Mar 11, 2014

CBEC Denies any Holding of Customs, Excise Duty and Service Tax Refunds/Drawbacks

The Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) has denied the report that the Customs, Excise Duty and Service Tax refunds/drawbacks are being held-up by the Department. This was mentioned in a certain section of media attributing to a statement by President, Federation of India Export Organisations (FIEO) to the effect that Customs, Excise Duty and Service Tax refunds/drawbacks are being held-up by the Department.

This is not correct. The following statement will indicate that more amounts have been refunded in 2013-14 compared to the corresponding period in the previous year.
For the period April – February

(Rs. in crore)
Increase (%)
Central Excise
Service Tax


124th Foundation Day Celebrations of National Archives of India

The National Archives of India which is a repository of non-current records of permanent value of Government of India is celebrating its 124th Foundation Day on 11 March 2014. It was on 11th March 1891 that the Department was established as Imperial Records Department at Imperial Secretariat Building, Calcutta with G.W.Forrest as the First Officer incharge of the Department. 

The Foundation Day Celebrations were formally inaugurated by the Additional Secretary, Ministry of Culture Shri K.K.Mittal. 

A Foundation Day Lecture was also delivered by noted Historian and Tagore Fellow Prof. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Former Chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. The theme of the lecture was `The Foundations of the Archival Policy of the Indian Government: Towards Independence’. 

Two bilateral agreements on co-operation in the field of Archives were also signed by National Archives of India with the National Archives of Portugal and NRAA, Oman 2014-2015. 

On this occasion two exhibitions entitled “Commemorating 100 years of Ghadar Party (1913-2013)” and “1913: The Historic Transvaal March – 100 years” mounted in the premises of National Archives of India were inaugurated by Shri K.K.Mittal, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Culture in the presence of eminent scholars, media and distinguished guest. The exhibition on the 100 years of Transvaal March was earlier organized by National Archives of India in the Volkrust Prison, South Africa as a part of commemorative function, jointly organized by the Ministry of Culture and Government of South Africa in the month of November 2013; similarly the exhibition on 100 years of Ghadar Party which is part of National Celebrations of Historical event and this exhibition was also organized at Kolkata and Chandigarh during the National and International Seminar in the months of February and March 2014 respectively has also been displayed in the premises of National Archives of India for public viewing. 

These exhibitions will remain open for public on all working days from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. 


Calif. High-Speed Rail Authority gets ready to seek bids on Fresno-Kern stretch BY TIM SHEEHAN

The California High-Speed Rail Authority says it's ready to begin soliciting bids from contractors to design and build a 60-mile stretch of a proposed statewide bullet-train route from Fresno to the Tulare-Kern county line.

The authority's board will meet Tuesday in Sacramento to consider issuing its request for proposals for the project, which is estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. Five teams of contractors were recently deemed pre-qualified to submit bids for the work in anticipation of awarding a contract late this year.

Among the pre-qualified contracting teams is a consortium comprising Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction of Texas and Pasadena-based Parsons Corp., which last year won a contract worth about $1 billion for the rail system's first construction section, a 29-mile length from the northeast edge of Madera to the south end of Fresno.

Other groups in the running are:

• California Rail Builders, a joint venture composed of Ferrovial Agroman U.S. Corp. and Granite Construction. Ferrovial is an American subsidiary of Ferrovial S.A., a Spanish company, while Granite Construction is a California company headquartered in Watsonville.

• Dragados/Flatiron/Shimmick, a consortium that includes Dragados USA Inc., a subsidiary of Grupo ACS and Dragados S.A. of Spain; Flatiron West Inc. of San Marcos; and Shimmick Construction Co. of Oakland.

• Golden State Rail Partnership, composed of OHL USA Inc., a subsidiary of Spain's Obrascón Huarte Lain S.A., and Samsung E&C America Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of South Korea's Samsung Group.

• Skanska-Ames Joint Venture, a team that includes Skanska USA Civil West California District Inc., a subsidiary of Sweden's Skanska, and Minnesota-based Ames Construction Inc.

The rail board is being asked to approve a term sheet that sets out the conditions under which the contractors will bid. The request by the authority's staff also includes paying a stipend of up to $2 million to each of the contractors that does not win the contract, intended to help defer the "proven costs" of preparing their bid proposals. Each proposal would then become the property of the rail authority.

The authority anticipates issuing its formal request for bids late this month; contracting teams would likely be required to submit their bids sometime this summer.

The bids will eventually be scored "to determine the team offering the best value," according to a memo prepared by Scott Jarvis, the authority's assistant chief program manager. The scoring will be weighted 30% on technical and 70% on price.

The meeting occurs as the agency continues to grapple with court challenges to its plans in the state's 3rd District Court of Appeal. One case deals with whether the state should be authorized to sell Proposition 1A bonds to finance construction of the statewide project. The second is a lawsuit by Kings County opponents alleging that the authority's plan violates various requirements of Prop. 1A, a $9.9 billion bond measure approved by California voters in 2008 to help pay for high-speed rail planning, engineering and construction.

Also on Tuesday's agenda:

• The rail board will get a progress report on development of a final environmental impact report for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield segment of the rail route. The agency has said it anticipates publicly releasing the report this spring. Approval of the EIR and selection of a "least environmental practicable alternative" is required to set the intended route before the agency can award a design-build contract for the work.

• Board members will hear testimony on the agency's draft 2014 business plan, released in February for more than two months of public comment. The business plan -- the first update since the rail authority's April 2012 business plan -- estimates the construction cost for Phase 1 of the statewide project from San Francisco to Los Angeles at about $67.6 billion.

That's down slightly from $68.4 billion estimated in 2012, but still more than double the $33 billion predicted in 2008 when Prop. 1A was approved.

The new plan forecasts that more riders will use the train if and when it begins running by the mid-2020s than predicted two years ago, but anticipates lower ticket revenue. Still, the plan predict that the system can at least break even and operate without a subsidy -- a key promise made in Prop. 1A.

If you go


California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting

When: Tuesday. Open session begins at 10 a.m. The board meeting will be preceded by a finance/audit committee meeting at 8 a.m. and a closed session to discuss litigation at 9 a.m.

Where: Secretary of State Auditorium, 1500 11th St., Sacramento

Agenda: Go to the authority's agenda page and click on the "March" link

Webcast: The meeting will be webcast live here


Holocaust haunts French railway's bid for US contracts

Seventy years after the Holocaust, Rosette Goldstein and many fellow Americans are still seeking reparations from French rail firm SNCF for transporting their loved ones to Nazi death camps.

SNCF America President Alain Leray (L) arrives to testify before the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee on a Holocaust reparations bill in Annapolis, Maryland, March 10, 2013

Goldstein, now 75, was in Maryland on Monday to testify before state lawmakers, who have threatened to prevent SNCF bidding for a major public contract over its role in the World War II genocide.

Clutching a register of those transported by France's state-owned rail company, a still emotional Goldstein showed where her father's name was entered.

"My father was taken by truck to the railway station and put on an SNCF train and taken to Drancy," Goldstein explained, with tears in her eyes.

"He was taken on Convoy 64, December the 7th, 1943 to Auschwitz.

"I really would like them to come forward and say, 'I am so sorry for your loss,'" the petite woman said in a choked voice.

Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz, who was deported on a French train, had also been set to testify at the hearing in Maryland, but he died on Saturday before he could give his account.

Bretholz, who escaped in October 1942 by jumping from a train headed for Auschwitz, had gathered 150,000 signatures for a petition asking SNCF to compensate victims and their families.

His campaign is supported by Maryland lawmaker Kirill Reznik, who says he holds the SNCF directly responsible for transporting Holocaust victims to the Nazi camps.

"We have an invoice issued by SNCF that required payment per head, per kilometer" for each prisoner transported, he said.

Reznik has proposed a law requiring the French rail company to compensate victims before they would be allowed to compete for state contracts in Maryland.

If the bill is approved, it would ban SNCF and its subsidiary, Keolis America, from bidding on a $6 billion public-private project to build and run a 16-mile (25-kilometer) light rail line in Maryland.

"We cannot have this company operating this purple line without (...) taking steps to close wounds that they have caused," Reznik said.

- "Yes, we were involved" -

Under France's Vichy Regime, the SNCF deported some 76,000 Jews to concentration camps in freight cars between 1942 and 1944. Only around 3,000 of them survived the war.

"They should finally have to pay reparation at least per person," said Ellen Lightman, a 67-year-old grand-daughter of a Holocaust victim who attended the hearing at Maryland's legislature.

"Otherwise, whatever they have done in words is just air," she said.

SNCF does not deny it played a role in transporting Jews to their deaths, but the company says it had no choice.

"Yes, we were involved. No, we will never forget," said Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, as he testified on Monday.

Leray, who noted that his own parents had fled occupied France to Algeria to avoid the Holocaust, said the genocide was also "a part of my family heritage."

But he denounced what he called a "misrepresentation of established historical facts."

"SNCF didn't deport anyone; the Nazis did," he insisted, saying the company "was forced to be a cog in the extermination Nazi machine."

By his side, Holocaust survivor Emil Levy, 92, testified on SNCF's behalf, saying he doesn't "believe in revenge" and that monetary compensation now would "do nothing for survivors."

Leray also said responsibility -- and any eventual compensation -- should ultimately come from the French government.

In that vein, he expressed hope for negotiations launched in early February between Paris and Washington over compensation for US victims transported by SNCF during between 1942 and 1944.

The negotiations concern the cases of Americans who don't meet current French criteria for compensation, covering citizens and residents of France only through September 1, 1939.

Around 250 Americans would be affected by the negotiations, according to the Coalition for Holocaust Rail Justice.

Report: Commuter rail ridership doubles in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — For Utah County commuter Chris Miles, having to battle crowded freeway traffic en route to Salt Lake City every day was a grind.

But since December 2012, he said, his stress level has dropped dramatically thanks to the extension of the FrontRunner commuter rail line, launched nearly a year and a half ago by Utah Transit Authority. A Lehi resident, Miles, 40, said taking the train as made his hourlong daily commute much less nerve-racking now that someone else is doing the driving.

“What really started it was that I moved next to a train station and so it was really (convenient),” he said. “The advantages are that the commute kind of disappears. It just removes a certain amount of stress every day.”

He is among a growing number of riders taking advantage of Utah's rail system, which more than doubled its commuter rail ridership from 2012 to 2013.

FrontRunner ridership rose 103 percent in 2013, according to information from the American Public Transportation Association, toping performance gains by cities nationwide, where overall commuter-rail travel increased by 2 percent.

The report showed that Utahns also rode light rail more often in 2013 with ridership increasing by 6 percent on TRAX. Nationally, ridership for light rail climbed 1.5 percent.

"You don’t even think about the commute anymore,” Miles said. “And I’ve also gotten some of my friends to ride, so it has become a social event, too.” He also likes the idea of reducing his own impact on the local environment by taking his vehicle out of the overall traffic equation.

The report also showed that Americans boarded public transit buses, trains and subways in greater numbers than any time since the suburbs began booming, with nearly 10.7 billion trips in 2013, the highest total since 1956. The numbers also showed transit ridership had fully recovered from a dip caused by the Great Recession.

Today, the Salt Lake area features one of the more recently developed public transportation systems, with a 140-mile rail system that has been built in about 12 years.

The 45-mile commuter-rail line between Provo and Salt Lake City opened in December 2012, extending commuter rail a total of about 80 miles north to Ogden. The Provo extension was one of several new rail lines that began operation over the past two years.

The 6-mile TRAX Green Line to Salt Lake City International Airport began carrying passengers this past April, while the Blue Line launched a light rail extension to Draper last fall. Those two lines put the finishing touches on the regional rail transit system that spans 87 miles along the Wasatch Front.

The Brookings Institution recently determined the system was convenient for about 65 percent of commuters in its service territory — more than any other U.S. metro area.

Despite the expansion of commuter and light rail and an 8 percent decline from the previous year, the most-used form of public transit in Utah remains buses, with 19.4 million riders last year. Between trains and buses, riders took more than 44 million trips on UTA transit lines last year — up 3 percent from 2012

Can rail infrastructure get back on track?

Ed Penna with the Ironworkers Local 405 underneath railroad bridge along S. 225th St. at Reed in s. Philadelphia on Friday, March 7, 2014. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ) 

THE FIRST TIME a chunk of concrete from the scarred and pockmarked 86-year-old 25th Street Bridge in South Philadelphia rained down on Ed Penna's car and cracked his windshield, he sent the repair bill to CSX Corp., the Florida-based transportation giant that owns the lengthy overpass and controls most rail freight on the East Coast.

He said CSX laughed that off.

So the second time it happened, the labor leader just went ahead and paid for it. And the third time.

Now, after about a dozen years working in the shadows of the crumbling overpass in the Ironworkers Local 405 hall at 25th and Reed, he's almost gotten used to it - that clanking sound and the way the whole building shakes when a 100-car train hits the brakes overhead. And his fear that a concrete slab might kill a pedestrian one day.

"Actually in the winter it's probably worse," said Penna, speaking from the safety of his office. "You can see the ice that forms there, and it literally breaks chunks of concrete down and it falls in the street."

But this winter, things are different along 25th Street. A sudden spike in freight traffic because of the surge in North Dakota oil production and the reopening of South Philly's massive refinery, a nearly disastrous derailment on the 128-year-old bridge over the Schuylkill River, and news coverage of a nearly 30-foot concrete slab falling have raised fears. But there's also hope that CSX will finally address Philadelphia's infrastructure crisis.

On Wednesday, executives from the notoriously tight-lipped freight line are slated to arrive from Jacksonville, Fla., to testify at a City Council hearing on freight-rail safety. It's suddenly a front-burner issue after two oil-laden tanker cars nearly tumbled from the circa-1886 Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge and a spate of oil-by-rail accidents elsewhere, including one in Quebec that killed 47 people in July.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson - whose district is bisected by the milelong oil trains that arrive about twice a day from North Dakota - said he's optimistic that CSX will announce stepped-up maintenance and an infrastructure overhaul that will address safety concerns that have festered in South Philly, Grays Ferry and other parts of the city for decades.

"Their participation in this hearing, sending actual representatives from Florida, and their admission about repair and maintenance that needs to be done on their rail properties gives me some hope that going forward we will have a better time getting CSX to respond to my concerns and the concerns of the people of Philadelphia," Johnson said in an email to the Daily News.

The upcoming hearing at City Hall - a joint meeting of Council committees on Transportation and Public Utility, and Public Safety - comes just as shipments of tanker cars containing crude oil are on the brink of flooding the region.

The iconic former Sunoco refinery in South Philly reopened last year as Philadelphia Energy Solutions and now ships about 5 million barrels of crude from North Dakota's Bakken field through the core of the city every month.

In addition, a new facility to accept oil by rail and transfer it to barges on the Delaware River is slated to open in Eddystone this month, and work is beginning across the river in Paulsboro, N.J., to convert a former asphalt refinery to handle oil-tanker cars.

When Geronimo gave up

Meanwhile, the run of accidents - punctuated by the Jan. 20 mishap on the Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge, which CSX later blamed on shoddy repair work by its own crew that failed to properly refasten ties - has made people realize that only the federal government has jurisdiction over whether the lines are safe. But government inspections are rare and critical safety information about bridges like the Schuylkill crossing - built during the first presidency of Grover Cleveland, in the year that Native American chief Geronimo surrendered - is not public.

Ian Savage, a Northwestern University economist and expert on rail safety, notes that before 1970, there wasn't even federal safety oversight of the freight lines - a situation that changed with shoddy maintenance before bankruptcies like Philadelphia-based Penn Central. Today, the rail-cargo business is booming - CSX took in $12 billion last year, and posted a $3.5 billion profit - but the surge in oil transport, and growing evidence that the oil fracked from North Dakota is more prone to fire and explosions, has raised new infrastructure concerns.

"It's very debatable whether the deployment of federal track inspectors since 1970 has had any measurable impact on track quality," Savage acknowledged. A Government Accountability Office study in 2007 found inspections proceeding at a rate that would take 500 years to cover all the nation's freight lines, and the railroads have used concerns over competition and liability to keep most safety information away from the public.

Few of the 140,000 miles of freight rail in America are quite like the 25th Street elevated line, finished in an art-deco style by the then-Pennsylvania Railroad in 1928, right before the Great Depression hit. Extending from the east end of the Schuylkill Armory Bridge in Grays Ferry all the way to the Navy Yard, the overpass - wide enough for four tracks, although currently with just two operating - has exasperated residents for years.

"That structure would not be allowed to exist anywhere else in the city unless it were federal," said Doug Rahm, a mason who has lived and worked along the 25th Street corridor for many years. "It is so dangerous that I will not drive underneath it."

Rahm has taken dozens of photos of sections of the overpass that he believes are unsafe, and he's complained frequently over the years to city officials who've responded that there is little they can do.

Decay for all to see

You don't need to be a mason or an ironworker to visit 25th Street and see the signs of eight decades of unrelenting entropy: the bare patches where concrete has slid off, or entire sidewalls that have vanished to be replaced by tin fencing, where a graffiti vandal has scrawled the word "Bad."

In response to the spate of accidents in 2013, the railroad industry announced a series of voluntary steps, including slower speeds in large cities (although it wasn't clear whether that would affect Philadelphia, where officials said the top speed was already just 30 mph).

CSX, which responded to inquiries with a lengthy email statement, said the company is eager to work with the federal government, local authorities and other parties on what it called "a measured approach" to enhancing crude-oil transportation, including strengthening the current generation of tanker cars that safety experts have cited as flawed. Said the railroad: "CSX places the highest priority on the safety of the communities in which it operates over its 23-state, 21,000-route-mile network, including Philadelphia."

But local elected officials like Councilman Johnson are hoping for more. He said he's concerned about other issues such as trash dumping along the CSX lines, and whether the rail company is ignoring poorer neighborhoods.

"It puzzles me how a company [that] makes $12 billion . . . last year hasn't addressed longstanding issues that threaten real people, yet they can do a massive update to the lines along the Schuylkill trail" in Center City, he said. "I'm concerned about where the priority is being placed, and why."


Supreme Court Sides With Landowner in Rails-to-Trails Case

Cyclists on the Medicine Bow Trail in Wyoming. The Supreme Court ruling poses a threat to plans for a nationwide network of recreational trails. Amber Travksy

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal government has no claim to rights of way abandoned by rail roads, a victory for property owners that could undermine plans for a nationwide network of recreational trails.

During America's westward expansion in the 19th century, Congress gave public land to private railroads to spur development of a transcontinental transportation network.

Not every project was successful, however. In 1996, one such railroad in Wyoming gave up and tore out the tracks. The U.S. Forest Service then sought to use the rights of way—which passed through the Medicine Bow National Forest and 31 parcels of private property—for public trails. All but one property owner acquiesced to the plan: Marvin Brandt, whose 83-acre property was the largest, and one associated with his family since his father began working at a local sawmill in 1939.

The government argued that when the railroad ended operations, some property rights reverted to the government, like using the right of way for a trail.

Mr. Brandt, represented by the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation, contended that under the 1875 act providing the right of way, the railroad held only an easement, or limited right to use another's property for a specific purpose, which expired when that use was abandoned. By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court agreed.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the court had settled the question in a 1942 opinion rejecting a railroad's plan to drill for oil on its right of way in Montana. At that time, he said, the government argued Congress "granted an easement and nothing more." Just as the court said then the easement included no right to "the underlying oil and minerals," today it provides no right for continued use of the right of way for hikers and bicyclists.

"The Government loses [its] argument today, in large part because it won when it argued the opposite before this Court more than 70 years ago," he wrote.

Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented. She wrote that the 1942 case concerned only subterranean rights, not the surface transportation uses provided in the 1875 act.

"The Court undermines the legality of thousands of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation," she wrote. "And lawsuits challenging the conversion of former rails to recreational trails alone may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars."

The Justice Department currently is defending more than 90 lawsuits challenging Rails-to-Trails projects involving 10,000 properties in over 30 states, amounting to "aggregate legal claims in the hundreds of millions of dollars," according to a government report.

William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, said the contested site, at 9,000-feet elevation, is "under snow from late October until June.…The idea that a bunch of people is going to come out there and start riding that trail is asinine."

Since 2006, when the tracks were ripped out, Mr. Brandt "has seen only about 50 bikers total," Mr. Pendley said. "Mostly, he's seen horseback riders, ATV riders and motorcycle riders, and those three uses are prohibited."

"It's an area that used to be forest, and the forest is trying to come back," Mr. Pendley said. "The trail is filled with spikes of trees trying to come back."

The Justice Department is reviewing the decision, a spokeswoman said.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a Washington-based nonprofit that filed a friend-of-the-court brief, called the ruling "disappointing."

"Our legal team is currently analyzing the ruling and determining what the next steps will be in the courts, as well as what this means for rail-trails across the country," it said in a statement.

In January, Kevin Mills, a vice president of the group, said a loss in the case "would not only potentially block the completion of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, but could also threaten existing rail-trails across America that utilize federally-granted rights-of-way…Just like our national parks, these former rail corridors are public assets in which we all share and benefit."

Proud rush to repair 'the hole' in Dawlish coastal train line

Work continues on the train line at Dawlish, Devon, which was damaged during the recent storms. Photograph: Mark Passmore/Apex

Lee Haberfield, a giant of a man from the Rhondda valley in south Wales, paused for a moment from his work in the spot that has earned itself the rather sinister nickname "the hole" to reflect on how much he and his fellow railway workers have achieved over the past five weeks.

"When we arrived, it was like something out of a disaster movie. It's been a battle to say the least. But I've really enjoyed working here," he says.

Haberfield reckons there are two premier construction jobs in the world at the moment – the race to finish the football World Cup stadiums in Brazil and this one, the repairs to the train line that hugs the Devon coast at Dawlish after the devastation of the great storm of 4 and 5 February. "You'll always be able to look back at this and say you were there and you helped fix it," he says.

Haberfield is a member of the 1,000-strong "orange army" that has been working night and day to fix the hole, the 100-metre breach in a section of sea wall that supported the mainline track from London to the far south-west of Britain – and dozens of other less spectacular but nonetheless tricky breaks along a 3.7-mile stretch.Once more unto the breach … Chris Warburton, left, and Lee Haberfield of Network Rail. Photograph: Mark Passmore/APEX

Network Rail (NR), the owner and operator of Britain's railway infrastructure, has announced that it is expecting the line to re-open on 4 April – a huge relief to residents and business people whose lives have been disrupted by the break in the line and a vital boost for the region's tourism industry before the Easter holidays.

The repair work to the line, which is costing around £15m, has been a triumph for imaginative thinking and teamwork. In the early days the first job was making sure that another Atlantic storm heading Devon's way did not cause more damage to the main breach. One early idea was to rush in a rail-mounted concrete spraying machine that had been specially built to repair a tunnel in Devon and was standing idle. It shored up the sea wall, prevent further devastation and may have helped save houses that were teetering on the edge.

Another was the decision to drop a row of shipping containers in front of the seawall, each filled with 70 tonnes of rubble, to act as a temporary breakwater as more bad weather came in.

But then came the setback of the Valentine's Day storm, which washed away another hunk of sea wall, leading to the prospect of the line remaining closed until mid-April, a disaster for businesses in Cornwall and west Devon, which are losing millions of pounds a day because they are cut off. Plymouth alone estimates it is losing up to £5m a day.

More innovative engineering came to the rescue. The Dawlish team brought dozens of concrete motorway crash barriers and interlinked them to form two "frames" in the hole. They have so far poured 5,000 tonnes of concrete into the frames to build the sea wall back up to track level.

Patrick Hallgate, NR's route managing director, said he was confident this new structure, which is connected to the bedrock, will not be going anywhere any time soon. "An unfortunate event like the one experienced at Dawlish shows how important the railway is to the region's people and its economy," he says. "I hope our efforts to restore here show how seriously we treat that responsibility."

The planned re-opening on 4 April will not be the end of the story.

Phase two will be to make the line along the Devon coast – six miles of it – more resilient. Possible schemes include reshaping the wall so it repels waves more effectively or building a break out to sea. "Those sort of schemes go well beyond railway engineering," Hallgate says. Closing the line is not an option. NR has a responsibility to maintain a line to south Devon – and the seawall protects 7,500 homes in Dawlish. There would also be an outcry if one of the most attractive stretches of rail in the world (designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opened in 1846) was lost.

The third phase will be to identify a backup route. NR has come up with five options, including reopening an inland line, and will report to the government this year.The repair work to the line at Dawlish, which is costing around £15m, has been a triumph for imaginative thinking and teamwork. Photograph: Mark Passmore/Apex

South Devon is just one spot that Network Rail has to worry about. Almost 300 sections of tracks have been flooded this year and it will cost £170m for the repairs. With extreme weather becoming more common, organisations including the Institution of Mechanical Engineers are calling for a fundamental rethink of how vulnerable infrastructure is protected. But for now at Dawlish it is all about getting the line reopened.

The project is not out of the woods. In the past few days a crack has appeared in the sandstone cliffs above the line at Teignmouth and thousands of tonnes of material may have to be removed in the coming days and weeks. NR is still confident that the work will be completed by 4 April though.

There are 300 workers on site every day – including 100 by night. Work ranges from the technical – such as fixing cables (a link between the stock exchanges in New York and London was one of those cut during the storms) – to the backbreaking. At the moment teams are "packing and jacking" – fixing ballast into the tracks – by hand fork because sections are too fragile to bear the weight of machinery.

Chris Warburton, an agent for construction contractor Amco, said he is loving the job, despite having been separated from his family in Cheshire for long periods over the past month. "It's a privilege to work on a line that was created by one of the greatest engineers of all time. Brunel's work has lasted 150 years. We just hope that ours lasts another 150."

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