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It was probably the most dramatic of all the shocking images from the storms of the past winter – one of the UK's main railway lines left hanging in mid-air by the battering that the coastline at Dawlish took from the sea. A key transport artery to the south west was severed and the economy of the region took a £20 million a day hit as engineers piled into what David Cameron referred to as a ‘Herculean’ recovery effort.
What started on 4 February as 80m of sea wall was breached by the waves and washed out to sea grew within a fortnight to more than 90m with the track ballast also carried off and adjoining homes left in a precarious state. In fact, more than 450m of parapet sea wall was either badly damaged or missing altogether along with associated footpaths, walkways and steps. First step was to cut the rails, lay the concrete sleepered track over the breached area and cover the whole area in sprayed concrete to offer additional resistance to the next high tide and buy some time. Then came 18 shipping containers which were welded together and each filled with 50 tonnes of stone to create added protection for reconstruction.
The rebuilding job relied heavily on production of 96 heavy-duty bespoke L-shaped concrete retaining wall panels, which came from Forterra’s floors and precast works at Somercotes in Derbyshire. These were 2– 3.25m high, 1.2– 1.6m wide and 1.6m long and they were used both behind the parapet sea wall and the retaining wall for the roadway behind. Technical sales manager Martin Bolton agreed the approach after being invited to an emergency meeting with main contractors Amalgamated Construction. Design manager David Chamberlain then worked through the night on the designs and production manager Joe Sheehy got the job under way. In addition, Cornish Concrete produced 260 coping stones each weighing 1.8 tonnes.
Meanwhile the more local Forterra Premix operation worked nights and weekends to produce and deliver 1500m3 of ready-mixed concrete which had to be off-loaded on the road above the railway line and pumped 20m to the site. This was not an easy matter since the only access was down a series of narrow flights of stairs winding between houses on a very steep incline.
Forterra Precast commercial manager Paul Lees was delighted with his team’s response under pressure. “We went from the initial meeting to production of a heavily engineered bespoke product in four days – it was a fantastic achievement,” he says.
Following the successfully completion of the works and with the train line opened ahead of schedule by David Cameron, Martin Bolton was delighted to receive a fulsome testimonial from AMCO acknowledging the speed, professionalism and high quality of the work, and adding “AMCO has recently been awarded the second phase of the works to raise 340m of the seawall which will consist of some 165 additional precast L-section units on yet another challenging and tight programme and I am pleased to advise you that we have selected Forterra for this project to ensure we achieve our goal of working closely with the right supply chain to meet our client needs.”
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