ON July 6, 1964, part of the railway history in the area came to an end when the last passenger trains ran between Taunton and Yeovil.
JOHN SIMMS looks back at the events of 50 years ago and beyond.
THE Taunton to Yeovil line was the second of Taunton’s four branch lines to succumb, 110 years after the Bristol and Exeter Railway built it.
The Chard line’s closure preceded it and the Barnstaple route closed two years later. BR trains to Minehead ended in January 1971 but that line is alive and well, of course, as the West Somerset Railway.
Trains heading from Taunton to Yeovil left the main line to Bristol at Durston and ran via Langport, Thorney and Kingsbury, Martock and Montacute.
The first earthworks were built between Yeovil and Martock between 1847-49 but work was then suspended until 1852.
Heavy rain and flooding delayed construction of the line across the Levels but the line opened in October 1853.
Some 53 years later a major change occurred. The Great Western Railway – which had taken over the B&E – wanted to provide a faster route from London to the South-West than its established line via Bristol and lose its “Great Way Round” nickname in the process.
As a result, a new section of line was built between Castle Cary and past Langport at a spot which became Curry Rivel Junction and another was built from Athelney to Cogload Junction, west of Durston.
The original Langport station became Langport West and a station on the new main line was Langport East. Montacute had acquired its station in 1882 while Thorney and Kingsbury came along in 1927.
The second-named was part of GWR’s policy to open more small stations along its branch lines as bus competition grew and in 1928 Lyng Halt appeared on the remaining section of the original line between Durston and Athelney at East Lyng.
The most complicated arrangements were at Yeovil. The original station was at Hendford, then described as being on the edge of the town, although the site was no more than half a mile from the main street. But when the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth constructed its line from Castle Cary to the Dorset coast and built Pen Mill station then the trains from Taunton terminated there to give better connections.
Eventually, between Hendford and Yeovil there was Yeovil Town station at the end of a London and South Western Railway branch line from Yeovil Junction. More convenient for the town than either of the other two it was great shame that Town was another closure in the 1960s. Today the site of the station and adjacent locomotive shed is a retail park.
By the 1930s the writing on the wall was becoming increasingly visible for rural lines such as the Taunton to Yeovil.
The rural bus was becoming reliable and comfortable and went though the villages and towns – noticeable at Langport where both stations were on the edge of town – East may have technically been in Huish Episcopi.
Smaller loads were being lost to road transport, which could go door to door without transhipment, and the railways were slow to adapt. The steam trains trundled across the landscape, often with the same engines that had been doing the job for three decades, and stopped at fully staffed stations along the way. Local residents assumed it would always be like this even if they had not used the trains for years.
When the Reshaping of British Railways Report – better known after its author Dr Richard Beeching – appeared communities were suddenly put face to face with the planned closure of their local line and station.
Many protests were made but the spirit of the age was against rail travel and so the last trains ran with wreaths on the front, the local brass band playing and often packed to bursting point with a mixture of railway enthusiasts looking to make the journey before it was too late and nostalgic locals. In some cases, although obviously not that of the Taunton-Yeovil, an honoured passenger would be an elderly resident who had seen the line built as a child.
Fifty years on the route of the former line has vanished almost completely, apart from the part still very much in use through Athelney and past the site of Curry Rivel Junction. The old loop between Durston station site and Athelney is discernable, including the cutting at East Lyng where the Halt once stood. Langport West was by the Parrett and the former site at Martock is in industrial use.
The former platform from Montacute does still exist and is in railway use but has moved to the West Somerset Railway to become part of Doniford Halt, topped out by a shelter which once served at Cove Halt on the Exe Valley line (closed in October 1963).
Otherwise, the only remnants are the photographs and memories of older people in our area.