Overnight sleeper trains between London and Cornwall will be cancelled between Mondays and Thursdays for eight weeks due to a complication with engineering work, Network Rail has announced.

Disruption to Great Western Railway’s (GWR) Night Riviera service begins next week, with the normal timetable not resuming until Monday March 21.

Network Rail is building a 209-metre long shelter on a stretch of track between Dawlish and Holcombe, Devon, to improve protection from falling rocks.

Engineers recently discovered that poor ground conditions mean work to install the foundations cannot be carried out from the side of the railway, so a machine must be positioned on the track, blocking the route.

Network Rail western route and strategic operations director Mike Gallop said: “The worksite at Parsons Tunnel is in a difficult location, surrounded by sheer cliffs, the sea and a tunnel.

“While it is disappointing to need to close the railway overnight for this period, the safety of those working on the project and our passengers is paramount and we have concluded the piling for this project is most safely achieved by using a rail-mounted piling machine.”

Mr Gallop added that the work has been timed to ensure weekend travel is not affected and the disruption ends before Easter.

GWR managing director Mark Hopwood said: “Our Night Riviera Sleeper service is extremely popular and provides an important link between London and Devon and Cornwall, and we are sorry for the disruption that this vital engineering work will cause.

A GWR train
The move is to enable essential engineering works (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“The rockfall shelter extension is a key piece of work that in the long run will greatly improve the reliability of train services in the future.”

Mr Hopwood explained that the rail industry would normally focus on reducing services at weekends, but the coronavirus pandemic means carrying out the engineering work on weeknights “will cause the least disruption”.

He added: “We look forward to this phase of the work being completed and restoring the world famous Night Riviera Sleeper service back to full operation.”

Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris said: “While it is disappointing that we will be seeing line closures to get this vital work done, I have been assured by Network Rail that every effort has been made to minimise disruption while ensuring the work can be done safely.

“I would ask everyone to bear with Network Rail through this disruption. In the end we will be the winners with our iconic railway line properly futureproofed.”

The Night Riviera, which runs between London Paddington and Penzance, will continue to operate on Fridays and Sundays as normal.

It is one of only two overnight rail services in the UK.

The other, the Caledonian Sleeper, runs between London and Scotland.