history about Glasgow Subway

The Glasgow Subway is an underground metro line in Glasgow, Scotland. Opened on 14 December 1896, it is the third-oldest underground metro system in the world after the London Underground and the Budapest Metro. It is the only heavy rail underground metro system in the United Kingdom outside London, and also the only one in the United Kingdom which operates completely underground. It is also one of the very few railways in the world with a track running gauge of 4 ft (1,219 mm). Formerly a cable railway, the Subway was later electrified, but its twin circular lines were never expanded. The line was originally known as the Glasgow District Subway, but was later renamed Glasgow Subway Railway. It was so called when taken over by the Glasgow Corporation who renamed it the Glasgow Underground in 1936. Despite this rebranding, many Glaswegians continued to refer to the network as “the Subway”. In 2003 the name “Subway” was officially readopted by its operator, the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT). A £40,000 study examining the feasibility of an expansion into the city’s south side is in progress.[2]

The system is not the oldest underground railway in Glasgow; that distinction belongs to a 3.1 mi (5.0 km) section of the Glasgow City and District Railway opened in 1863, now part of the North Clyde Line of the suburban railway network, which runs in a sub-surface tunnel under the city centre between High Street and west of Charing Cross. Another major section of underground suburban railway line in Glasgow is the Argyle Line, which was formerly part of the Glasgow Central Railway
Parking – Park and Ride stations
The Glasgow District Subway Company began construction of the underground in 1891 and opened on 14 December 1896, the subway was powered by a clutch-and-cable system, with one cable for each direction. The cable was driven from a steam-powered plant between West Street and Shields Road stations. There was no additional cable to allow trains to reach the depot; instead, they were transferred to and from the running lines by crane operating over a pit at the Govan workshops. This also meant that the two tracks could be completely separate, with no points anywhere. The company’s headquarters were in the upper rooms at St Enoch subway station; this distinctive ornate building still stands in St Enoch Square and was subsequently used as a travel information office by SPT and is now a coffee shop.[5]

When the Subway first opened, single-carriage four axle (twin truck) trains were operated.[6] An accident on the opening day entailed the closure of the Subway until 19 January 1897.[7] The 20 original wooden bodied carriages were built by the Oldbury Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, of Oldbury, Worcestershire. Many continued in service until 1977 in an upgraded form. A further 10 were delivered by the same manufacturer in 1897. From 1898, second four axle (trailer) carriages without a cable gripper mechanism were added, though they were considerably shorter than the front (gripper) carriage. These additional carriages, eventually numbering 30, were built by Hurst Nelson & Company, Motherwell, Lanarkshire. These carriages were soon expanded to match the length of the front carriages, although carriage 41T has been restored to its original length and cut longitudinally and can be seen preserved at Buchanan Street subway station and number 39T is preserved in the Riverside Museum. Most of the gripper carriages were subsequently converted to electric traction in 1935. All carriages were originally built with lattice gates (instead of doors) at the ends; many were converted to air-operated sliding doors in the 1960s, but a few retained the gates until 1977.[8]

All 15 stations were built with island platforms. The trains were thus built with doors on one side only. Power for the electric lighting in the trains was supplied by two parallel wall-mounted rails (known as “T-irons”) at window level on the non-platform side of the trains; trains were originally equipped with wheels to pick up the electricity but changed to skids at electrification.[9] The trains remained cable-hauled until 1935, though the anachronistic way of supplying power for the lighting continued until 1977. The lighting circuit was also part of the operation of the signalling system.[10]

Opening times of the Glasgow subway have varied through the years, now open late midweek every day and 10.00am-6.00pm on Sunday following a trial period between April 2011 – 2012 when the subway was open from 9.00am-6.30pm.

West Street subway station in 1966 with red painted train
Glasgow Corporation took over the company in 1923. In 1935, the existing trains were converted to electric power delivered by a third rail at 600 volts, direct current.[11] From March until December 1935, clockwise trains were cable-hauled, whilst anti-clockwise ones were electric. The trains lost their original plum and cream-coloured liveries, being painted red and white instead. From the 1950s the trains became all red — in a shade similar to that of London buses. During the early 1970s, trailer carriage number 41 was repainted in the original 1896 livery.

After the Beeching Axe of the 1960s, both St Enoch and Buchanan Street mainline stations were closed and demolished, However, there was no direct connection between the underground and mainline stations of Buchanan Street as they were over 0.5 kilometres (0.31 mi) distant. The Subway had had no direct passenger connection to the national railway network — a major weakness — although Buchanan Street and Merkland Street stations were a short walk from Queen Street and Partickhill British Rail stations respectively.

Before the 1977–80 modernisation, the stations had a distinctive earthy odour.[clarification needed] The trains (mostly dating back to 1896) were always formed with two carriages — the front (motor) carriage with red leather seats and the rear (trailer) carriage with brown leather seats.[11] Smoking was permitted in the rear carriage only. The backs of the seats were attached to the sides of the carriages, which moved semi-independently from the floor (to which the seats themselves were attached); passengers were rocked forwards and backwards while the carriage ‘shoogled’ them around. Passengers always entered at the middle of the train (“Q[ueue] Here” signs were painted on the platforms), leaving by the front door of the front carriage or the rear door of the rear carriage.

By the 1970s, the stations were very dilapidated. Stations were marked with circular signs often attached to lampposts. This sign had a white background in the top three quarters (containing a large red letter “U”) and black in the bottom quarter (containing the word “UNDERGROUND” and an arrow to the station entrance). No station had an escalator; Kelvinbridge had a lift. Each station had a ticket office (often very small, little more than a booth with a window). The ticketing system was identical to that of most cinemas of the era, with tickets emerging from slots in the counters of the station ticket offices (the words “Control Systems Ltd” or “Automaticket Ltd” were printed on all tickets). Tickets were invariably collected on leaving the train. From the time of being taken over by the Corporation until 1977, the staff were issued with tramway uniforms; these were dark green and had a black braid on the cuffs which had been introduced at the time of the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901.[12][13]

Glasgow’s Museum of Transport has an area dedicated to the subway, with models showing the operation of the clutch-and-cable system, as well as a full-scale replica of part of a subway station, complete with different rolling stock of the pre-modernisation era.
Since modernisation[edit]
The line was formally reopened by Queen Elizabeth II on 1 November 1979. However, rebuilding work was still incomplete, and the line did not reopen to passengers until 16 April 1980. Thirty-three new carriages were built by Metro Cammell at its Washwood Heath works in Birmingham, and equipped with GEC electric motors. The exterior design of the trains was carried out in partnership with Glasgow School of Art, which, according to SPT publicity films of the day, was largely responsible for the trains’ “cute” appearance. Eight additional centre-trailer carriages were built in 1992 (the body shells by Hunslet Gyro Mining Transport Ltd in Leeds for completion by Hunslet-Barclay Ltd in Kilmarnock), making all trains three carriages long. Smoking has never been permitted on the modernised system.

A new corporate identity was introduced (following contemporary fashions of the 1970s), with trains painted bright orange, stations largely rebuilt with dark brown bricks, orange-yellow wall tiles and other surfaces in off-white, plus brown uniforms for the staff. Large, illuminated orange “U” signs were placed at station entrances (since removed, with the re-adoption of the name “Subway”). Since the 1990s, ongoing renovation work has resulted in most stations adopting individual colour schemes. The trains’ initial orange livery of 1980 (with a white stripe) was soon replaced by a darker, more durable shade of orange, itself now being replaced by SPT’s latest carmine-red and cream livery.

The system was resignalled using Vital Processor Interlocking in 1996 and subsequently an upgraded Supervisory & Control System was installed

  1. Hi Simon, Interesting article about Glasgow. Because the rail gauge is not standard, I wonder how they replace old carriages with new models?

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