Storm-ravaged rail link to southwest England reopens

LONDON, April 4 Fri Apr 4, 2014 6:37am EDT

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LONDON, April 4 (Reuters) - The main railway link from southwest England to the rest of Britain reopened on Friday, two months after part of the track was swept away by the sea after being battered by days of fierce storms, high winds and flooding.

January was Britain's wettest in nearly 250 years, and in early February high tides and stormy seas destroyed a large section of sea wall at Dawlish in the county of Devon, washing a stretch of railway track into the sea.

Further flooding and landslips cut off all rail links to Devon and Cornwall. Business communities in the areas have estimated it has cost the local economy millions of pounds for each day the rail link has been shut.

"Back in February when I visited the town to see the damage for myself, I promised to do everything I could to get this vital artery back up and running as quickly as possible," said Prime Minister David Cameron who was in Dawlish for the reopening.

"I am delighted to say that promise has been delivered today," he added.

Track operator Network Rail said a 300-strong team had worked for eight weeks to repair the line, which runs alongside the south coast in one of the most scenic and dramatic stretches of railway in Britain.

Engineers have built a temporary sea wall, removed 25,000 tonnes of collapsed cliff following a landslip, rebuilt half of Dawlish station and replaced more than 700m (2,300 ft) of track and ballast.

In total, the repairs have cost 35 million pounds and the government has promised another 31 million pounds of improvements for the route.

However, business leaders said the travel disruption has already proved very costly.

The Plymouth Chamber of Commerce said a survey of businesses in the city put the daily cost at more than 1 million pounds, with a much higher impact when the entire affected southwest region, home to some 80,000 businesses, was taken into account.

Some business figures have put the cost as high as 20 million pounds a day. (Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

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