Glasgow Subway: Wikis


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Glasgow Subway
SPT Subway Signage2.png
Locale Glasgow
Transit type Rapid transit
Number of lines 1
Number of stations 15
Daily ridership 37,260 (2005/2006)[1]

36,055 (2006/2007)[2]

39,698 (2007/2008)[3]
Began operation 1896
Operator(s) Strathclyde Partnership for Transport
System length 10.4 km (6.5 mi)
Track gauge 4 ft  (1,219 mm)

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. Formerly a cable railway, the Subway was later electrified, but its twin circular lines were never expanded. Originally known as the Glasgow District Railway, the system was renamed the Glasgow Underground in 1936. Despite this rebranding, many Glaswegians resolutely 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). It remains one of only four underground metro-type systems in the UK, the others being the London Underground, London Docklands Light Railway and the Tyne and Wear Metro. A £40,000 study examining the feasibility of an expansion into the city’s south side is in progress.[4]

The system is not the oldest underground railway in Glasgow itself; that distinction belongs to a 5 km (3.1 mi) 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.


Route description

The circular route is almost 6.5 miles (10.5 km) long and extends both north and south of the River Clyde. The tracks have the unusual narrow gauge of 4 ft  (1,219 mm), and a nominal tunnel diameter of 11 feet (3.35 m), even smaller than that of the deep-level lines of the London Underground (11 feet 8¼ inches or 3.56 m at their smallest); the rolling stock is considerably smaller.

The subway’s running lines are entirely underground, but the maintenance depot at Broomloan Road (located between the Govan and Ibrox stations) is above ground, as was the earlier depot, also at Govan. Prior to modernisation, trains used to be hoisted by crane onto and off the tracks. Modernisation brought the installation of points and a ramp between Govan and Ibrox where trains can exit the tunnel system to terminate for engineering, cleaning or storage.

The system is owned and operated by the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), formerly Strathclyde Passenger Transport, and carried 13.16 million passengers in the period 2005/06.[5] The Subway has been policed by British Transport Police since 2007.[6]




  Glasgow Subway
Continuation backward
Kelvinbridge Centro other car parking large.svg 
Unknown route-map component "utSTRrg" Unknown route-map component "utBHFq" Unknown route-map component "utSTRq" Urban tunnel turning from right Enter tunnel
Urban tunnel station on track Urban tunnel station on track Unknown route-map component "tSTR"
 St George's Cross
Urban tunnel station on track Urban tunnel station on track Exit tunnel
Partick National Rail 
Urban tunnel station on track + Hub
Urban tunnel straight track
End station + Hub
  Queen Street National Rail
Argyle and North Clyde Lines  
Continuation to right
Station on transverse track + Hub
Unknown route-map component "umtKRZ" Unknown route-map component "ABZ3lg" Transverse abbreviated in this map Unknown route-map component "umtKRZ"
Station on transverse track + Unknown route-map component "HUB26"
Continuation to left
  North Clyde Line
Merkland Street 
Urban tunnel unused stop on in-use track Abbreviated in this map
Urban tunnel station on track + Hub
 Buchanan Street National Rail
Glasgow Central 
Urban tunnel straight track Track turning left
Station on transverse track + Hub
Unknown route-map component "umtKRZ" Station on transverse track Continuation to left
 Argyle Street   Argyle Line
Urban tunnel straight track
Head station + Hub
Urban tunnel station on track
 St Enoch National Rail
Transverse water Urban tunnel below water Transverse water Bridge over water Urban tunnel below water Transverse water
 River Clyde
Urban tunnel station on track Continuation forward Urban tunnel station on track
 Bridge Street Centro other car parking large.svg
Broomloan Depot 
Unknown route-map component "uKDSa" Urban tunnel straight track Urban tunnel station on track
 West Street
Unknown route-map component "uABZrg" Unknown route-map component "utABZrd" Urban tunnel station on track
 Shields Road Centro other car parking large.svg
Unknown route-map component "uENDEe" Urban tunnel station on track Urban tunnel station on track
 Kinning Park
Unknown route-map component "utSTRlf" Unknown route-map component "utBHFq" Unknown route-map component "utSTRq" Unknown route-map component "utSTRrf"
Centro other car parking large.svg - Park and Ride stations

As built and opened on 14 December 1896 by the Glasgow District Subway Company, 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.[7]

When the Subway first opened, single-carriage trains were operated.[8] An accident on the opening day entailed the closure of the Subway until 19 January 1897.[9] The 20 original carriages were built by the Oldbury Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, of Oldbury, Worcestershire. Many continued in service until 1977. A further 10 were delivered by the same manufacturer in 1897. From 1898, second (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 41 has been restored to its original length and can be seen preserved at Buchanan Street subway station. 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.[10]

All 15 stations were built with island platforms. The trains were thus built with doors on one side only. When electric lighting in the trains was introduced, the current 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 equipped with skids to pick up the electricity.[11] The trains remained cable-hauled until 1935, though the anachronistic way of supplying power for the lighting continued until 1977.[12]

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.[13] 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; part of the carriage, shortened to its original length, is now preserved at Buchanan Street station.

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 km distant. The Subway had had no direct passenger connection to the national railway network — a major weakness — although an interchange to the suburban rail system exists at Partick, and a moving walkway was installed between Buchanan Street station and Queen Street mainline station as part of the late 1970s modernisation.

Before the 1977–1980 modernisation, the stations had a distinctive earthy odour. 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.[13] 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. Until 1977, the staff wore dark green uniforms, with black braid on the cuffs, which had been introduced at the time of the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901.[14]

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.

Modernisation (1977–1980)

By the 1970s, use of the Subway had declined significantly. This was caused partly by the closure of some of the dockyards and by widescale demolition of tenements south of the River Clyde. The original carriages, mostly dating back to 1896, were still in use, though adapted for electric traction in 1935. Breakdowns were becoming increasingly frequent; because trains could only be removed from the tracks to the depot by crane, a single inoperable train could cause major delays. The future of the Subway became a major issue for the Greater Glasgow Passenger Transport Executive, which took over responsibility for the line from Glasgow Corporation in the late 1960s.

Partick subway station

On 24 March 1977, cracks were noticed in the roof of Govan Cross station, leading to suspension of services until 2 May. The service resumed with only four trains per circle. On 21 May 1977, the system was shut down eight days prematurely for a major refurbishment and modernisation; the date was brought forward because of the appearance of more cracks in the roof of Govan Cross (now Govan) station. Badly deteriorated tunnels were repaired; stations were rebuilt and enlarged, with additional platforms at Buchanan Street, Partick, Govan, Ibrox, Hillhead, and St Enoch. The entrance to Kelvinbridge was reversed, with a new entrance and car park built at South Woodside Road, an escalator to Great Western Road, and stairs down to the west end of the platform; the former entrance and stairway at the east end became an emergency exit, and the lift was withdrawn from service. Merkland Street station was closed; a new station to the north was built at Partick to provide an interchange with the North Clyde suburban rail system. The site of the former Merkland Street subway station can be noticed by the characteristic hump and the larger-diameter tunnel with both tracks. Many fittings from Merkland Street were used to build a replica pre-modernisation station at the Glasgow Museum of Transport, containing three preserved cars.

A further interchange via moving walkway was installed between Buchanan Street station and Queen Street mainline station as part of the modernisation.

In August 1977, all redundant fittings and equipment from the old system were sold at a public sale at Broomloan Works. During the 1977–1980 modernisation, two Clayton battery locomotives were used by the contractors Taylor Woodrow to haul construction trains. The locomotives were nicknamed Roger and Claus, the latter allegedly because of its habit of bringing unwelcome "presents" and surprises through reliability problems.

An Inner Circle train arrives at West Street station

Heavier track was installed (although still at the unique, 4 ft /1,219 mm gauge), the original Broomloan Depot was modernised and equipped with connecting tracks (with points) to replace the crane transfer, and a new electrical supply from Westinghouse Electric Corporation was installed. A new ticketing system, provided by Crouzet, with passenger-operated ticket vending machines and automatic turnstile barriers, replaced the old, perforated cinema-style tickets and conductors. The post-1980 yellow tickets have since been replaced by a newer system, issuing magnetic stripe card tickets.

Since modernisation

The line was formally reopened by the Queen 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.

Future development

The exterior of a Glasgow Subway car repainted showing SPT's support for the Glasgow bid of the 2014 Commonwealth Games
Kelvinhall subway station, showing the new signage

The system is unusual compared to other metro systems as it has never been expanded from its original route in more than 100 years, although ambitious plans were unveiled during 2005. Many schemes for extending the system have been proposed but none has come to fruition owing to the cost of providing additional custom made rolling stock, and technical problems — tunnelling beneath the city is difficult owing to its geology, which is composed of solid rock and abandoned mineshafts making underground construction hazardous and expensive.

In early 2005, SPT announced that they would employ consultants to look into extending the system in the West End, East End, South Side and Glasgow Harbour areas of the city. The extension will take advantage of existing unused tunnels underneath the city, and there is a possibility that roads will be dug up to install tunnels before being replaced and resurfaced (cut-and-cover tunnelling). The plans are expected to take twelve years to come to fruition. In the meantime, there are plans to replace the fleet of trains. New electronic destination signs were installed in the stations in 2008.

The trains themselves are undergoing a minor refurbishment which is being carried out by Alstom (the successor company to Metro Cammell, the original manufacturer of the trains) at its Springburn works in North Glasgow, although they will be expected to be life expired within the next 10–15 years.

As of 2007, the Partick station modernisation project is underway, which will result in a complete redevelopment at the station which hosts a rail station, a subway station and a bus terminal on the outside.

Should the long-awaited Crossrail Glasgow project get the green light, then West Street station will be redeveloped as an interchange between the new surface railway and the Subway. This is projected to be completed by 2010, if funding is made available.

On 14 March 2007, SPT announced the plans that the consultants have recommended. These include major refurbishment of the existing rolling stock and stations, at an overall cost of £270million.[15] The expansion of the existing network is also considered at a cost of £2.3billion, including a new East End Circle, with seven new stations at St. Mungo's, Onslow, Duke Street, Celtic Park, Dalmarnock, Newhall and Gorbals. The aim is to improve transport links in an area of the city which is currently poorly served by rail, in the hope that this will aid regeneration, and the city's 2014 Commonwealth Games bid. This circle would interchange at Cowcaddens, Buchanan Street and St Enoch. Other proposals include extending the system southwards to Cathcart and further westwards to the SECC and Maryhill using an older railway line.


Before the modernisation, the Subway offered no formal connections to other transportation at ground level, although in practice two stations, Merkland Street and Buchanan Street, were only a short walk from British Rail stations. These links were improved at this modernisation:-


A map of the Glasgow Subway

The stations on the underground, in clockwise order from the northernmost, are:


A modern Subway ticket

A ticket on the Glasgow Subway, unlike many other underground systems, does not use a distance-based fare structure. A ticket allows passengers to stay on the underground for as long as they like. Excluding the Discovery Ticket, all child prices are half of those of adults. Single and Return tickets can be purchased for travel on the same day. Discovery tickets allow unlimited travel on the underground for one day, and as of 2010 can be purchased at any time. Previously, they had been available only after 9.30am on Mondays to Fridays. 10 journey, 20 journey and 7-day unlimited tickets can also be bought.

In January 2009 there was an increase in ticket prices to £1.20 for a single and £2.40 for a return.

All tickets are bought at any station either through a machine or at the ticket office. Tickets must be placed through a machine to validate the ticket before a passenger can access the platform. Once on the train, tickets are rarely checked but SPT advise that passengers keep their tickets with them in case of inspection.

Unlike the London Underground System, a ticket is not needed to exit stations.


The origin of the Subway's supposed nickname, "The Clockwork Orange" (coined from the title of the book and film A Clockwork Orange) is subject to dispute. Some believe that it was originally coined by the media of the period, whilst others credit it to the then chairman of British Rail, Sir Peter Parker, who was quoted in a late 1970s publicity video of the new trains as saying "so these are the original Clockwork Orange".[17] Most of its carriages were painted orange (although called "Strathclyde PTE red" because "Orange" has sectarian connotations in Glasgow), the corporate colour of Greater Glasgow Passenger Transport Executive at the time. Most of the units have since been replaced with a new colour scheme of carmine and cream with a thin orange band, which will be implemented progressively throughout the fleet as cars are refurbished.

In Aileen Paterson's 1984 children's story "Maisie Goes To Glasgow", the Subway is referred to as 'The Clockwork Orange', and includes an illustration of a train.

South London Indie band Carter USM used the title "2007 A Clockwork Orange" with a picture of the Glasgow underground train for their Glasgow farewell gig at Barrowlands on 20 October 2007.

While the "Clockwork Orange" nickname is often used in tourist guidebooks and local literature, it is virtually unused by locals themselves,[18][19][20] who will refer to the system simply as "the Subway" or, less commonly, "the Underground", and less commonly still — although becoming increasingly common because of influence from London — "The Tube".

"The Underground Song"

The celebrated Glaswegian writer and broadcaster Cliff Hanley composed a satirical song about the pre-modernisation era Subway entitled "The Underground Song". It was popular as a stage piece performed by the comedians Rikki Fulton and Jack Milroy in their Francie and Josie act.

The Subcrawl

The Glasgow Subway and its adjacent public houses are the focal point of a pub crawl known as the Subcrawl. Revellers buy an all day Discovery ticket, disembark at each of the 15 stations and have a drink in the nearest bar. Quite often, but not exclusively, Subcrawls are organised as part of the local Universities' Freshers' Week celebrations.[21]

See also


Further reading

  • J. Wright and I. Maclean, Circles under the Clyde: A history of the Glasgow Underground, Capital Transport, 1997, ISBN 1-85414-190-2

External links


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