The latest information available, following the further and major storm damage at Dawlish on Tuesday 4 February is as follows.
Unfortunately, it was not possible because of poor track condition, to carry out a planned movement of empty rolling stock from Exeter to Newton Abbot between the initial period of damage just on the Teignmouth side of Dawlish station and the further, much more serious damage on the Exeter side of the station which occurred later on 4 February. This means that FGW have only a limited pool of trains - HSTs, 150s, 153s and 143s to provide branch line and main line shuttle services between Newton Abbot and Penzance, It is not known at this stage whether any CrossCountry sets are also west of the breach. There is also, I believe, a class 57 and a couple of seating coaches stranded at Penzance.
There are real problems for train servicing and maintenance - on both sides of the breach. With HSTs unable to reach Laira or Long Rock from the east, the facilities at Bristol, Old Oak and Landore will be hard pressed to cope. Similarly, Long Rock and Laira will be faced with working on the dmu fleet for which they are not normally equipped.
Work is going on to devise an emergency timetable to provide as good a service as possible with the units available. On and from Thursday 6 February arrangements have been made to provide a rail replacement coach service between Plymouth and Exeter with ten coaches hired in to operate the route. I believe that Plymouth is used in preference to Newton Abbot because overall journey times are quicker using the former. Flooding has closed the Looe branch and floodwater has also stopped the Newquay line - though that is likely to be a shorter-term blockage. Bus replacements are being provided locally and, in Torbay, rail tickets are being accepted on regular Stagecoach bus services. Even replacement buses are dependent on roads being passable. This was a problem on 4 and 5 February and may become so again if further stormy weather occurs.
A further result of the sea wall damage has been loss of signalling connections from Exeter signalling centre, which controls lines around Newton Abbot and towards Plymouth. Engineers are working to provide alternative routing for cables and replacement equipment to allow signalling to be restored.
Not only are Network Rail staff working round the clock to rectify faults and prepare for rebuilding of the Dawlish sea wall, but FGW staff at all levels are also working long hours to try to keep the public informed, provide temporary rail and road services and draw up emergency timetables. It is not only the rolling stock that has to be diagrammed: staffing rosters (which are actually much more complicated) must also be worked out, taking into account where staff live and how they can get to their trains which will not be in their accustomed places. It is a tremendous headache for everyone involved.
In view of recent events, John Dora's talk to the CRS in November was particularly prescient. We may yet have cause to reflect on his assessment of options for maintaining services to the far south west as and when the effects of climate change are felt.
Derek Buttivant Many thanks Derek
N.B. My apologies at the delay in putting this comprehensive report of Dereks on the web site - this was due to me repairing storm damage to our greenhouse during the day.