Network Rail has thanked passengers for their patience during last week’s five-day closure of the railway between Axminster and Pinhoe, which allowed engineers to begin essential landslip prevention work at Honiton Tunnel, one of the most at-risk sites in the south of England.
Due to its complex geology and many natural springs, the section of line leading up to the tunnel has suffered from landslips in recent years, one of which led to a train derailing in 2001.
Mark Killick, Network Rail Wessex route director, said: “We’d like to thank customers for their patience during last week’s disruption. We’ve made good progress that will give our customers a much more reliable railway going forward.
“This is just the start of a long-term programme to make this railway cutting more resilient. There will be some weekend closures where we continue our work, but this five-day closure means there we won’t need as many of them.
“It was a challenging five days as our teams found a number of natural springs which made digging out earth and pouring concrete difficult, but they adapted the programme of work to ensure a lot of progress was still made.”
Engineers began construction of two retaining walls, of 32 metres and 16 metres in length, to stop any potential landslips where the line runs through a deep ‘cutting’ in the hill leading up to Honiton Tunnel.
The cutting’s existing drainage systems were improved while construction began on a new system to go with it. Together, with the cutting’s strengthening, the improved drainage will make the line more resilient to extreme weather and heavy rainfall.
Making the most of the access to the railway, there was also time to complete track and drainage improvements in the Axminster and Feniton areas, whilst East Devon District Council also used the closure to work on a huge project to protect 65 homes in Feniton from flooding.
Christian Neill, customer experience director for South Western Railway, commented: “I am delighted that Network Rail has made fantastic progress and the line between Axminster and Pinhoe will reopen on time.
“I would like to thank customers for their understanding as these vital works have been carried out, particularly in the context of wider challenges on the West of England line.
“These upgrades will boost the reliability and resilience of a vital part of our network, and the progress this past week will prevent the need for as many future closures as the renewal project continues.”
Follow up earthworks will be carried out along the route in December, along with plans for another extended line closure next year.