Somerset residents remain in limbo over new railway stations - 60 years after their original stations closed

Planned site of the new Somerton railway station, seen from the Ricksey Lane bridge
-Credit: (Image: Daniel Mumby)


People living on the Somerset Levels remain in limbo over plans to restore rail services to their area - 60 years after their original stations closed. The towns of Langport and Somerton were originally served by trains on the Taunton to Castle Cary line, but their stations were closed in the 1960s during the infamous Beeching cuts.

Funding for a feasibility study into a new station to serve both communities was agreed in May 2021, with South Somerset District Council and local parish and town councils providing funding on top of a £50,000 grant from central government. This study - known as a strategic outline business case (SOBC) - was put together by the Langport Transport Group and was submitted to the Department for Transport (DfT) in February 2022.

Since July 2022, no-one from the government has provided any update on this matter - not even prime minister Rishi Sunak, who was quizzed about the project at Prime Minister's Questions in March. With the general election campaign now in full swing, and parliament due to go on summer recess soon after the result, residents will be left waiting until at least the autumn to find out whether rail services could one day return to either town.

Here's everything you need to know:

What stations did Somerton and Langport lose under the Beeching cuts?

The original Somerton-railway station site
The original Somerton-railway station site

The Beeching cuts - named after Dr. Richard Beeching - began under the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan in the mid-1960s and subsequently continued under Harold Wilson's Labour government which won power in 1964. In a bid to prevent huge losses within British Rail, Dr. Beeching recommended that one-third of all existing stations and rail lines should be closed - including huge swathes across the south west of England.

Somerton railway station had opened to the public on July 2, 1906 as part of the Langport and Castle Cary railway - a sub-section of the Great Western Railway, providing a stopping service on numerous towns and villages between Castle Cary and Taunton. Located down the narrow Station Path, a short walk from the town centre, the station closed to passengers on September 10, 1962 - though freight services continued to call there until July 6, 1964.

All that remains of the original station today is a 350-metre siding, which can just about be seen from the Langport Road overbridge. Langport had the good fortune of being served by two railway stations - Langport East, on the same Taunton to Castle Cary line, and Langport West, which lay on the Yeovil to Taunton line.

Entrance to the Westover Trading Estate
Entrance to the Westover Trading Estate

Langport East closed on September 10, 1962, with the site being recently redeveloped into the Station Court residential estate. Langport West clung on until June 15, 1964, with the site subsequently being turned into the Westover Trading Estate.

The entirety of the Yeovil to Taunton line was removed in subsequent years, with part of the trackbed being used to construct the A3088 Cartgate link road, which connects Yeovil to the A303.

What does the business case say?

Existing footpath from the new Langport station sit to Eastover
Existing footpath from the new Langport station sit to Eastover

The business case from the Langport Transport Group identified four possible sites where a new railway station could be delivered to serve either town and the surrounding villages:

  • The original Langport East station site and adjoining land (known as Langport Option 1)

  • Land to the north of Huish Episcopi Academy, off the A372 Wincanton Road (known as Langport Option 1)

  • Land off Tengore Lane, in the neighbouring parish of Long Sutton

  • Land between Ricksey Lane and the B3165 Sutton Road in Somerton

Proposed sites for new station
Proposed sites for new station

Langport Option 1 was subsequently excluded (due in part to the development on the former site), while Tengore Lane was deemed to be too isolated from either town to provide a sustainable option. This leaves the DfT with a straight choice between Somerton and Langport for the new station (though, in Langport's case, the station will technically be in the neighbouring parish of Huish Episcopi).

Either new station is forecast to attract more than 235,000 passengers per year - more than annually used Castle Cary railway station before the coronavirus pandemic. In selecting either option, the government would be closing the 28-mile gap between the nearest stations on this line - the longest gap between stations anywhere between London and Penzance.

A spokesman for the Langport Transport Group said: "The project is aligned with the vision and requirements of the government's restoring your railway fund and is supported by national and local organisations. It is a strong case that will reconnect Langport, Somerton and their surrounding communities to the rail network and end this area’s 60-year isolation from the rail network.

Pedestrian link from Patch Meadows onto Ricksey Lane in Somerset
Pedestrian link from Patch Meadows onto Ricksey Lane in Somerset

"There are substantial benefits generated by the new station, particularly in terms of new users to rail, and the scope for further study of the benefits, including regeneration of the local economy, building social cohesion, improving access to education and decarbonising transport.

"Both the Langport Option 2 and Somerton rail options are recommended to be taken forward to the next stage of business case development."

Where could Somerton's new railway station - and how much would it cost?

Entrance to new Somerton railway station site
Entrance to new Somerton railway station site

If Somerton was selected to go forward, the new station would be built east of Ricksey Lane, at the south-western edge of the town. Land on the northern side of the railway line, accessed from Ricksey Lane, is already within Network Rail's ownership, and there is a pedestrian link from the nearby Patch Meadows housing development.

Since Ricksey Lane is narrow, with very few passing places, it is most likely that access will be from the B3165 Sutton Road on the southern side of the lane. There are currently no plans to build housing on the land to the north of the station site - and unlike the plans for Wellington's new station, such development may not be necessary to unlock the Somerton station site.

The station site is within a ten- to 15-minute walk of the town centre, though some improvements may need to be made along Sutton Road to provide sufficient pavements for pedestrians.

The business case estimates that it will cost £15.8m (at late-2021 prices) to deliver the new station here - of which £12.9m will be needed for the station itself and £2.9m for the access and other highways improvements (which would most likely be met by Somerset Council).

This is based on the delivery of two platforms at 115 metres each, lifts and a footbridge to connect the two platforms, car parking, electric vehicle charging points and "the usual station facilities", such as ticket machines and a waiting area for passengers.

Where could Langport's new railway station go - and how much would it cost?

If Langport was given the green light instead, its new station would be built east of the A372 Wincanton Road, north of Huish Episcopi Academy. While the pavement on one side of the road is very narrow, the site does have a narrow pedestrian access to the town centre via Eastover (near the former Langport East site), and the A378 has a number of pedestrian crossings already in place with wide pavements.

There is scope for linking up the pedestrian link to the station with other active travel improvements, tying into the council's promotion of Cocklemoor and the River Parrett Trail. The business case estimates that it will cost £23.5m (at late-2021 prices) to deliver the new station here, to the same specification as at Somerton - of which £12.1m will be needed for the station itself and £11.3m for the access and other highways improvements.

This higher cost is most likely because of the cost of creating road improvements to the A372 to provide a safe access to the site, and the constraints to delivering the northern platform so near the existing homes on Barrymore Close.

What services would call at the new station?

A Great Western Railway (GWR) Hitachi train
A Great Western Railway (GWR) Hitachi train -Credit:Greg Martin/ Cornwall Live

Whichever site ends up being selected, the new station will be served predominantly by Great Western Railway (GWR) services, running between Exeter St. David's and London Paddington via Taunton and Castle Cary. Timetabling studies will need to be undertaken to see how often services would be able to stop in each direction, with the DfT keen that any new station does not lead to longer journey times to and from the capital.

However, an additional stopper service could serve the station from Go-op, the UK's first co-operatively owned train company. The company intends to begin operating passenger services between Taunton and Westbury from the end of 2024 - and expressed an interest back in December 2023 of using the Somerton site as a battery depot for charging its electric trains.

What has the local MP done to date?

Sarah-Dyke
Sarah-Dyke

Restoring rail services to Somerton and Langport was a passion project of David Warburton, who served as the Conservative MP for Somerton and Frome between his election in May 2015 and his resignation in June 2023. Liberal Democrat Sarah Dyke, who won the resulting by-election in July 2023, has taken up the cause and has pushed the government regularly for updates, including a direct challenge to the prime minister in mid-March.

Shortly before parliament was dissolved after the general election was called, Ms Dyke presented a petition to the House of Commons signed by 655 of her constituents, calling for urgent clarity from the government. Ms Dyke - who is standing for the Lib Dems in the new Glastonbury and Somerton constituency - said: "I'm committed to doing everything I can to make the proposed station a reality and, if I'm re-elected, I'll continue campaigning on this issue.

"The people of Langport and Somerton deserve an update from the government on this project and the fact that they haven’t received one speaks volumes about the Conservatives’ disregard for communities such as ours. Building a new station for the Somerset Levels would give more than 50,000 people easy access to the rail network, provide a boost to the local economy and reduce our reliance on cars. It’s time to get this vital project off the ground."

What happens next?

The proposed new Langport railway station site
The proposed new Langport railway station site

Under the rules of the pre-election period (also known as purdah), the government cannot announce any new policies or spending until after the election has been held - meaning no update will be provided by the DfT until after July 4.

Once the new government has been formed, there will be a brief window for an update to be provided directly to the new MP before the House of Commons goes on recess over the summer (though the exact dates of the recess have not been confirmed). Therefore, it is most likely that any update on the business case will come in September at the earliest.