Plans for section two of new sea wall to protect the railway for passengers and the people of Dawlish

Our plans for the remainder of the new £80m sea wall for Dawlish – a 415m stretch between the Coastguards and Colonnade breakwaters – received approval in August 2020 and construction is now underway.

The new wall will cost £80million and be delivered in two sections. The first section, which runs for approximately 400m from Colonnade underpass, west of Dawlish station, to Boat Cove has now been built, ensuring that this section of railway is more resilient for future generations. Installation of fencing, lighting, seating and cosmetic work continues and will be completed in early-mid 2021.

When both sections are built, the new, larger structure will protect the town and the railway for the next 100 years.

Dawlish station platform and tracks
Dawlish station platform and tracks

The railway is a vital artery, which connects communities, businesses and visitors in 50 towns and cities in the South West with the rest of the UK. Since the damage caused by heavy storms which resulted in an eight-week closure of the railway in 2014, Network Rail has been developing plans to improve the resilience of the railway between Exeter and Newton Abbot.

The South West Rail Resilience Programme was established to identify and implement the best options to improve rail resilience between Dawlish and Teignmouth, helping to avoid a repetition of the events of 2014.

Following the events of 2014, we undertook a complex and expensive repair operation to reinstate the line between Dawlish and Teignmouth, this work cost more than £35m.

Since then, 2014 we have been working continuously on the line and putting together plans to safeguard it for future generations. This includes three studies in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

In November 2018, a nine-month plan of work began to repair the breakwaters at Dawlish.

In early 2019, the Department for Transport committed £80m for a new sea wall for Dawlish, from Coastguards breakwater to Boat Cove and in summer 2019, we started work on the first section at Marine Parade.

We have now developed plans for the remaining section, which is to be built between the Coastguard and Colonnade breakwaters, a 415m stretch between the 2014 sea wall work and the current Marine Parade scheme.

With the support of world leading coastal, marine and railway engineers we have been investigating the best long-term solutions to make this section of the railway more resilient.

We believe the option we are proposing – a new, taller sea wall with high-level promenade – offers the best solution between the Coastguards and Colonnades breakwaters.

There are a number of varied engineering challenges along this 415m stretch, including the Grade II listed Dawlish station building; Dawlish Water stilling basin, where the stream runs out into the sea; and the town gateway.

We undertook a full option-selection process, which considered a series of potential solutions. These included combinations of the following to deliver the required resilience:

  • Offshore breakwaters
  • Revetment
  • Raised sea wall with high level promenade
  • Raised sea wall with low level promenade.

Full details are provided in our option selection report below.

To make sure that we found the right resilience solution for the Dawlish railway sea defence, Network Rail worked with HR Wallingford, a globally recognised leader in solving challenges wherever water interacts with people, infrastructure and the environment. Dr Tim Pullen, Principal Engineer for HR Wallingford and project director in charge of modelling the solutions for improving railway resilience in Dawlish explained the findings of their research; whether there is such a thing as ‘the perfect sea defence’;  and why other options were discounted.

Part 1 – Findings and solutions

Part 2 – Promenade level

Part 3 – Perfect sea wall

Our plans

CGI flythrough video showing what the complete project will look like.
CGI flythrough video illustrating the worksite.
Artist's impression of the wall from Dawlish beach
Artist's impression of wall from Dawlish beach
Cross section view of sea wall from Dawlish beach
Cross section view of sea wall from Dawlish beach

Based on scientific modelling and laboratory testing of various options by world experts, we propose to protect the railway and station by constructing the following measures to increase resilience to extreme weather and tides, and provide enhanced amenities for local people and passengers:

  • The construction of a new, taller sea wall between the two breakwaters.
  • A wider, taller, public walkway incorporated into the wall with views onto the beach.
  • Reconstruction of the timber Dawlish station seaward platform.
  • A new, accessible station footbridge with lifts.
  • New pedestrian ramped access to the beach from the promenade.
  • Improved passenger experience through better protection from the sea.

Cross sectional diagram of sea wall at Dawlish beach

The new, taller sea wall, with a high-level promenade, will be built in concrete pre-cast panels. It will run from the new ramps/access that are being built at the west end of Dawlish station, all the way to the Coastguards breakwater.

The new wall will add 4.2m to the height of the current 3.8m promenade, and its toe will extend, on average, 2.8m further out towards the sea. The wall includes a recurve at the top, as at Marine Parade, to help deflect waves and reduce ‘overtopping’ of water onto the track.

The new high-level promenade, which will be at approximately the same height as the current platforms, will provide a more spacious, safer, level surface for users. It will be wider than the current promenade (varying from 3m to 4m) and users will be protected by a curved parapet wall on the seaward side which is approximately waist height (1.1m). This forms part of the wall's overall height.

There will be a number of raised points with benches along the promenade. This will allow more people to enjoy the views as the parapet will be reduced to 0.8m with a small railing on top.

Artist's impression view of new promenade towards Dawlish station with train
Artist's impression view of new promenade towards Dawlish station with train


On Sunday 8 November the WaveWalker Jack-up barge arrived into Dawlish. Over approximately three months , it will be installing around 280 piles between Dawlish station and the Coastguard breakwater, which will form the foundation of the new sea wall. The WaveWalker is the only one of its kind in Europe and it will be the first time this type of barge has been used to maintain the UK rail network.

In addition to the sea wall itself, the project also includes the Grade 2 listed railway station. The existing platform, a timber construction, overhangs the sea wall and has been rebuilt many times in the past due to sea damage.

Exisiting timber platform
Existing timber platform

The platform will be reconstructed and realigned to make it easier for people to step onto and off trains as the gap from platform to train will be reduced. This is especially important for wheelchair/pushchair users.

Artist's impression of wall and promenade at Dawlish station
Wall and promenade at Dawlish station

Although the view of the station building from the beach will be partially obscured by the new wall, the structure will protect it from the elements and protect it in the years ahead. Increased resilience will also give the potential for parts of the building to be brought back into use.

Artist's impression of accessible footbridge
Artist's impression of accessible footbridge

The new footbridge will feature both steps and lifts, helping passengers with disabilities, wheelchairs, pushchairs and heavy luggage.

The design proposed is the result of a national Network Rail competition with the input of the Design Council. However, due to the harsh coastal environment, the favoured design has been adapted to include higher specification motors and electronics. In addition, at the side of the steps to the seaward platform, we need to incorporate a solid wall to provide shelter from the wind and water from the sea.

The current footbridge will remain in place as an integral part of the station platform buildings for those that wish to use it.

To the south end of the scheme, the current ramped access to the beach adjacent to the station building will be replaced with a ramp. To the north end of the scheme, the existing steps will be replaced.

South of the station, the new high-level promenade will continue onto a new footbridge, running parallel to the existing Colonnade viaduct.

The bridge will link the second section of the new sea wall and promenade to the first,
currently under construction at Marine Parade.

At the other end, it will provide a direct link onto the station platform and the new high-level promenade towards Coastguards.

Artist's impression of new link bridge to give continuous path
Artist's impression of new link bridge to give continuous path

To improve resilience, we will reconstruct the existing ‘stilling basin’ boundary wall on its existing footprint with a much stronger structure.

This will take energy out of the waves and extend the life of the basin. The reduction in energy will reduce some of the beach material being deposited under the viaduct and protect the new link bridge and existing structure.

Depending on rising sea levels, it is possible that further work to the basin will be required in 30 to 40 years. We are carrying out modelling to assess this.

Artist's impression of area around basin
Artist's impression of area around basin
Coastguard's boathouse at Dawlish beach
Coastguard's boathouse

To achieve the level of resilience required by providing a much higher sea wall, we need to demolish the Coastguards boathouse owned by Network Rail to enable us to increase in height of the promenade/sea defence.

A footprint will be left to show where the building stood and we plan to reuse the stone in constructing new public benches within the project.

We’ll also need to adjust the bottom section of the existing footbridge steps at this location.

Download our FAQs PDF

Frequently asked questions
2 MB

Listen to our community phone-in

We held a public teleconference to answer questions from residents on Wednesday 3 June. You may listen to a recording below.

Download our community phone-in recording
5 MB

Environmental implications

Detailed environmental and habitat studies have been undertaken and these concluded that the works will have a limited impact on the marine environment around Dawlish.

Any potential to cause harm during construction will be closely monitored and managed through the Marine Licence process.

Marine Management Organisation – Environmental Impact Assessment Screening

Marine Management Organisation Environmental Impact Assessment Decision letter
352 KB
Marine Management Organisation Environmental Impact Assessement Screening Opinion
685 KB

What are the benefits?

The project will:

  • Continue to boost the local economy in Dawlish and Teignbridge. By the time the first section of the new sea wall is completed, Network Rail and its main contractor, BAM Nuttall, expect to have spent nearly £5m on local labour, materials and accommodation.  We expect to spend a similar amount locally during construction of the second section.
  • Help to protect the railway from the sea, leading to fewer line closures and a quicker recovery after large storm events to enable a normal service to resume.
  • Improve the experience for passengers getting on and off trains during high tides and stormy weather by reducing the overtopping and spray reaching the platform.
  • Help preserve the coastal path for future generations, as well as create opportunities to enhance the promenade, including more seating.
  • Protect the new, higher-level promenade from inundation by beach material, making the area more accessible for all.
  • Remove pigeon roosts, leading to a cleaner promenade and improved water quality.
  • Make travel easier for passengers with disabilities/pushchairs/heavy luggage by providing an accessible footbridge.
  • Improve safety by removing the barrow crossing currently used for escorting passengers with disabilities.
  • Potentially bring more of the station building into use and provide longevity and protection to the listed station building itself.

The planning process

The local planning authority, Teignbridge District Council, granted prior approval and Listed Building Consent for our proposals in August 2020.

The plans for ‘prior approval’ were submitted under our permitted development rights, enabling the council to formally consult the local community on the proposed designs. Listed Building Consent was sought as the works are physically attached to the Grade II listed Dawlish Station.

The letters of submission and all the supporting documents and drawings are available to download below.

Supporting documents and drawings for prior approval and Listed Building Consent

In addition to the planning and heritage consents, an application for a Marine Licence has been submitted to the Marine Management Organisation.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the plans, you can send us an email at:

You can also visit our contact us page, call our 24-hour national helpline on 03457 11 41 41 or you can contact us on Twitter at @SouthWestRRP

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