Dawlish storm damage 2014, what happened?

Posted: December 27, 2015 by tchannon in Accountability, weather

This article was researched and largely written early 2014 shortly after the Dawlish railway foreshore embankment was damaged during a storm. I was waiting for reports on what really went wrong, this never happened, so here we are. Added some recent material. Make of it what you will.

The usual moaning minnie’s are at it again on their man-caused-global- warming.

My best guess is local government allowed new building at what was already a weak point, from scour and inadequate maintenance. The messenger, weather, spoke. Response, scapegoat every which way.

Paul Homewood has a new article
Dawlish Rail Study Ignores The Facts
December 22, 2015″

I have done the work and written on the sea level rise claims, agree with Paul, not going into this now. (try here and links are from there to mygardenpond and the Talkshop)

Dawlish is on the southern coast of far south west England where it is sheltered from direct Atlantic storms.



A railway line built during the 19th century by Brunel [ref 1] routes along the waterfront connecting Cornwall by rail with the rest of the country. This is a known spectacular journey but also with a history of storm damage.

Night of 3rd February 2014 (I think) there was extensive major damage to the railway track, Exmouth railway station and other seafronts.

The ground is soft, red sandstone so undermining by the sea is a constant problem. If water under pressure gets into the structure of a seawall major damage is almost immediate. This is explosive, hydraulic, water is forced in under pressure, then the pressure falls to atmospheric sea-side.

Was the water level extreme?



Did that storm surge tip the balance? How large was it at Dawlish 150km east? There is a closer tide gauge, two at Exmouth, can’t find data.



Tide gauge Jersey, Channel Islands, the other side of the English Channel does not show a storm surge.

Hydraulic damage?

I am wondering whether a contributing factor was hydraulic damage from land-side. There is a large stone structure, seawall with immediately soft ground and recent heavy rain. Over the top of that runs twin railtrack carrying hundreds of tonnes, pressing down piston-like land-side will be under massive pressure resisting movement, sea-side just the wall.

Any chinks in the stonework, storm comes in, hydraulic again.

Worth remembering Brunel did not design for such heavy trains, if he was involved at all when changes and rebuilding took place later.

Dawlish damage photos

Links to telling images, then a link to source newspaper.

  1. Image showing water rounded seawall base stonework and mortar jointing in poor condition.
  2. View showing undermine right under double track railway and across most of a highway almost to a building. Gives some idea of the sea level after severe damage had been done. Also note red soil on railway ballast.
  3. Superb image near low tide showing whole seawall structure. There is optical foreshortening as a result of a long focal length camera lens, front/back distances are greater than it seems.
    This also reveals old groynes in poor condition, more on that later.
    Note horizontal crack below the severe breach.
    Note what look like piles and stonework the far side of the railway, why, what, when?
    Looks to me that the sea scours the mid seawall on a regular basis.
    Normal “spring” tidal range here is probably the height of three people.
  4. Blocks of cemented masonry where obviously integrity is sufficient but I think the sea drilled through below, opened a crack. Looks a rather thin wall to me, not massive, needs a huge overburden.
  5. Newspaper with more images

Sea wall failure location houses evacuted “Reviera Terrace”

Red circle, This image is from OpenStreetMap which surprisingly shows the old groynes and exposed old sewer.

A question also arises over those houses, look far newer than the railway line.



Google image [under fair use] showing what I think is recent build housing. Google Streetview car stopped short, gated road. [2015 new images, car stopped well short of gate]

Coordinates are 50.585000 -3.458220

If you can I recommend using Google Earth date facility because bless Google they have added new images after the damage.

Coastal scour



Google Earth image from 1945 [under fair use]. Signs of underwater structures, groynes, seem lost.

Current scour looks present, removing foreshore.

Weasel words from EA, not admitting to anything.

Our contractors are on the beach at Dawlish Warren and are starting urgent works to reduce the risk of flooding to local properties and the mainline railway and protect beach users.


A devastating long web page with copious information for an area east of but close to the railway breach. Includes geology.
Sand Lane is close by.

Work done on defences before 2014. EA knew there was a major problem.

Did Dawlish Sea Wall Fail Due To Lack Of Groynes? – May 2014

National Archives record, not online
“Dawlish. Assent to construction by South Devon Railway Company of Groynes on Foreshore.”
Dated 1873.

Long discussion, many damning photos and local knowledge: Washout at Dawlish

Google Maps browser

Damage at Newlyn

“Huge hole on seafront at Newlyn


Ref 1. History

Steam haulage railway opened 1849 after a debacle by Brunel!

Pneumatic railway

Note the single track, Brunel broad gauge, narrowed to standard gauge 1892 and the narrower tunnel, widening to twin track, with new sea walls took place “between 1902 and 1905.”
Dawlish sea wall by railway centre (defunct web domain, copy at Archive.org)

Post by Tim

  1. oldbrew says:

    Devon is going down…

    North of Britain rises while the south sinks

  2. Fanakapan says:

    Excellent read !

    As for those new build house’s, they look decidedly dodgy in terms of their potential for undermining.

  3. tchannon says:

    Google via the linked browser, street view does go close the the gate for Riviera Terrance, better I’ve just noticed a groyne visible.

    Blurred out Google image with groyne clear.

    A guess, the image predates the damage. One reason to suppose this is the hedge between RT. and the railway. Doubt there has been time to grow that much.

  4. tchannon says:

    Good map and the idea of showing we are unbalanced.

    South sinks yet nevertheless the sea level rise at the reference Newlyn is dead in-line with other good tide gauges around the world. I failed to find any good gauge data elsewhere English Channel or east coast.
    Probably WWII didn’t help, very little is consistent in time.

  5. oldmanK says:

    Do not underestimate the extent of sinking land. Doggerland is an example but without visible evidence. But look at these bronze age cart ruts. Where they led is now 200m below the sea. Possible/likely date —3195bce. There are other examples along this major fault.

    Crustal faulting is found everywhere.

  6. oldbrew says:

    ‘Western route weather resilience and climate change adaptation plans’

    Click to access western-route-wrcca-plan.pdf

    Reading only bits of this it’s obvious the western line has numerous coastal (and inland) weather-related track problems.

    Example: ‘Exeter St Davids to Newton Abbot is vulnerable to waves, storm surge
    and cliff instability. This will worsen with climate change.’

    Their climate forecast graphics are good for a laugh 😉
    To be fair they do mention ‘uncertainty’ somewhere.

  7. hunter says:

    One of the great things about man made-up climate change is that it is a universal solvent for government responsibility: Any normal government accountability or blame for bad planning and poor maintenance is dissolved in the obsession over CO2.

  8. tchannon says:

    oldbrew that is a devastating document showing massive incompetence.

    I have to pass on the opportunity of destroying a Railtrack work. I would love to do that, ghastly people who have taken the Queen’s shilling. Abusive. I expect they imagine they are the very opposite and that is flowing out of government.

  9. oldbrew says:

    ‘vulnerable to waves, storm surge and cliff instability.’

    Not the kind of rail route I’d want to be relying on.

  10. oldbrew says:

    Storm Frank bombards the Dawlish intercity train (10-sec. ad at start of video)

  11. tchannon says:

    Wonder how overhead electric would fare?
    Electric trains are generally a bad idea. Competent diesel, ah, not with Brits.
    In the past I often got contract offers for rolling stock work, couldn’t get decent people to work for them. Funny that.