What is a soil nail and why has this train line been closed for nine days?

Tap to watch a video report from ITV News Meridian's James Dunham (drone footage: BAM)

Over 500 soil nails are being drilled into an embankment next to a railway line to prevent further landslips.

The nails, along with rock bolts, are being secured into a stretch of track at Bearsted between Maidstone East and Ashford International because the verge is volatile.

Climate change has caused the Victorian slope to become unstable and so the railway line was closed last Saturday and won’t reopen until Monday so engineers can carry out their repairs.

Abigail Pearson is a scheme project manager,  “This piece of railway is about 170 years old and effectively the cutting is too steep so it’s become unstable. 

“We’re here to drill a lot of nails into the cutting to secure it. So it’s a combination of rock and soil, so it’s two slightly different techniques of nails going in. The rock anchors are about six meters in length and the soil nails are about 10 to 12 metres in length. ”

“We’ve had a number of failures over the last few years and back in 2019 one train was disabled when it hit a boulder so we need to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

These are the boulders at risk of falling onto the tracks if this work wasn't completed Credit: Network Rail

South Eastern Railway trains between Maidstone East and Ashford International are being replaced by buses over the nine day project.

Closing a train line for an extensive period time is a last resort, but Network Rail says it’s necessary to close the line in this way.

Darren Colderwood, Capital Delivery Director, said:

“The alternative is to turn up and do this over a series of weekends and what that means is more disruption and more noise over a long period. It’s less efficient for us and we know we are spending tax payers money so we’re trying to do it as cost-effectively as we can.”

Replacement buses are in place between Maidstone East and Ashford International during the nine-day closure Credit: ITV News

Landslips have become increasingly common across the region’s rail network.

In February, a landslip closed the Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells line while last year tracks between Edenbridge and Godstone needed repairing.

This September trains between Brighton and Hove will be disrupted for almost two weeks, with the line being closed so the cutting can be stabilised. 

On Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 September buses will replace trains between Brighton and Littlehampton.  

From 20 September until Friday 1 October, train times will change between Brighton and Littlehampton. No trains will run directly between Hove and Brighton. Trains will be diverted via Preston Park where passengers will need to change.

Chris Denham from Network Rail says we shouldn’t be surprised by the weather taking its toll on the train network.

Thanks to the work in Bearsted the line should be secured for 120 years.