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Glasgow Central Station Tour: Thursday 17 September 2015

The Scottish Region were privileged to be able to visit Glasgow Central Station for a tour of the station, including parts not normally open to the public.

Following a safety briefing by our tour guide, Vic McLaughlin, the group was given a brief history of railway development in Glasgow and the origins of Central Station.

Railway development in Glasgow dates back to 1983 when the first Garnkirk & Glasgow Railway opened for business linking the Monklands coalfields to St. Rollox in the north of the City. In 1840 the Glasgow, Paisley & Greenock railway and the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr railway both opened with a terminus at Bridge Street, just south of the river Clyde. In 1842 the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway opened with its Glasgow station at Queen Street.

Mr. Vic McLaughlin of Network Rail pointing out an interesting feature of Central Station.d

Mr. Vic McLaughlin of Network Rail pointing out an interesting feature of Central Station.

© John Fender 2015

Glasgow was a developing city with significant growth in industry and commerce, as well as having an increasing population and further railways were built to serve the increasing traffic. There was a need for a major railway terminal in the city centre, but objections from the Clyde River Trustees, Glasgow Corporation and even the railways companies themselves delayed developments for a quarter of a century.

In 1873, the Caledonian Railway finally obtained an Act of Parliament allowing it to bridge the river Clyde and build what was then called Gordon Street Station, but was called Central Station when it opened on 1st September 1879. In achieving this, the Caledonian Railway has to make significant payments to both the Corporation of Glasgow and the Clyde River Trustees.

The new station buildings were designed by Robert Anderson and when originally built the station had 8 platforms catering for 134 trains a day. However, these soon proved inadequate to handle the traffic. An additional platform was later added and by 1889, over 350 trains a day were using the station. Traffic had grown to around 500 trains a day by 1899 and it was obvious that the station needed to be expanded.

At this time the tracks extended further into the station than they do today, leading to a cramped and congested concourse area. One highlight of the station is the main gates at the Gordon Street entrance. These are the original wrought and forged iron gates and have been restored to their original colours of green and gold. They had been painted black and gold at some time in the past.

A view of the arches underneath Glasgow Central Station.d

A view of the arches underneath Glasgow Central Station.

© John Fender 2015

Between 1901 and 1906 a major expansion of the station took place under the supervision of Donald Matheson the Chief Engineer of the Caledonian Railway. The work involved platforms 1 to 9 being extended and new platforms being built to the west of the original station and a new bridge was built across the river. The roof area was also extended the difference between the original roof and the later extension can be clearly seen today.

The original roof is supported on truss girders made from iron plates that are riveted together, whereas the later extension is supported on steel beams spanning 136 feet. Overall, there are 48,000 panes of glass in the roof making it the latest glass roof in Europe. The original glass had been supplied at a cost of 9/4d a square yard.

Mr. McLaughlin also pointed out the massive buffers that were installed. These can withstand a force of 400 tons at 10 mph and were necessary due to a slight gradient down from the bridge over the river.

In January 1919 Glasgow engineering ans shipbuilding workers went on strike for a 40 hour working week and on 31 January 1919, while negotiations were being conducted in the City Chambers, the police attacked the demonstrators outside in George Square. Fighting spread to other areas including the concourse of Central station. Such was the governments concern about industrial militancy and the revolutionary views prevailing in the area, the government ordered some 10,000 troops to the city, including tanks. The Central Station Hotel, now the Grand Central hotel, was used as the military headquarters to co-ordinate troop movements and activities. John Logie Baird made the first television broadcast from room 29 in the Central Hotel.

Heading down under the platform level, Mr. McLaughlin showed the group the area used by Royal Mail to handle mailbags and the group then proceeded to the arches under the station. These were used for grain and coal and trains were able to offload cargo via a hopper straight into the arches. Wagons and lorries could then drive up to the arches to be loaded to distribute the coal and grain. The coal arch was used up to 1967. In the early days, anthracite coal was the fuel of choice, but this had a high sulphur contend and was sooty. Following the "great smog" in London, the Clean Air Act was passed resulting is different types of coal being used.

Other arches were used as stores and all sorts of commodities, such as timber, marble and building materials were stored there. Merchants and builders could collect what they needed from the station. The group then moved down to the lower level and more store rooms were seen. Mr. McLaughlin pointed out that some 2,000 people were employed under the station in these stores and arches and that the Caledonian Railway made money from selling the various commodities.

The old disused former Glasgow Central Railway Station underneath Central station.d

The old disused former Glasgow Central Railway Station underneath Central station.

© John Fender 2015

The lower level was also where the bodies of soldiers who had fallen during the early battles of World War One were brought. In those days, the bodies were simply wrapped in a blanket and carried on a stretcher. Relatives would go to the lower levels to identify their relatives and arrange for collection for burial or cremation. This was seen as particularly harrowing for those involved and for the relatives, so the government changed its policy so that the fallen would be buried near to where they fell.

Heading along towards the low level station, the group was taken to see the abandoned station that still exists below the main station. This station was originally built for by the Glasgow Central Railway and trains ran from Maryhill to Lanarkshire. The line was closed in 1959 and the last train used the tracks in 1964. Part of the line was re-opened in 1979 as the Argyle Line.

The group then returned to the main station where a collection was made, the proceeds of which were donated to charity. The party then proceeded to the Grand Central hotel for a wine reception.

For more information on Glasgow Central Station Tours and to book a ticket, please visit Glasgow Central Tours.

The Scottish Region would like to thank Mr. Vic McLaughlin and Paul Lyons of Network Rail for faciliating the event and especially to Mr. McLaughlin for bringing the history of the station to life so vividly.

Report and photograph by John Fender.


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