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Brunel medal for Orange Army

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The team of engineers who worked round the clock to reopen the Dawlish railway following storms that breached the sea wall has been awarded the prestigious Brunel Medal at the 2014 Institution of Civil Engineers Awards.

The Orange Army caught the imagination of the public and their courage and hard work has now received further well-deserved recognition.

The Brunel Medal, named after Isambard Kingdom Brunel, recognises individuals or teams who have shown excellence in civil engineering. Fittingly, this year it goes to a team who repaired part of a railway Brunel himself designed.

Opened in 1846, the South Devon Railway is accustomed to extreme weather conditions. However, the severity of the storms in February 2014 was extraordinary. Between Dawlish Warren and Teignmouth 4.5 miles of railway infrastructure was severely damaged, including a 100-metre breach to the Dawlish Sea Wall.

On 6 February, less than 48 hours after the first call, a joint team comprising Network Rail, BAM, AMCO, Dyer & Butler, Sisk and Tony Gee & Partners came together to plan the repairs. As they got to work another storm struck on 14 February, battering the 10-tonne shipping containers which were being used as a temporary breakwater. Works came to a halt and the damage caused a 20 per cent increase to the overall project scope.

Through late February and March, the team worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to repair and reinstate
the line, but in early March they faced a further challenge – 25,000 tonnes of material had sheared away from the cliff face and onto the track near Teignmouth. A controlled landslip was created using several high pressure water cannons, turning the red earth into slurry to run off into the sea, whilst minimising damage to the infrastructure below.

Works continued with an average of 300 people each day and 150 each night working tirelessly to re-open the line. Eight weeks on from the first storm, after battling high waves, rain, gales and a further landslip – the rail link to South and West Devon and Cornwall re-opened on 4 April.

Says ICE vice-president Tim Broyd, ‘If any project is worthy of the Brunel Medal, it is this.

‘Considering the extent of the damage and the relentless conditions the engineers were faced with, it is quite extraordinary that they were able to get the track up and running before Easter – two weeks ahead of schedule – to avoid further damage to the regional economy. The teamwork, inventiveness and sheer determination were inspiring – a shining example of civil engineers doing what they do best. I have no doubt that if Brunel was with us today, he would be extremely proud – congratulations to all involved.’

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