Dawlish railway repairs halted over safety fears

High water at Plymouth Barbican. Pic: Matt Gilley High tides lashed Plymouth's Hoe seafront and the nearby Barbican

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Repairs on a section of storm-damaged coastal railway line in Devon have been halted because of safety concerns.

Network Rail said it had pulled all repair staff away from working on a 50m (165ft) section of track at Dawlish.

A section of the town's sea wall was later reported to have washed away.

Elsewhere in the county, trees fell across Devon, Kingsbridge suffered flooding on Tuesday night, and a Plymouth seafront restaurant was closed by police because of safety concerns.

The withdrawal of railway repair staff in Dawlish was as the result of the first black safety warning Network Rail has ever issued in the South West, it said.

'Tonnes of ballast'

The infrastructure owner said the affected area of track was unsafe after supporting ballast was washed away this week, but it had stopped work on Tuesday afternoon because of storms due to hit the coast.

The line at Dawlish, which passes along the town's sea wall, is vulnerable to high waves.

Julian Burnell, from Network Rail, estimated "hundreds of tonnes" of ballast had been dislodged from under tracks after they had "taken a real pounding from the sea".

He added that the town's station had also been damaged by the weather.

He said it was hoped trains would run again by Friday at the earliest, but this might be affected by the sea wall washing away.

Dawlish is between Exeter and Newton Abbot on the main railway line through the county.

The section of line had already been closed off on Monday because of "poor weather conditions", train operator First Great Western said.

Flooding in Kingsbridge. Pic: Peter Trembath Kingsbridge suffered flooding on Tuesday night
Damaged rail line at Dawlish Network Rail said up to 50m of track was unsafe after ballast underneath was washed away

It tweeted that replacement road transport was being used to ferry passengers between the two stations.

Sleeper services between London Paddington and Penzance have also been cancelled until further notice.

It and rival operator CrossCountry were currently accepting both firms' tickets between Bristol and Penzance, it added.

The Met Office has issued a yellow alert for high winds in the South West until 23:00 GMT on Wednesday.

Fallen trees

Devon and Cornwall Police's Assistant Chief Constable, Paul Netherton, said a gold command centre was being set up at its headquarters at Middlemoor, Exeter, to "respond to the significant weather hitting Cornwall and Devon".

Gold is the highest level of major incident management.

Around Devon, multiple incidents involving fallen trees have been reported.

More than 65 reports of fallen trees requiring police to attend were reported across Devon and Cornwall in an hour, officers said.

High tides lashed Plymouth's Hoe seafront and the nearby Barbican.

The Tamar Bridge between Plymouth in Devon and Saltash in Cornwall was closed to all traffic for a period after wind speeds reached 70mph. It was later just closed to high-sided vehicles.

Police said people should not make unnecessary journeys because water and debris on roads was making conditions very dangerous.

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