A severely damaged stretch of railway near Dover will need to be completely replaced with a new viaduct before trains can run again.
The £44.5m project to rebuild the line has already begun and Network Rail engineers say they are targeting December to reopen the railway to trains. Work to protect the existing structure and cliffs has been underway since the start of the year and preliminary construction on the 235m-long viaduct started last week.
MP for Dover and Deal Charlie Elphicke said: “"This is a very big project and it will cost more than £40m. The works will take a long time. I completely understand how difficult this has been for rail travellers. Yet once the works are complete, we will have a more resilient railway line. I will do all I can to see the project keeps to the timetable and we get our rail services back on track as soon as we can."
Network Rail’s route managing director Alasdair Coates said: “Passengers have been incredibly patient while their railway has been closed and I want to assure them that everyone at Network Rail and Costain has been working incredibly hard on a plan to reopen the railway as quickly as possible.
“We hope to have trains running again in December. As with all projects of this scale, and this kind of exposed location, we will face challenges with the weather and the ground we are working on, but I am confident this is the right plan and one that will give us a strong railway, years into the future.”
Southeastern’s Managing Director, David Statham, said: “A huge thank you to all passengers affected by this, it’s been a testing time for everyone involved and while you’ve been severely inconvenience by the closure of the line, you’ve been patient throughout and for that we’re very grateful.
“We’ve worked hard since the closure of the line to provide our passengers with a service that enables them to travel to where they need to go. We’ve restructured our timetable, continued to adapt it where and when we can, and have worked to provide special train services, bus replacements and free car parking where it is most needed for those who are most affected.
“Now with a date in sight, we will work with Charlie Elphicke MP and the Dover Taskforce to maintain these services and ensure our passengers receive the information they need.”
The new viaduct will be 235 metres long, supported by on 134 concrete columns sunk into the beach. It will be designed to last 120 years and will be protected by rock armour.
Network Rail’s Steve Kilby, who is leading the project, said: “The railway at this location was originally built on a timber viaduct and our modern, concrete viaduct will follow the same principles – although it will be hidden behind a wall of rock sea defences. We will also put a new footbridge back where the old one was, so people can continue to enjoy Shakespeare beach.
“In addition to rebuilding the railway, we are also defending almost 750m of the sea wall with more than 90,000 tonnes of rock – the same weight as two modern cross-Channel ferries.
“It’s a massive job but we have a good plan in place and we are already cracking on.”