Large swathes of the south west will be without rail services until next Monday (December 11) as engineers work around the clock to repair a severe landslip near the Somerset-Dorset border.

Somerset experienced significant rainfall on Monday (December 4), causing damage to residential properties and businesses, flooding on numerous main roads, disruption to public transport services and missed household waste collections.

The high rainfall caused a landslip at the Crewkerne Tunnel, forcing Network Rail to first implement speed restrictions and then close the line entirely.

Network Rail and its contractors are now on site to excavate around 100 tonnes of material to ensure the line can reopen to passengers services next week.

The Crewkerne Tunnel lies on the southern edge of Crewkerne, carrying South Western Railway (SWR) services between London Waterloo and Exeter St David’s via Crewkerne, Yeovil Junction and Templecombe.

The line is single-track for long stretches as a result of the Beeching cuts in the mid-1960s, allowing only one train per hour in each direction and leaving little extra capacity in the event of delays caused by accidents, mechanical faults or  inclement weather.

On Monday morning (December 4), monitoring sensors in the ground detected movements of earth above the railway cutting above the entrance to Crewkerne Tunnel, which lies around a mile to the west of the town’s railway station.

Midweek Herald: An aerial view of the landslip.An aerial view of the landslip. (Image: Network Rail)

Network Rail implemented a 20mph speed limit at midday the same day to keep passengers safe and keep services running along this section of the line.

But further heavy rain resulted in flooding inside the tunnel and more debris to move into the cutting, with Network Rail electing to shut the line entirely at 6pm that day.

Network Rail inspected the line on Monday night and early into Tuesday morning (December 5), with engineers abseiling down in the early hours of that morning to remove vegetation from the cutting.

Over the next five days, Network Rail engineers and contractors from Octavius will work around the clock to remove around 100 tonnes of clay, soil and vegetation in order to stabilise the cutting.

Excavation will begin by hand, with debris being lowered down to an engineering train via chutes before being transported away, with an excavator being brought in later in the process.

Matt Pocock, Network Rail Wessex route director, said: “I would like to say how sorry we are for the disruption passengers are experiencing following a landslip at Crewkerne Tunnel.

“We’ve experienced over 90mm of sustained heavy rain over the past 48 hours and this has resulted in movement in the earth on the cutting above the tunnel entrance which, if action isn’t taken, could spill over onto the tracks and risk the safety of passenger services.

“Our team of engineers are already working extremely hard day and night and in all conditions to remove over 100 tonnes of debris and will be doing all they can so we can reopen the line and passengers can resume travelling on Monday morning (December 11).”

The Crewkerne Tunnel was previously repaired by Network Rail in October 2021 following a separate landslip, with the line being shut for five days to allow new drainage to be installed and six-metre-long “soil nails” to be hammered into the embankment to prevent significant amounts of debris from falling onto the track.

Network Rail is already carrying out schedule maintenance on the same line between Yeovil Junction and Salisbury, which was due to finish over the coming weekend.

With these two simultaneous infrastructure works taking place, there will be no SWR services at all between Exeter St David’s and Salisbury until Monday morning (December 11).

Passengers wishing to travel across the West Country between these two settlements will instead have to use Great Western Railway (GWR) via Taunton or Bristol Temple Meads, via Westbury.

But with more heavy rain forecast from Thursday (December 7), remaining rail services and rail replacement bus services may be disrupted – with SWR advising passengers not to travel unless absolutely essential.

Steve Tyler, SWR’s performance and planning director, said: “We’re really sorry that the emergency closure of Crewkerne Tunnel means we won’t be able to serve stations between Salisbury and Exeter St David’s until Monday.

“We know how disruptive this is for customers in run up to Christmas, so our teams are examining potential ways to run an extremely limited service between Salisbury and Yeovil Junction via Westbury in the coming days.

“Please check our website,, for the latest updates.”

Cathole Bridge Road, which runs near the railway tunnel along the southern edge of Crewkerne, remains closed between the A30 Chard Road and the B3165 Lyme Road as a result of flooding.

Somerset Council estimates that the closure will be in place until Friday (December 8), according to its official roadworks portal – but that may be pushed back in light of further heavy rain which is currently forecast.

The land along the railway line between the tunnel and Crewkerne railway station will be subject to significant housing development in the coming years, with 150 homes being planned at the Maple Grove site on Lang Road and a further 300 homes being mooted on the A356 Station Road.

Campaigners are currently pushing for an additional Chard Parkway station between Crewkerne and Axminster, which would handle passenger from new housing in Chard, the neighbouring villages and settlements within the Dorset national landscape (formerly area of outstanding natural beauty, or AONB).