Dry rail track on a hot day, via Istock

Services between Salisbury and Exeter return to full timetable from November

Services between Salisbury and Exeter St Davids are set to return to normal on Monday 14th November, coming after imposed speed restrictions and two months of reduced services across the West of England.

Due to the record-breaking heatwaves that occurred throughout the summer, the clay-based track bed at locations near Tisbury, Gillingham and Axminster shrank, leaving the rails uneven and too hazardous for trains to operate services at full speeds. These conditions required imposed speed restrictions of 40mph to be implemented, causing a period of delays and passenger inconveniences.

The shrinkage of clay-based soils in hot and dry conditions is referred to as Soil Moisture Deficit and often comes in areas with densely populated vegetation as they soak up the water surrounding the line. The shrinkage comes unevenly and means the track lain on top loses its level profile.

This issue can be prominent in Network Rails Southern region as there are around 6,000 embankments built from clay, with a section in Tisbury at four miles in length.

Engineers have since made strong progress for the restoration of track levels between Tisbury, Gillingham, and Axminster as they have been aided through cooler temperatures and regular rain which has stopped the track bed shrinking.

Mark Killick, Network Rail’s route director for Wessex, said:

“We’re still suffering the after-effects of a record-breaking summer on our railway, but I’m pleased we’ll be able to have trains running at full speed again soon, and I’m so grateful for customers for bearing with us.

“We’ve invested tens of millions of pounds on the West of England Line in the last two years by strengthening railway cuttings and renewing track and switches and crossings. As well as December’s track renewals, we’ve got even more planned in 2023 and 2024, demonstrating our commitment to all of the customers who use this line every year.”

A separate project is set to run a month later, seeing engineers return to the area at the West of England Line to renew track and boost the reliability in the region. There is only one track in the area, which means SWR services between Salisbury and Exeter St Davids will be diverted via Westbury between Saturday 10 and Sunday 18 December while work takes place.

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