A £28 million contract to construct an extension of the existing rockfall shelter over the railway line between Dawlish and Holcombe in Devon has been awarded to Morgan Sindall Infrastructure.
Construction of the rockfall shelter is expected to take a year and, once complete, will help protect trains against falling rocks along this section of railway, which lies at the foot of some high cliffs that, from time to time, shed rocks and boulders onto the railway below, potentially closing the line.
A century ago, Parsons tunnel was extended eastwards, the artificial tunnel protecting the railway from the worst of the rockfall. Now Network Rail is planning to extend this rockfall shelter for a further 209 metres towards Dawlish, although the new shelter will have open sides and so be more of a ‘roof’ than an artificial tunnel.
The rockfall shelter will be constructed from a series of six-metre, modular pre-cast concrete sections. Morgan Sindall Infrastructure has developed an innovative installation method to minimise the risk of weather-related disruption and reduce the impact on train services.
Preparatory work at the top of the cliffs overlooking this stretch of railway began in March, with Network Rail engineers started cutting back some of the vegetation. This work is being closely monitored to ensure the least disruption for wildlife habitats and biodiversity.
Chris Pearce, Network Rail’s Western route interim director, said: “We are delighted to have awarded Morgan Sindall Infrastructure the contract to construct this important rockfall shelter that will play a vital role in helping protect the railway from falling rocks for generations to come.
“This is our latest phase of work to increase the resilience of this integral stretch of railway as part of our South West Rail Resilience Programme. In every phase of work we have ensured our activities are also benefitting the local economy and I am pleased that this latest contract award will continue to support that commitment.”
Peter Kirk, managing director of Morgan Sindall Infrastructure’s rail business unit, said: “We are excited to be working with Network Rail on their South West Rail Resilience Programme, and continuing to build on our long-standing partnership.
“Parsons Tunnel North Portal is an incredibly complex project and we are extremely pleased to bring a number of innovations to this project, helping to ensure the resilience of the railway line for the local community and those travelling to and from the area.”
This rockfall shelter, which is the third phase of work as part of Network Rail’s South West Rail Resilience Programme (SWRRP) and follows the two sections of new sea wall in Dawlish, is critical to ensuring the resilience of the railway between Dawlish and Teignmouth and protecting this critical route from falling debris.