The section of the line beside the sea between Starcross and Dawlish has been a continual trial to the railway, because of the frequent damage caused by high seas.
The intention to construct a direct line between Dawlish Warren and Newton Abbot was only part of a larger scheme to mitigate delays on one of the most intensively used stretches of line during the summer months;
The first trouble experienced with the line, after the opening in May 1846, was in December 1852 at Beeches Rock between Teignmouth and Dawlish. Heavy rain caused a spring to break out from a soft vein, resulting in the collapse of the cliff onto the railway. After a similar occurrence in February 1833, the gradient of the cliff face was eased and drainage work carried out, but it was not enough to prevent a slight fall in October of the same year. The picture above shows the result of the first attack on the line from the other side.
Easter gales during the first fortnight of February in 1855, had washed away the beach near Teignmouth, exposing the marl on which the railway and sea-wall were built. Heavy seas scoured the marl and despite remedial work, 30 yards of wall collapsed on the 16th. Severe frosts and turbulent seas prevented reconstruction, and by the time work could begin, 50 yards of the embankment had been washed away.
Traffic was resumed by running trains to the edge of the breach and passengers walking round. A wooden viaduct built across the gap was completed in early March. Further strengthening was carried out during the summer under the personal supervision of Brunel.