Clinging to cliffs to change trains

We’ve all seen the dramatic pictures of the railway line at Dawlish in Devon, a section of which was left in mid-air once all the ballast had been washed away. It looked scary, and reminded me of my own experience of travelling on that line.

Nothing happened when I travelled on the line many many years ago, apart from the most odd experience of looking out at just sea and waves and feeling a little uneasy. The journey is an amazingly picturesque one, but the line has a history of succumbing to the sea, which I guess gives it a bit of an edge. Er, quite literally. The line twists and turns, sometimes going through small tunnels and at other times appearing to squeeze along aside beautiful little seaside towns and natural beauty, just on the beach.

Apparently, Brunel made the decision to run the rail-line where it is in order to cut costs and save time. For his troubles though, he had to spend many periods of time trying to fix the line after storms.

In 1855 a whole 50 foot section was lost. The seas were far too turbulent to be able to effect repairs for many months. Bitter gales and rain made it impossible.

These days, Health and Safety issues force us to run a train into a station and terminate it there. Passengers disembark and are taken to the next functioning station by a replacement bus service. Here they re-join a train and can continue the rest of their journey. We’ve all experienced this.

But, back in 1855 they had a novel way of dealing with the problem. The first train would get as close as it could to the, well, chasm. The passengers would disembark and pick their way around the rocks of the cliff face until they reached the other side where another train would be waiting for them. No comfortable stations to use to embark and disembark, and no gentle bus ride. Instead, in the bitter easterly winds and driving rain they had to carefully avoid disappearing into the foaming seas below. Now that’s scary.