The coming of the railway in 1846 was not greeted by the fishing community with any great enthusiasm as they anticipated the loss of much of the beach and the obliteration of Boat, Coryton and Shell coves. Their concerns led to a change to the plans so that the railway was to be constructed inside the existing short sea wall, built by the parish authorities in 1837, by introducing tunnels and by cutting back the cliffs. In the event cutting back was used only at the Langstone rock and along the cliff towards this rock, reducing the height of the cliff and pushing Ladies Mile a few yards inland.

Five tunnels were cut along this length. From Dawlish they are: Kennaway, Coryton, Phillott, Clerk and Parson. In order to protect trains from rock falls, Parsonís Tunnel was extended by 147 yards at the east end. In total there are more than 1200 yards of tunnel.

Even though the tunnels were built, much of the beach was lost including the large shingle ridge which the fishermen had used to haul their boats to safety. It was intended that all communications between the beach and shore should be preserved by means of slipways to allow boats, seine nets, bathing machines and goods traffic to be moved from the exposed beach over level crossings. In the event none were built probably because the adoption of the atmospheric system of propulsion involved huge pipe lines which would obstruct the crossings. A subway was built near Kennaway tunnel but flooded and was replaced about 1879 by an iron footbridge which was useless to the fishermen. A walkway along the sea front was to be built for public use and to protect the railway but this was not completed until 1902 at the cost of a further 18 feet of beach, and has proved vulnerable to storms.
In1905, the tunnels were widened to allow two lines to pass through.