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How to Rebuild a Railway (and win Project of the Year!) - 30th June 2015

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Kindly hosted by the Met Office at Exeter, Tom Kirkham and Rosie Majer of Network Rail gave a presentation to APM members, delegates from the IET and others on the difficult task of repairing a major transport artery that had been heavily damaged following the severe storms in early 2014.

On the 4th February 2014, severe storms swept across the UK causing major damage to infrastructure.  In the South West of England some 4.5 miles of the South Devon Railway coastal route (Dawlish Warren), was lost due to the heavy seas breaching the walls and washing away the ground underneath the railway track leaving portions of the track hanging in mid-air, effectively cutting off the only rail connection to and from the South West.  The need to get the railway safely back in operation as quickly as was possible was critical, the effect on losing this line would be felt by communities and businesses alike and not just in financial terms.

In addition to the business pressures in planning and delivering this project in a challenging timescale, the whole enterprise was carried out with intense media and governmental interest during periods of further storms.

Following the damage being initially assessed, emergency work to minimise further risk of damage, stabilise the ground and protect properties on the road above the washed out track was undertaken.  An early programme estimate was that the work to bring the line back into safe operation would take six weeks – however a second storm caused further damage and added another two weeks to the programme and 20% to the overall project scope.

The work required an average team of 300 working 24/7 for over 50 days (some 300,000 man hours) in a challenging environment.  Their distinctively coloured clothing inspired the name they are still called – the ‘Orange Army’.  Where feasible, local resources, both labour and material were used.  The size of the task can be imagined with some of the materials involved – 6,000 tonnes of concrete, 150 tonnes of steel and 13 miles of cables.  One of the key elements to the success of this project was the strong stakeholder management of the six main contractors.  The contractors initially had their own programmes but came to realise that by working as a team they could achieve far more.  Good relationships also had to be established and maintained with the residents, local authorities Crown Estates etc.  The residents were kept informed of developments by weekly meetings and even had their own dedicated contact number for any pressing queries.

To keep all contractors informed of developments and to deconflict activities, some simple but effective solutions were introduced, such as:

  • Openness to new ideas – expert advice was sought from areas that may not have been immediately obvious to the rail sector
    • using transport containers as sea walls/land slip protection came from a colleague who had seen it used in New Zealand).
  • Sharing open plan offices – no ‘silos’
  • Open meeting – all could have an input but the Project Manager had the final say
  • A single integrated programme that all ‘owned’

The need for safety was recognised from the beginning and to minimise the risk of accidents, a rolling shift programme was developed to ensure workers did not work excessively long hours.

The success of the project can be assessed by the fact that the rail link reopened on time against a challenging, ambitious and (sometimes reactive) programme.  Positive feedback was received from all areas, including the Prime Minister, who praised the ‘Orange Army’ (as they have become known), for their “herculean effort” in completing the repairs

In addition to the significant physical achievement of this challenging project, the ‘Dawlish Sea Wall Emergency Works’ also won the prestigious Project of the Year 2014 for Network Rail.

Rosie and Tom were thanked for their interesting and informative presentation by the attendees.

The presentation is available below:



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