RAIL commuters face a further six weeks of disruption before getting back on track following the Harbury landslip.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin visited the stretch of track buried by tonnes of soil and rock following heavy rain on the last day of January – and assured passengers his main priority was to see the line between Leamington and Banbury opened as soon as possible.
But Network Rail this week confirmed the line would not re-open until Thursday April 2.
The huge landslip brought 350,000 tonnes earth down onto the line, and Network Rail has been working to assess and repair the damage. So far over 100,000 tonnes of earth have been removed and monitoring equipment installed to track the continuing movement of the slip.
Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “We’ve been working around the clock to safely reopen the railway as soon as possible and are now able to give passengers and freight operators confirmation that services will restart by Easter.
“The line provides a vital link for more than 130 passenger and freight trains every day and our engineers are working tirelessly to make the landslip safe and make it possible to reopen the line within the next six weeks.
“This cutting has suffered from landslips since it was built in the 1840s and we are looking at what new engineering solutions are available to make it safer and less at risk to landslips in the future.”
Network Rail is already losing £250,000 a day in revenue, not counting the clear up costs.
Some 19,000 passengers use the line daily, and those still taking the train are being forced to break their journey with a 90 minute bus trip between Leamington and Banbury stations.
Rob Brighouse, managing director of Chiltern Railways, said: “We are fully supportive of the approach and it is absolutely right that the line should only be reopened when it is safe to do so. We are working in close partnership with Network Rail and doing our utmost to ensure that the impact on passengers is minimised.
“In the meantime, we have reduced fares so that West Midlands to London passengers only pay the equivalent of a Banbury to London fare and put in place a “step-straight-on” bus replacement service between Leamington and Banbury stations.”
The clear up is being hampered as the area is also prone to flooding, making it susceptible to further possible landslips.
Freight trains have also been redirected to lines putting pressure on the rest of the rail network, and causing delays to deliveries.
Passengers are advised to check with their train operator or visit www.nationalrail.co.uk for the latest travel information.
Network Rail CEO Mark Carne and transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin check out progress on the clear-up. 07.015.002.leam.jm13