Bristol to Taunton Line

Bristol to Taunton Line

The Bristol to Taunton Line is a main line railway in England, which links the Great Western Main Line at Bristol Temple Meads to the London to Penzance Line at Taunton, Somerset. Passenger services are operated by First Great Western and CrossCountry.


The line was built by the Bristol and Exeter Railway with Isambard Kingdom Brunel as the engineer. The section from Bristol to Bridgwater was opened on 14 June 1841 and it was completed to Taunton on 1 July 1842. It was initially operated by the Great Western Railway as an extension of their line from London Paddington station and formed part of the RailGauge|84 broad gauge trunk route to Penzance on which through trains were run from 1867, but in the same year the section between Highbridge and Durston was reconstructed as a mixed gauge line to accommodate local RailGauge|ussg gauge traffic. The remainder of the line was laid with mixed gauge by 1 June 1875 and broad gauge trains ceased operation on 20 May 1892.cite book| last = MacDermot| first = E T| title = History of the Great Western Railway, volume II 1863-1921| publisher = Great Western Railway| date = 1931| location = London]

The Bristol and Exeter Railway took over its own operations from 1 May 1849 but amalgamated with the Great Western Railway on 1 January 1876.

On 1 July 1906 the Castle Cary Cut-Off line was opened which enabled London to Taunton trains to run on a shorter route instead of the "Great Way Round" through Bristol. The Great Western Railway was nationalised into the Western Region of British Railways on 1 January 1948 and the Bristol to Taunton Line is now part of Route 13 of the Network Rail system.


"The route is described from Bristol to Taunton for a passenger facing the direction of travel."

Bristol to Weston-super-Mare

"Communities served: Bristol (including the suburb of Bedminster) – Nailsea – Backwell – Yatton – Weston-super-Mare (including the suburb of Worle)"

On leaving Bristol Temple Meads the line passes through suburban Bedminster and Parson Street railway stations. [cite book| last = Oakley| first = Mike| title = Bristol Railway Stations 1840-2005| publisher = The Dovecote Press| date = 2002| location = Wimbourne| id = ISBN 1-904349-09-9] This section of the route has three tracks and, as far as Bedminster, the centre track is reversible to give some flexibility for regulating trains in the Temple Meads area. After passing through a short, deep cutting at Parson Street, the Portbury branch line diverges on the right. At this point Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge can be seen in the distance on the right.

The line climbs westwards up past Long Ashton village and under the A370 road to enter a cutting with Flax Bourton tunnel at the summit. The remains of Flax Bourton railway stationcite book| last = Oakley| first = Mike| title = Somerset Railway Stations| publisher = Redcliffe Press| date = 2006| location = Bristol| id = ISBN 1-904537-54-5] can be seen on the right after leaving the tunnel. The line now drops down to Nailsea and Backwell railway station, which is situated on a road bridge between Backwell on the left and Nailsea over the low hill on the right. It then continues past the isolated church at Chelvey (left) to Yatton railway station. This was once a busy junction station with branches to Clevedon (right) [cite book| last = Maggs| first = Colin G| title = The Clevedon Branch| publisher = Wild Swan Publications| date = 1987| location = Didcot| id = ISBN 0-906867-52-5] and Wells (left); the latter is now a footpath and cycleway as far as Cheddar. [cite journal| last = Sheppard| first = Geof| title = Walk the Strawberry Line|journal = Broadsheet| issue = 45| pages = 21–29| publisher = Broad Gauge Society| date = 2001]

Beyond Yatton the line runs across the low-lying North Marsh with level crossings as Hewish and Puxton, where an old signal box is retained to supervise the two level crossings. The line passes beneath the M5 Motorway approaching Puxton and then comes to Worle railway station on the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare. A short distance beyond the station is Worle Junction where a single-track branch diverges to the right to serve Weston Milton and Weston-super-Mare railway stations. There is a crossing loop at Weston-super-Mare, beyond which the single track continues to rejoin the main line at Uphill Junction.

Weston-super-Mare to Taunton

"Communities served: Weston-super-Mare – Highbridge – Burnham-on-Sea – Bridgwater – Taunton"

The line has now swung round to head south. At Uphill there is a short, deep cutting crossed by a high brick bridge built by Brunel, known locally as 'Devil's Bridge'. Beyond this lie the remains of Bleadon and Uphill railway station (right). The line is now back onto open, low-lying moors; the Mendip hills disappear to the left while the outlying promontory of Brean Down and Steep Holm island can be seen to the right.

Passing across the Somerset Levels brings the line to the site of Brent Knoll railway station with the isolated hill that it was named for close by on the left. The next open station is Highbridge and Burnham; this is situated in Highbridge but also serves co-joined Burnham-on-Sea. The Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway used to cross the line on the level just north of the station; their locomotive works were on the site of the industrial units visible to the left as the line passes through the station.

More level ground brings the line to Bridgwater railway station with the only operational goods yard on the whole line, which is mainly used for waste traffic from Hinkley Point Power Station. Beyond the station, on the right, used to be the carriage works of the Bristol and Exeter Railway [cite book| last = Maggs| first = Colin G| title = Taunton Steam| publisher = Millstream Books| date = 1991| location = Bath| id = ISBN 0-948975-26-1] but the site is now lost beneath modern industrial units. The line now crosses over the River Parrett on the Somerset Bridge and then passes below the M5 again.

The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal now joins us on our right for most of the way to Taunton. At Durston the former Yeovil branch line can be seen joining from the left. A short cutting brings the line to Cogload Junction; the line towards Taunton climbs up here and crosses above the London to Penzance Line which it then joins to complete the journey to Taunton, passing Creech St Michael and the former junction of the Chard branch line on the left. The final run into Taunton sees the River Tone appear alongside on left and the canal passes beneath line to join the river at Firepool, behind the site of the former goods yard on the same side.


Most services on the route are operated by First Great Western. Local trains generally operate from Taunton to Cardiff Central and from Weston-super-Mare to Bristol Parkway, combining to give a half-hourly service to the main stations between Weston-super-Mare and Bristol Temple Meads throughout much of the day. [cite web| title = National Rail Timetable 134|url =|format=PDF] A number of other through trains are also operated, mainly to and from London Paddington station; [cite web| title = National Rail Timetable 125|url =|format=PDF] a few services continue towards Penzance. Local trains are formed mainly from Class 150 two-car DMUs and Class 143 twin-railbuses. London services are operated using High Speed Train sets.

The other operator on the route is CrossCountry, which provides trains between Scotland or Manchester Piccadilly and Paignton, Plymouth or Penzance. [cite web| title = National Rail Timetable 51|url =|format=PDF] Trains are formed of Class 220 and Class 221 units, although a few High Speed Trains appear on the route on summer Saturdays.

Heritage trains often operate on the route on rail tours and summer weekends for several years have featured regular steam-hauled Torbay Express services.


The route has a line speed limit of 100 mph with local variations; trains from Bristol to Taunton are described as travelling in the 'down' direction. It is constructed to Route Availability 8 and freight loading gauge W8. It has Multiple Aspect Signals (MAS) and Track Circuit Block (TCB) controlled from the panel signal box at Bristol. A local signal box at Puxton supervises the two level crossings at Hewish and Puxton, and an emergency panel at Weston-super-Mare railway station can take control of the section from Hewish to Uphill Junction if required. The route is not electrified.

The single-track Weston-super-Mare branch line is considered to be a cause of delay in the area and Network Rail plans to double the eastern portion of this in 2009. Consideration is also being given to reinstating the third platform at Weston-super-Mare subject to third-party funding becoming available. [cite web| title = Network Rail Business Plan 2007: Route 13| publisher =Network Rail|url =| format =PDF]

ee also

Disused railway stations (Bristol to Exeter Line)


Further reading

*cite book| last= Avon County Planning Department| title = Railways in Avon, a short history of their development and decline 1832 - 1982| publisher = Avon County Planning Department| date = 1983| location = Bristol| id = ISBN 0-860631-84-2
*cite book| last = Conolly| first = W Philip| title = British Railways Pre-grouping Atlas and Gazeteer| publisher = Ian Allan| location = Shepperton| id = 0-711003-20-3
*cite book| last = Cooke| first = RA| title = Track Layout Diagrams of the GWR and BR WR, Section 16: West Somerset| publisher = RA Cooke| date = 1979| location = Harwell

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