IT HAS been Scotland’s railway cathedral, serving commuters and long-distance travellers alike for 133 years from the age of steam to today’s hi-tech tilting trains.
And Glasgow Central was yesterday blessed with a new accolade – becoming the busiest British station outside London.
Nearly 25 million passengers crossed Central’s vast concourse last year, a million more than in 2010, according to new Office of Rail Regulation figures.
The boost helped the station to leapfrog Birmingham New Street to take ninth place overall, behind King’s Cross in London.
Owner Network Rail said two new platforms on a former car park had helped to increase passenger numbers by enabling the station to handle more trains.
The platforms were originally earmarked for the now-shelved Glasgow Airport rail link, but are used by services to the Clyde coast, such as Ayr and Gourock.
More passengers also used more frequent services to Shotts and Kilmarnock, cementing Central’s status as the hub for the largest suburban rail network outside London.
Its long-distance trains include Virgin’s tilting Pendolinos to London, while other operators serve Manchester and Birmingham.
However, Scotland’s two other major stations are not far behind Central, with Edinburgh Waverley growing by 600,000 passengers to nearly 20 million. Passenger numbers at Queen Street station in Glasgow rose by a similar number to 19.7 million.
Professor Dugald Cameron, author of Glasgow Central – Central to Glasgow, said its creators had remarkable foresight when it was built in 1879 and extended in 1906.
He said: “It was a very fine piece of design by Donald Matheson, the Caledonian Railway’s great chief engineer.
“It has stood the test of time for well over 100 years and shows vision and competence in the way passengers are funnelled towards the trains.”
Prof Cameron added that he had a fondness and fascination for the station, which has also been an important social hub.
He said a 16in shell in the centre of the concourse – now moved to the war memorial beside the main entrance – was a famous meeting place for many.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “At Glasgow Central in recent years, passenger facilities have been continually improved, while capacity at the station has also been increased with the creation of two new platforms.
A spokesman for ScotRail, which operates most trains at Central, said: “We are running more services than ever before to meet the increasing demand for rail transport.”
Scotland’s transport minister, Keith Brown, said: “Today’s figures, which show Glasgow Central as the busiest station outside London, reflect the increasing demand for rail services in Scotland, and we will continue to make improvements with our industry partners to make rail travel an attractive transport option.”