It was built in the 1970s to give Bristol a station on the railway running from London to South Wales, which passes just north of the city. There were two reasons for this: the trains to London were quicker than on the longer route from Temple Meads via Bath and Chippenham, and a larger car park could be provided than at Temple Meads. The name "Parkway" has since been applied to other out-of-town stations.
The station opened on May 1, 1972 with temporary buildings. When a permanent station was built, it was architecturally unimpressive: a single low building with footbridge access to the platforms. On July 1, 2001 a new building and footbridge opened, with lifts for disabled access to the platform and a larger refreshment and waiting area on an upper level.
The station has also been identified as a possible northern terminus for a light rail system in the Bristol area.