RAILWAY engineers are investigating options to protect the Brent Viaduct from future flood damage.

The main line bridge, near Ivybridge, is vulnerable to flooding due to water runoff from Dartmoor during heavy rainfall.

The most recent flood occurred at 3.30pm on New Year’s Eve, which led to the closure of the railway line between Totnes and Plymouth for five hours, resulting in severe disruption.

After carrying out safety inspections, engineers declared it was unsafe for trains to run. It wasn’t until the water had receded at 8.30pm that the line was reopened and normal service was resumed.

Network Rail says higher and faster water levels can scour supporting elements of bridges such as this one, leading to structural damage.

Now plans are afoot to protect the bridge from future high water levels.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We closed the railway between Plymouth and Totnes early evening on Saturday 31st December 2022, due to heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding. 

“Water levels rose dramatically around a railway bridge near Brent and a full inspection of the structure and surrounding area was needed to determine whether trains could safely run on this stretch of railway. 

“The section of railway between Plymouth and Totnes was closed for five hours, between 15:30 and 20:30 as our engineers carried out essential safety inspections and declared that it was unsafe for trains to run. A normal service resumed once the water receded and trains could safely run. 

“This particular area is vulnerable to flooding due to water runoff from higher ground. We are currently planning numerous resilience schemes across the network to prevent future long-term closures of the railway due to flooding.”

Network Rail is in the “early stages” of drawing up plans to protect the bridge from water damage, said the spokesperson, adding: “Higher and faster water levels can cause structural damage railway bridges such as this one by scouring - a process that removes material from the supporting elements of the bridge - the base of the piers and abutments.

“Our engineers are currently investigating the different options to mitigate this but currently the proposed plan is to create a protective layer to these supporting elements to prevent scouring from occurring. This would reduce the risk of future closures and prevent disruption when flooding occurs.

“Of course we need to further finalise these plans and work with other organisations to ensure that the surrounding environment would not be damaged as part of this proposed work.”