The story of the Edinburgh - Glasgow mainline railway

Trainspotters gather to see the Flying Scotsman at Waverley station, Edinburgh, in May 1964. Picture: TSPL

Trainspotters gather to see the Flying Scotsman at Waverley station, Edinburgh, in May 1964. Picture: TSPL

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IT REMAINS the busiest railway in Scotland by passenger numbers, and is currently undergoing a major rennovation.

The Edinburgh to Glasgow mainline via Falkirk High is a pillar of the Scottish economy, used by thousands of commuters each day.

Passengers queue for a spring holiday special train at Waverley station in April 1966. Picture: TSPL

Passengers queue for a spring holiday special train at Waverley station in April 1966. Picture: TSPL

Opening

The building of a railway between the two cities was finally authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1838 following several years of public discussion. The success of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, led to demand across Britain for new inter-city routes.

Construction work of the 46-mile line took almost four years. It was no easy task. To ensure an almost perfectly level route, numerous cuttings were dug, four substantial viaducts were built and three tunnels were driven through hills and solid rock.

Members of the public were invited to walk through the Queen Street tunnel on New Year’s Day 1842 to satisfy growing interest in the project. The line opened to regular traffic on February 21 that year, following a ceremonial opening two days earlier.

Mr W Stott operates the signal control box at Waverley station in April 1966. Picture: TSPL

Mr W Stott operates the signal control box at Waverley station in April 1966. Picture: TSPL

The railway put an end to the slow and cumbersome stagecoaches that had linked Glasgow and Edinburgh for more than a century, and would eventually drive business away from the canal network as well.

Ironically, the project’s engineers had wanted to build a bridge over the Forth and Clyde canal - but the canal’s owners refused. A tunnel under the waterway had to be constructed instead.

Early years

The Scotsman reported in February 1842 that “it rarely happens that a railway can be brought into the centre of a great city”, as it announced the opening of Queen Street station in Glasgow. But the original Edinburgh terminus at Haymarket was greeted with rather less enthusiasm. Even then, the newspaper hoped the new railway would be promptly extended into the centre of town. An extension to North Bridge was duly completed in 1846, and work on building the present Waverley station began in 1868.

A train crash on the Edinburgh to Glasgow line near Polmont station in February 1962. Picture: TSPL

A train crash on the Edinburgh to Glasgow line near Polmont station in February 1962. Picture: TSPL

The line was hugely popular with passengers from the beginning. Initially, four services travelled in each direction from Monday-Saturday. Controversially, two services also ran on Sundays - provoking strong opposition from sabbatarians. The number of trains throughout the week quickly increased.

Passengers could choose to alight at many more intermediate stations than today - with stops at Gogar, Ratho, Winchburgh, Linlithgow, Polmont, Falkirk, Castlecary, Croy, Kirkintilloch (later Lenzie) and Bishopbriggs. The Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway Company which built the line was absorbed by the North British Railway (NBR) in 1865. The NBR would in turn be absorbed by the London & North Eastern Railway in 1923.

READ MORE: £104m Queen St station ‘transformation’ unveiled

Tragedy

A coloured image of Falkirk High station, pre-1915

A coloured image of Falkirk High station, pre-1915

There have been several high-profile train crashes on the route over the years. The most recent occurred on July 30, 1984, when a rush hour commuter service out of Waverley struck a cow that had wandered on to the tracks near Polmont from a nearby field. The collision caused all six carriages to derail, killing 13 people and injuring 61 others.

The worst accident, in terms of loss of life, took place on December 10, 1937, at Castlecary. During a snowstorm, the 5.30pm Waverley to Queen Street express collided with a late running local train from Dundee to Glasgow. The locomotive hit the rear of the standing local service at the now-closed Castlecary station at an estimated 70 mph. Four cariages were completely destroyed by the collision, killing 35 passengers and injuring 179 more. An eight-year-old girl was listed as missing.

Future improvements

The £742m Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) is the biggest project on the route since it was built 170 years ago. It will eventually see all-electric trains operating on the line, with faster journey times and more seats for passengers.

A new passenger hall at Haymarket station opened in 2014, while Queen Street will be comprehensively rebuilt by 2019.

Essential engineering works on the line, such as the temporary closure of the Whinchburgh tunnel in summer 2015, have caused major disruption for passengers. The Queen Street tunnel will close to traffic on Sunday, March 20 and not reopen until Monday, August 8. During that time, trains to Waverley will travel via Queen Street low level, but passengers from Glasgow are advised to use services to Edinburgh via Bathgate instead.

Falkirk High station in 1965. The now-demolished railway workers' cottages, built when the line opened, can be seen on the right.

Falkirk High station in 1965. The now-demolished railway workers' cottages, built when the line opened, can be seen on the right.

READ MORE: Four months of major rail disruption ahead at Glasgow Queen Street

Icicles hang from rocks on the Croy cutting on the Edinburgh - Glasgow railway line, as railwaymen A Beaton and F Fuller inspect the track in January 1959. Picture: TSPL

Icicles hang from rocks on the Croy cutting on the Edinburgh - Glasgow railway line, as railwaymen A Beaton and F Fuller inspect the track in January 1959. Picture: TSPL

Track and signalling improvements are carried out at Queen Street station in Glasgow in May 1966. Picture: TSPL

Track and signalling improvements are carried out at Queen Street station in Glasgow in May 1966. Picture: TSPL

A train departs Queen Street station in Glasgow in May 1966. Picture: TSPL

A train departs Queen Street station in Glasgow in May 1966. Picture: TSPL

A CGI artist's impression of the new Hitachi AT200 electric trains which will soon run on the Edinburgh - Glasgow mainline

A CGI artist's impression of the new Hitachi AT200 electric trains which will soon run on the Edinburgh - Glasgow mainline

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