NR Parsons Tunnel - artist impression - view from sea

UK: The government has confirmed £37·4m of funding to enable the construction of a 209 m extension of the Parsons Tunnel rockfall shelter to protect the railway running between cliffs and the sea between Dawlish and Holcombe in Devon.

Studies including drone flights had found that there are active falls from the rear cliff, and an accumulation of material on the slope could trigger larger debris slides.

NR Parsons Tunnel 1

An enclosed brick extension of the tunnel was built 100 years ago. Network Rail proposes to use modern materials including 6·2 m long prefabricated concrete wall panels and roof beams for the further extension, which will feature open sides so than passengers can still view the coastline.

The roof will be covered by a cushioning material to absorb the impact of any rockfalls and promote vegetation growth.

Plans were submitted to Teignbridge District Council in February for prior approval under Network Rail’s permitted development rights. Preparatory works are scheduled to begin on March 22, with construction expected to start in August and take around a year.

The extended shelter ‘will help protect the railway in Devon for the next 100 years’, said Ewen Morrison, Senior Programme Manager for Network Rail’s South West Rail Resilience Programme, when the funding was announced on March 19.

‘This coastal stretch of railway is beautiful but also faces a number of vulnerabilities either side of the railway; rough sea conditions on one side can cause flooding whilst steep cliffs on the other side make the railway at risk of rock falls and landslides. We’re looking forward to getting started and are excited by the engineering challenge of building such a critical structure in such an inaccessible location whilst minimising the impact on train services.’