Damage to rail track could take millions of pounds to repair, it's been revealed today.
Images just released reveal the true extent of damage to the sea wall near the railway line between Dover and Folkestone.
The pictures, taken by members of Samphire Hoe Country Park, reveal several major cracks in the wall.
One major fault runs vertically down the wall, while others appear to have opened up within the structure.
The track where some of the damage can be seen. Picture: Samphire Hoe
Meanwhile, potholes have appeared trackside after damage from a high tide.
But, after Network Rail and Southeastern bosses met this morning to discuss the major work required on the railway line, it's been revealed the damage is worsening.
Managing director of Southeastern, David Statham, said at the site: “At the moment, the first thing to say is that we don’t have an estimation of how long it is going to take to repair the sea wall here at Dover.
“They’re currently working through what they have got to do to stabilise the site, what they need to do to repair it, so we don’t know how long it is going to take to get the railway back to normal.
The strength of the waves can clearly be seen. Picture: Samphire Hoe
“What I can tell you at the moment is that we’re unable to run trains between Dover and Folkestone directly.
"At present we’re running a rail replacement bus service, a shuttle service and from Dover we’re able to run a conventional mainline service into London Victoria.
“We are making every effort to keep people moving while Network Rail complete the repairs.”
Southeastern is rearranging its timetables to accommodate commuters. The new timetable should come into play on Monday.
From then, Southeastern is also offering free parking at Folkestone West to encourage those travelling from Dover and Deal to drive there where they will then pick up the high speed train.
Workmen inspect a section of the track. Picture: Samphire Hoe
A large crack runs down a wall. Picture: Samphire Hoe
Route managing director of Network Rail Alasdair Coates said the original damage was spotted by track walkers.
He added: “Once every seven days we do a maintenance track walk. The track walkers noticed a crack just before Christmas and that identified the issue.
"Since that time, when we decided to close the railway on Christmas Eve, there has been further deterioration so it was absolutely the right decision to do so.
“I myself have been down here regularly since then and each time I come down I have seen further and further erosion which is why it is so important that we get the track and temporary repairs in order as quick as we can to prevent further erosion.
Sizeable cracks can be seen in the wall. Picture: Samphire Hoe
"We are now looking to put it right by putting in temporary solutions, revetments (sloping structures) and preventing further storm damage.
"While we’re doing that, making the site safe, we’ve also got a team of work engineers, working around the clock to come up with solutions to ensure we get this back to the people of Dover."
Network Rail has contracted Costain to carry out the work.
Staff are already placing limestone in front of the damaged wall to protect it temporarily.
Mr Coates added: “We do recognise the importance for travellers and commuters in Dover and the surrounding areas and we are doing everything that we can to get a permanent solution in place.
Potholes have also opened up. Picture: Samphire Hoe
A close-up of some of the cracks. Picture: Samphire Hoe
“We are making sure we assess it properly and fully and we have a full set of engineers out here doing just that.
“Our aim to make sure the wall is even stronger. This wall has been up a substantive number of years and it has suffered unprecedented storm damage and beach erosion over the past few weeks in particular.
"That, along with other parts of the country, we’ve seen the effects the weather has had. We need to put in place a permanent solution that ties back and provides a secure future for this railway."
Mr Coates said moving the railway line would be “a very long term solution”.
“I think at the moment what we need to do is get this fixed, get it operational again and future solutions will of course be thought of and planned for in future years perhaps as part of a different exercise.
A chasm has opened up near the track. Picture: Samphire Hoe
The damage seen from above. Picture: Samphire Hoe
“We don’t know how much it will cost, but it will clearly be in the millions to put it right.
"Again, once we have identified a permanent solution we will then we able to work out final costings and have a detailed plan of that.
“We do recognise the importance to everybody to get this open again and the dedication and commitment that not just Network Rail but all its partners and supporters in Southeastern working together to help solve this challenging situation.”
Yesterday, Southeastern's train services director, Richard Dean, said passengers would receive compensation over the delays they are due to face and revealed it might be "a question of redesigning the railway".
The area around the track is prohibited. Picture: Samphire Hoe
They will access it via the beach, which is now a worksite and has been cut off to the public.
A high tide caused the cracks in the wall, which has resulted in no west-bound Southeastern services between Dover Priory and Folkestone Central.
Cracks were first discovered on Christmas Eve but engineers found two or three sinkholes along the wall with further damage caused over the past few days.
He has also asked for assurances from the Department for Transport that repairs will be a “priority and as swift as possible” whilst also calling for a review into the collapse of the sea defences.
An announcement from Network Rail Enquiries said: “Work will need to be carried out to repair 250 metres of track and rebuild the sea wall before the line can re-open.”