John Speller's Web Pages Dawlish Cut-off

John Speller's Web Pages - GWR Narrow Gauge

Dawlish Cut-off
Ever since shortly after its construction the South Devon main line along the sea wall through Dawlish and Teignmouth has been subject to breaching during heavy storms. A serious storm on February 4, 2014 led to the closing of the line for two months and did enormous damage to the economy of the West of England. There had been another quite serious breach during a storm of 1930, and at the same time the line through Dawlish and Teignmouth was horribly congested in the summer tourist season. These factors, combined with a desire for a shorter and faster route to compete with the Southern Railways route from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton, led to the Great Western Railway coming up with a proposal in 1933 for a "Dawlish Cut-off." The original proposal was for a long deviation between Exminster and Newton Abbot, but by the time the Great Western Railway (Additional Powers) Act of 1936 passed, it had been decided to cut this back to a 9-mile line from Dawlish Warren instead of Exminster. The final proposal was for a 16-mile line from Powderham, and this was authorized by an additional Act of 1937. There was hope of financing some or all of the work under proposals made by Neville Chamberlain, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1935. The Great Western Railway bought up the necessary land and work commenced in the Spring of 1939, only to be halted by the outbreak of World War II later in that year. Following Nationalization in 1948 British Railways were not interested in pursuing the project and the land was eventually sold off. The powers to build the line, did not, however, finally lapse until 1999. The line would have been an expensive one -- it is estimated at 1.8 bn in todays terms -- and since it involved tunneling under Haldon Down, it would have involved no fewer than four tunnels one of which, Tunnel No. 3, would have been comparable in length to Box Tunnel. Nevertheless, since the original main line will be increasingly under threat due to climate change brought about by global warming, it is most unfortunate that the Dawlish Cut-off was never built.
Map of the proposed Dawlish Cut-off, 1937
Dawlish on a Summer Saturday, 26 July 1958, when traffic was at a historic high. Locomotives No. 7035 "Ogmore Castle" and No. 1024 "County of Pembroke" with trains of predominantly Hawksworth stock. Image copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
Breach in the South Devon Railway's sea wall near Dawlish, 1873
Sunset over Haldon Down. Image copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
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