of northern Dartmoor, critics do not accept that it would be a complete replacement, pointing out that journey times would be extended, partly because trains to Cornwall would have to reverse at both Exeter St David's and Plymouth. Closing the sea wall line in favour of the Okehampton route would also isolate south Devon, including the major resorts of Torquay and Paignton.