The main railway line at Dawlish is still vulnerable to storms, in spite of £35 million of repairs, the Western Morning News has learned.
A Cross Country train was halted on Monday after it was hit by a wave at Dawlish, bringing delays of more than 35 minutes to morning commuters. And Network Rail admits that it cannot do anything to prevent similar incidents.
A four-mile stretch of track at Dawlish was severely damaged by storms in February this year. Part of the line was left hanging in the air after the sea wall was demolished. The damage caused months of disruption to rail services west of Exeter.
On Monday the 6.34am train from Bristol towards Plymouth was swamped by a wave at Dawlish. Cross Country said its relatively new Voyager trains were vulnerable to seawater because air intakes in the roof allow water to get into the electrics.
Spokesman Richard Gibson said the driver continued on to Newton Abbot where he rebooted the train’s computerised system. But a few miles further, outside Dainton, the train stopped again, and was unable to get going again for 30 to 35 minutes.
Mr Gibson said this was a problem peculiar to Cross Country’s Voyager trains.
The company has an long-standing arrangement with Network Rail and the Met Office, and does not operate along that stretch of line when high waves are predicted. But he said that on Monday there was no forecast of high waves.
A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “Our control room can confirm that the train was struck by a wave on Monday at Dawlish. This happens from time to time and is nothing unusual given the location of the railway line and its proximity to the sea wall.
“Normally it isn’t a problem and trains can carry on as normal, as other than Cross Country, other train services are equipped to deal with salt water. However Cross Country trains aren’t.
“We have a long-standing agreement with Cross Country that if bad weather is expected we will notify them and they will not run services on the line. We didn’t have any notification of bad weather and therefore it appears that this was a rogue wave.”
She said Network Rail was doing “resilience” work in the Dawlish area, but added: “This isn’t really a resilience issue.
“Our work is to prevent what happened at the beginning of the year happening again, however we cannot help the fact that waves will hit trains – this will always happen due to the proximity of the line to the sea wall.”
Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, chairman of the Peninsula Rail Task Force, said: “ This is not entirely unexpected, and we are likely to see similar incidents in the future. It goes to show that as an absolute minimum the Dawlish line must be reinforced to withstand winter weather.
“The Peninsula Rail Task Force partnership is holding the Government to its pledge to ensure the line is resilient, as well as looking at additional routes.