PASSENGERS are being warned of disruption on the railway line between Taunton and Exeter St Davids when it is closed to trains for almost three weeks from the middle of next month.

Great Western Railway is putting alternative arrangements in place for passengers during engineering maintenance works on Whiteball Tunnel, at Sampford Arundel.

The scheme is one of a series of works that will affect journeys through the South West.

The Taunton-Exeter route will be closed to trains from Monday, February 18 to Friday, March 8.

And further work at Marley Tunnel will result in a reduced rail service between Plymouth and Exeter.

A Great Western Railway spokesman said long distance services between the South West and London Paddington will be diverted around the work, adding up to 60 minutes to journey times. Replacement buses will operate to intermediate stations.

Rail users are also being advised that ahead of the tunnel maintenance, track renewal work between Newton Abbot and Plymouth will close the railway on the three Sundays between January 20 and February 17, with replacement buses laid on.

Track renewal work is also to take place between Truro and Penzance, including the St Ives branch line, over the weekend of February 9 and 10 and on the Barnstaple branch line on February 2, 3, 9 and 10.

GWR operations director Rob Mullen said: "We would like to thank passengers in advance for their patience as Network Rail continues its Rail Upgrade Plan to maintain and modernise the railway in the South West.

"New Intercity express trains are already operating on the route, adding up to 24 per cent more seats per train, with more new trains on the way.

"This work will ensure we can take advantage of the full benefit of these trains with a more resilient network."

During the engineering works, where trains are able to operate they may do so to a reduced and amended timetable and customers are advised to plan their journey in advance.

During the works, trains from Bristol and the north will terminate at Taunton, with buses transporting people from Somerset's county town to Tiverton Parkway and Exeter St Davids, while a reduced service will run between Exeter and Plymouth and a small number of evening trains will run from Exeter to Penzance.

Whiteball Tunnel, which was designed by Brunel, was the scene of the first ever 100mph train, when the barrier was beaten by The City of Truro in May 1904.