The prime minister has praised the ‘Herculean’ efforts of engineers, including the Professional Concrete Pumping specialist team, who worked night and day to repair the storm-ravaged train line at Dawlish.
Officially reopening the rebuilt Devon rail line on Friday April 4, David Cameron called for ‘three cheers’ for the ‘heroic’ rail line emergency repair team and said they had shown ‘the best of British.’
“A team of engineers, including the Professional Concrete Pumping team, worked tirelessly on emergency repairs to the track. Cameron, during his speech, praised the so-called ‘orange army’ of engineers, operators and labourers saying: "You have shown the best of British here.”
He also thanked the people of Dawlish for their unfailing support of the workers.
The prime minister, who arrived by train, added: "It's a really important day for Dawlish, it’s a really important day for the south-west but it's also a really important day for the whole of the country. I know how cut off people felt in the south-west after that terrible storm.”
As the first trains began to travel along the Isambard Kingdom Brunel-designed line, Cameron declared the south-west open again for business describing it as, not only a hugely popular tourist destination but a ‘hub of creativity’ and a centre of industry.
The rail line was destroyed after the great storm on February 4, leaving Devon and Cornwall without a rail link to the rest of the UK. It is estimated that the region lost £20m a day in business whilst the line remained out of action, meaning the pressure was on to complete emergency repairs as fast as possible.
Cameron revealed the scale of the job to a delighted and relieved audience on Friday, pointing out that 10,000 tonnes of concrete and 150 tonnes of steel had been used in the £35m operation.
Emergency work included the rebuilding of the coast-hugging railway’s 11-foot deep concrete foundations and the creation of an artificial landslide to remove 25,000 tonnes of unstable cliff.
Technical specialists from Professional spent three weeks pumping 4,500 cubic metres of concrete into the first of the precarious sections of the sea defence wall to prevent further erosion.
They were initially prevented by dangerous weather from beginning emergency repairs and slept in their cars next to equipment whilst waiting for the second storm to abate.
The team used a Putzmeister 36m boom pump to deliver concrete across distances of up to 180 metres alongside two static pumps – one on duty and one on standby - with work carried out 24 hours a day by seven men working 12 hour shifts.
Professional Concrete Pumping commercial manager Tony Alders said: “The work was ongoing most days and most nights but was tide and weather dependent. Men were on standby 24/7, initially two men by day and two by night with two fitters taking it in turns, working three or four days in row. Then we moved to having three men every 12 hours plus a fitter because of the length of the pipeline. On some days we managed 400 metres and some only 100 metres.”
Professional Concrete Pumping district manager John Pippet praised the entire team for coping in dreadful weather conditions during the entire operation.
“The whole project was more complex than originally anticipated. We needed to get enough concrete to one spot before the wall breached again. If we were to have put too much concrete in one go it would have put too much weight on and would have moved the shutters. So we had to do it in stages rather than as a mass fill so that each layer could go off before the sea got to it,” he said.
“As well as the work in the main area where the railway line was hanging out over the sea we also did some repairs at Dawlish Station, at Dawlish Warren and at other breaches at various points across coastline.”
Professional managing director Peter Liddle said: “Professional Concrete Pumping Ltd are delighted to have been instructed at very short notice to provide specialised mobile and static concrete pumping services in support of AMCO who were mobilised by Network Rail to restore the hole in the Dawlish sea wall below Riviera Terrace and the stabilising of the houses, some of which had their foundations ripped away by the power of the sea.
“We are all conscious of the importance of this railway to the South West, its economy and the people of Dawlish and we are proud to have been instrumental in assisting with these repairs.
“I wish to say a big thank you to all our pump operators and engineers who worked tirelessly 24/7 over many weeks to provide emergency restoration to the 90m breached section of the sea wall following this serious storm damage to the Great Western Mainline railway infrastructure.”
Professional is highly experienced in reacting swiftly to disasters, with a recent example being its handling, under its Pochins incarnation, of a tunnel collapse on the London Underground Jubilee Line after it flooded a few years ago. On that occasion, it broke a European concrete pumping record, achieving a distance of 3.5km.
Flood defences too are something to which Professional is no stranger, although most are part of a planned programme of work.
A few years ago the Professional (then Pochins) team spent almost a year working on the £30 million Defra-funded 2.2km Dymchurch sea defence scheme, a major component of the Environment Agency’s sea defence programme stretching from Folkestone to Rye on the Kent coast.