2 February 2015

The Harbury tunnel and cutting landslide in Central England

Posted by Dave Petley

The Harbury cutting and tunnel landslide

An unsually large railway slope landslide occurred on Saturday afternoon at the site of the Harbury cutting and tunnel, on the train line between Leamington Spa and Banbury in Warwickshire, Central England.  The railway line is blocked.  The Network Rail press release about the incident described it as being “extremely significant” and estimated that a volume of about 350,000 cubic metres of debris will need to be removed from the site to reopen the line.  The images of the landslide are impressive:


Harbury tunnel

Network Rail image


The press release also suggests that the landslide is still moving and that the tunnel itself has been affected, so this may be quite complicated to put right.

In the UK there is a large community of railway enthusiasts.  One of their websites has a discussion from four years ago about the Harbury cutting and tunnel site, which includes this image:

Harbury Tunnel



The tunnel is in the background.  But perhaps most interesting is this historic image of the Harbury Tunnel and cutting being dug in April 1884:

The caption for the above photograph reads:

“The problem of slippages in the very deep cutting of Harbury resulted in the GWR taking radical action. The dark areas adjacent to the line indicate what is left of the original cutting. As can be seen the GWR widened the cutting to create a more gentle slope adjacent to the line. The track is clearly standard gauge yet they are formed using the Broad Gauge method of construction of using longitudinal timbers under the rails with ties at six to eight feet apart.  April 1884”

This site appears to have suffered some instability during the winter storms of February 2014, and news reports at the time suggested that the line was closed for a while.  The cutting itself was constructed in 1847 and was for a while the deepest man-made cutting in the world, dug of course entirely manually.