Caledonian Railway

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This article is about the historical Scottish railway company. For the modern preserved line, see Caledonian Railway (Brechin).
Caledonian Railway
Caledonian Railway Coat of Arms.jpg
Caledonian Railway Coat of Arms
Dates of operation 1830s–1923
Successor London, Midland and Scottish Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters Glasgow

The Caledonian Railway was a major Scottish railway company. It was formed in the early 19th century with the objective of forming a link between English railways and Glasgow. It progressively extended its network soon reaching Edinburgh and Aberdeen, with a dense network of branch lines in the area surrounding Glasgow. It was absorbed into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923. Many of its principal routes continue active at the present day, and the original main line between Carlisle and Glasgow is in use as part of the West Coast Main Line railway (with a modified entry into Glasgow itself).


Caledonian locomotive CR 419 at the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway (formerly part of the North British Railway).

The Caledonian Railway Company was well supported by Glasgow and Edinburgh shareholders; more than half of its shares were held in England.[1] The total capital at the grouping was £57 million.[2]

It was an integrated railway company, in that it built and owned both the railway lines and the trains. It had a locomotive works, St. Rollox railway works, in Springburn, Glasgow. The works became part of British Rail and is still in use as a railway maintenance depot. From its headquarters in Glasgow, the company controlled a total length of line, including sidings, of 2,827 miles (4,550 km). It was also the owner or part owner of steamers, hotels (including the Caledonian Hotel at Edinburgh), docks, and harbours; and of two canals, the Forth and Clyde Navigation and the Monkland.[2]

The company was formed in the 1830s to link local railways around Glasgow and Edinburgh to the railway network in England, at Carlisle. It sought to open the only cross-border main line (it was thought that only one main line was needed). Its empire was then extended to cover the triangle: Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh; and later reached out to serve Oban, Ballachulish, Dundee, Perth, Aberdeen and Dumfries. The cross-border express passenger services were operated in conjunction with the London and North Western Railway, the carriages being owned jointly as the West Coast Joint Stock.

In the Scottish Lowlands it competed against both the Glasgow and South Western Railway (G&SWR) and the North British Railway; but, in the case of the G&SWR, not north of the River Clyde.[3] There was little or no competition north of Oban, Ballachulish, Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen; this area was served mainly by the Highland Railway.[3]

Early history[edit]

The Lanarkshire coal lines[edit]

In the closing years of the eighteenth century the pressing need to bring coal cheaply to Glasgow from the plentiful Monklands coalfield had been met by the construction of the Monkland Canal, opened throughout in 1794.[4][5] This encouraged development of the coalfield but dissatisfaction at the monopoly prices said to be exacted by the canal led to the construction of the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway (M&KR), Scotland's first public railway; it opened in 1826. Development of the use of blackband ironstone by David Mushet, and the invention of the hot blast process of iron smelting by James Beaumont Neilson in 1828 led to a huge and rapid increase in iron production and demand for the ore and for coal in the Coatbridge area.

The industrial development led to the construction of other railways contiguous with the M&KR, in particular the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway and the Wishaw and Coltness Railway. These two lines worked in harmony, merging to form the Glasgow, Garnkirk and Coatbridge Railway in 1841, and competing with the M&KR and its allies. All these lines used the local track gauge of 4 ft 6in (1,372 mm), and they were referred to as the coal lines; passenger traffic was not a dominant activity.[1][6][7][8]

English railways[edit]

During this period, the first recognisable modern railways were opened in England; the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first inter-city line, opened in 1830 and was an immediate success.[9] It was quickly followed by the London and Birmingham Railway in 1838[10] and the Grand Junction Railway in 1837,[11] and the North Union Railway reaching Preston in 1838, so that London was linked with the Lancashire and West Midlands centres of industry.

Connecting Scotland and London[edit]

The coal lines were purely local, and they were slow, and fast passenger transportation between the West of Scotland and London required a coastal steamer trip from Glasgow, or later a lower Clyde pier, and Liverpool, and thence by train on the English network.

A railway link from London to the north of England was developed in piecemeal fashion. From about 1838 the London and Birmingham Railway had linked those two destinations; the Grand Junction Railway linked Birmingham to Warrington; the North Union Railway was projected to reach Preston; and the Grand Junction Railway intended to extend the line to both Glasgow and Edinburgh. They got their engineer Joseph Locke to survey a route from Carlisle. The obvious way was to follow Thomas Telford's coach road through Annandale and Clydesdale.[12] Locke did not believe a locomotive could climb the hills at Moffat and his preferred route was a longer route through Nithsdale to link up with the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway.[12] Locke was persuaded to resurvey the Annandale route.[12]

This route was opened up as a railway line, the Caledonian Railway. The Caledonian wished to ensure that it was the only railway line built between Carlisle and Scotland, but they did not succeed in this. Two other lines were opened from Carlisle: these rival lines were the Glasgow and South Western Railway to Glasgow and the Waverley Line to Edinburgh.

After the Caledonian main line opened in 1849 it was possible to travel between London and Glasgow, by express train, without needing to change trains. It cut the total journey time to 12.5 hours.[12]

The main line[edit]

Former Caledonian Main Line, Edinburgh 2011
Main article: Caledonian Main Line

When first opened, the Caledonian Main Line represented the only railway link between England and Scotland, running from Carlisle to Carstairs; and then to both Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Edinburgh terminus was at Princes Street; and the original Glasgow terminus at Buchanan Street, the latter being reached by use the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway's metals. The Caledonian Railway's Glasgow terminus was later moved to Glasgow Central and was accessed via the Clydesdale Junction Railway. A short section between Carlisle and Gretna was used to give the Glasgow and South Western Railway access to Carlisle and the North British Railway's Waverley Line.

Princes Street station has closed (as has the Waverley Line), but the original Caledonian Main line together with the former Clydesdale Junction Railway are still in use today as the northern section of the West Coast Main Line, between Carlisle, Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley stations. The link at Gretna remains open, as part of the Glasgow South Western route.

Branches in Dumfries and Galloway[edit]

A branch of the Caledonian railway, known as the Solway Junction Railway, at Kirtlebridge, led down to Annan and crossed the Solway Firth, by a 1,940 yard (1,791 m) viaduct, to Bowness-on-Solway and Whitrigg.[13] The line was opened, with Caledonian Railway backing, completely by 8 August 1870. The Scottish part was bought by the Caledonian Railway on 5 August 1873; and the whole line on 6 July 1895.[13] It joined up with the Maryport and Carlisle Railway. This line sought to bring iron ore, hematite, from Cumberland to the Lanarkshire steelworks. It was successful, but the iron ore started to run out by the end of the 19th century.

Another branch of the Caledonian railway at Lockerbie, known as the Dumfries, Lochmaben & Lockerby Railway (sic), led to Dumfries, with intermediate stations at Lochmaben, Shieldhill, Amisfield and Locharbriggs.[14] The line opened on 1 September 1863, with Caledonian Railway backing, and it was bought by the Caledonian Railway on 31 July 1865.[14]

The Caledonian gained running rights over the Glasgow and South Western Railway's Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway, between Dumfries and Castle Douglas; and hence from Castle Douglas to Portpatrick, Stranraer and Stranraer harbour over a jointly owned line, the Portpatrick and Wigtownshire Joint Railway, which was formed on 6 August 1885.[15] This allowed the Caledonian to run Irish boat trains from the south without having to go though Ayrshire.

A branch, the Moffat Railway, just over one mile (1.6 km) and 5 furlongs long, ran between Beattock and Moffat.[16] It was opened on 2 April 1883 and was taken over by the Caledonian, by Act of Parliament, on 11 November 1889.[16]

Branches in Peebles and South Lanarkshire[edit]

Shades of the past. A former Caledonian Railway building in Hamilton, Scotland.
  • The Symington, Biggar and Broughton Railway led from the main line at Symington to Broughton. The Caledonian acquired it in 1861 and the line was extended to a new station at Peebles West, the extension opening in 1864.[17] They ran the "Tinto Express" in competition with the North British Railway's "Peebles-shire Express".
  • A branch to Lanark.
  1. a branch from Lanark to Douglas, Douglas West, Inches and Glenbuck railway stations; with an end-on-junction to Muirkirk railway station, on the G&SWR's branch from Cronberry.
  2. a branch from Stonehouse railway station to Strathaven Central, Douglas, Ryeland and Drumclog railway stations; with an end-on-junction to Loudounhill railway station, on the G&SWR's Darvel Branch.

River Clyde and Clyde Coast branches[edit]

South side[edit]

On 9 July 1847, the Caledonian amalgamated with the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway (GP&G), which allowed it to gain access to coastal shipping services at Greenock and to enter into direct competition against the G&SWR's shipping services. The section between Glasgow and Paisley, the Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway, which opened in 1841, was jointly owned with the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway (GPK&A) (later to become part of the G&SWR). Both the GP&G's and the GPK&A's Glasgow terminus was Bridge Street railway station, adjacent to the River Clyde; and this remained so for another 60 years due to difficulties in obtaining agreement from the Admiralty to build bridges over the Clyde.

In 1873 the Caledonian Railway finally obtained an Act to build a railway bridge across the Clyde, and initially planned to widen Glasgow Bridge and use part of this; however, their plans were changed in 1875, when a new Act was obtained to build a separate railway bridge. A four track railway bridge was built by Sir William Arrol across the Clyde. By 1879, construction work had been completed on Glasgow Central station and Bridge Street station was also rebuilt. The Caledonian Railway mainline services to London were transferred from Buchanan Street railway station to Central Station. Bridge Street station however remained the terminus of the Caledonian Railways Clyde Coast services until Central Station was rebuilt 1901 - 1905. It then closed.

In 1862 the Greenock and Wemyss Bay Railway was authorised. It opened on 13 May 1865 and in August 1893 it amalgamated with the Caledonian Railway, having been operated by the Caledonian Railway since its opening.[18]

The opening of the Greenock and Ayrshire Railway by the G&SWR in 1869, against the opposition of the Caledonian Railway, led to a price cutting war between the Caledonian Railway and the G&SWR.[18]

It started its own shipping services from Gourock with a subsidiary company, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company in 1889.

North side[edit]

The Glasgow Central Railway was a six mile (10 km) underground railway passing through Glasgow from east to west.

The Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire Railway, from the West End of Glasgow along the north shore of the River Clyde, to Dumbarton, was vested in the Caledonian Railway on 1 August 1909 by Act of Parliament.[19]

Expansion lines of around Glasgow and Paisley[edit]

In addition to the early lines, such as the Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway and the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway which opened in the early 1840s, both Glasgow and Paisley saw a huge railway expansion which continued into the early 1900s. Many of these lines were built as part of the rivalry between the Caledonian Railway and the Glasgow and South Western Railway to gain passengers and goods at the other's expense.

The Paisley and Barrhead District Railway was vested with the company under an Act of Parliament on 31 July 1902,[20]

Lines built by the Caledonian Railway included:

There were also interests in several Joint Railways in the Glasgow area:

Edinburgh and Lothians[edit]

Caledonian lines are shown in red on this 1905 Railway Clearing House map of Edinburgh.

The Caledonian Railway entered Edinburgh on 15 February 1848 when the Edinburgh branch of the Caledonian Railway Main Line opened from Carstairs to a terminus at Lothian Road. This was the first line to open between Edinburgh and England, beating the rival North British Railway which was unable to operate through trains to the south until completion of the Royal Border Bridge in 1850. Services between Edinburgh and Glasgow were also possible, if somewhat indirect, and a period of ruinous competition with the established Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway began.

Seeking a share of the lucrative goods traffic generated by Leith and Granton docks, the Caledonian built a connecting line from Slateford Junction to Haymarket on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, hoping to access the docks over E&G metals. However, the latter firm was not prepared to co-operate with its competitor. When it opened in 1853 the Haymarket branch served industrial premises and a bay platform on the south side of the E&G‘s Haymarket station. This platform was also used by Scottish Central Railway passenger trains from Stirling and the north, which reached the city by way of running powers from Larbert to Haymarket East Junction. These powers were subsequently exercised by the Caledonian, after its acquisition of the Scottish Central in 1865. The Haymarket branch did not achieve its original purpose until 1964 when British Rail opened a short connection from Duff Street Junction to Haymarket East Junction, allowing trains from the Caledonian line to reach Waverley station.

A second attempt to reach the docks resulted in a goods line to Granton Harbour opening on 28 August 1861. The branch was originally owned jointly with the Duke of Buccleuch, who wanted to end the North British Railway’s monopoly at Granton. It left the Haymarket branch at Granton Junction, and at the Granton end a connection was made with the NBR’s Granton branch. This connection served as the main interchange point for goods traffic between the Caledonian and NBR systems in Edinburgh until the Slateford-Craiglockhart curve was opened by BR in 1960.

Leith Docks were eventually reached on 1 September 1864 with the opening of a branch from Crewe Junction on the Granton branch to North Leith. Opening on the same day, a curve between Pilton East and West Junctions allowed direct Leith-Granton movements, and a curve from Dalry Junction on the main line and Coltbridge Junction on the Granton line allowed direct trains from Lothian Road to the two ports.

Blackford Station in 1961

A direct route from Glasgow opened on 9 July 1869, joining the main line at Midcalder. This allowed the Caledonian to offer a more convenient passenger service between the two cities, although by this time competition for this traffic was no longer so intense.

An empty stock train for Princes Street Station, passing Dalry Road Locomotive Depot in 1962

By now the main terminus at Lothian Road was inadequate, and passenger services were relocated to a new terminus at Princes Street station, slightly further up Lothian Road, on 2 May 1870. On 3 July 1876 a new connection from Haymarket West Junction to Dalry Middle Junction allowed trains from Stirling to reach Princes Street, and Caledonian trains ceased to use Haymarket station. Princes Street station was rebuilt and enlarged in the 1890s, and the railway-owned Caledonian Hotel opened in 1903.

Suburban passenger services between Princes Street and North Leith commenced on 1 August 1879. These had required the construction of new passenger lines parallel to the goods lines between Newhaven Junction and the new passenger terminus at North Leith.

Further branches to Balerno and Barnton opened on 1 August 1874 and 1 March 1894 respectively, these places being rural villages at the time. The Balerno line was actually a loop, paralleling the Carstairs/Glasgow main line between Balerno Junction (west of Slateford) and Ravelrig Junction. The Barnton branch originated at Craigleith Junction on the Leith/Granton line. Both lines had passenger services to Princes Street as well as local goods traffic.

The Caledonian’s last new line in Edinburgh was part of the ill-fated Leith New Lines project. The line which was built originated at Newhaven Junction on the North Leith branch, and ran south east around the edge of Leith, before turning north towards a new terminus at South Leith and a spur from Seafield Junction to the eastern docks. It opened to goods traffic on 1 August 1903. The unbuilt second phase of the project was to have been an ambitious underground line through the city centre to create a circular route for suburban passenger services. However the City Council strongly objected to plans for cut and cover tunnels through the New Town, and by the time the first phase was complete the company had lost interest in the expensive suburban circle proposal due to the level of competition from trams and cable cars. Later, during World War II, a connecting line was built between Seafield Junction and Meadows Yard on the LNER's South Leith branch.

The Central Scotland lines[edit]

The core of the Central Scotland Lines came as a result of the absorption of the Scottish Central Railway in 1865.

Argyle and Perth[edit]

Callander and Oban Railway[edit]

The Callander and Oban Railway was an independent railway company but it was supported by the Caledonian Railway.[21] The Caledonian railway company ran the train services, but the line remained independent until it was taken over by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway at Grouping.[21] An extension from Connel Ferry to Ballachulish was authorised on 1 August 1896 and opened on 24 August 1903.[21]

The Crieff Lines[edit]

Crieff Junction Railway[edit]

The Crieff Junction Railway connected the main line from Stirling to Perth at Gleneagles to Crieff.

Perth, Almond Valley & Methven Railway; and Crieff & Methven Railway[edit]

Around one and half miles north of Perth, was the junction with the Perth, Almond Valley & Methven Railway. This line was added to by the Crieff & Methven Railway to reach Perth from the east.

Lochearnhead, St Fillans and Comrie Railway[edit]

This line connected Comrie to the Callander and Oban Railway at Balquhidder Junction south of Lochearnhead.

Crieff and Comrie Railway[edit]

This line connected the line entering Crieff from the south and east to the Lochearnhead, St Fillans and Comrie Railway at Comrie.

Notable accidents[edit]

  • On 2 October 1872, an express passenger train was in collision with a freight train that was being shunted at Kirtlebridge, Dumfriesshire due to errors by the station master and signalman, compounded by a lack of interlocking and absolute block working. Twelve people were killed.
  • On 23 October 1899, an express passenger train was in collision with a cattle train at Coupar Angus, Forfarshire. One person was killed.[22]
  • On 6 April 1906, an express freight train was derailed 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Kirtlebridge, Dumfriesshire due to the failure of a wheel on the third wagon of the train. The derailed wagons fouled the opposite line; an express passenger train ran into them and was derailed. One person was killed and several were injured.[23]
  • On 2 April 1909, a passenger train became divided and was derailed at Crawford, Lanarkshire when the crank axle of the locomotive hauling it failed. A few passengers suffered minor injuries.[24]
  • On 22 May 1915, a troop train was in a head-on collision at Quintinshill, Dumfriesshire due to a signalman's error. An express passenger train then ran into the wreckage. A fire then broke out which killed 226 people and injured 246 in what remains the deadliest railway accident in the United Kingdom as of 2014. Two signalmen were later jailed for culpable homicide.

Chief Mechanical Engineers[edit]

Armorial bearing[edit]

From July 1865, the Caledonian Railway adopted "a version of the Scottish arms, without, so far as is known, getting the blessing of the Lord Lyon King of Arms". This was a lion rampant with a riband bearing the motto of the Order of the Thistle, Nemo me impune lacessit. Above there was a crest showing helmet surmounted by a crown; the supporters were unicorns. This was slightly modified in August 1866 and from September 1888 a further riband was added below the motto; this bore the words Caledonian Railway Company. From the base of the shield hung a medallion of St Andrew. A lion séjant affronté was superimposed on the crest above which was the inscription In Defence [sic]. The motto was now worded Nemo me impune lacesset but this was corrected to Nemo me impune lacessit in 1899.[25]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]



  1. ^ a b C J A Robertson, The Origins of the Scottish Railway System: 1722-1844, John Donald Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh, first edition 1983, ISBN 0-8597-6088-X
  2. ^ a b Harmsworth (1921)
  3. ^ a b pre-Grouping Atlas
  4. ^ Guthrie Hutton, Monkland: the Canal that Made Money, Richard Stenlake, Ochiltree, 1993, ISBN 1 872074 28 6
  5. ^ George Thomson, The Monkland Canal -- a Sketch of the Early History, originally written in 1945, published by Monkland Library Services Department, 1984, ISBN 0 946120 03 X
  6. ^ Don Martin, The Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway, Strathkelvin Public Libraries, Kirkintilloch, 1976
  7. ^ Don Martin, The Monkland and Kirkintilloch and Associated Railways, Strathkelvin Public Libraries, Kirkintilloch, 1995, ISBN 0 904966 41 0
  8. ^ Don Martin, The Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway, Strathkelvin District Libraries and Museums, 1981
  9. ^ Frank Ferneyhough, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, 1830–1980, Robert Hale Ltd., London, 1980, ISBN 0-7091-8137-X
  10. ^ David Gould, The London & Birmingham Railway 150 Years On, David & Charles plc, Newton Abbot, 1987, ISBN 0-7153-8968-8
  11. ^ Norman W Webster, Britain's First Trunk Line – the Grand Junction Railway, Adams and Dart, Bath, 1972, ISBN 0-239-00105-2
  12. ^ a b c d Thomas (1971), pp 137 - 141
  13. ^ a b Awdry, Page 103
  14. ^ a b Awdry, Page 72
  15. ^ Awdry, Page 99
  16. ^ a b Awdry, Page 94
  17. ^ Awdry, Page 106
  18. ^ a b Awdry, Page 78
  19. ^ Awdry, Page 85
  20. ^ Awdry
  21. ^ a b c Awdry, 64 - 65
  22. ^ Trevena, Arthur (1981). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 2. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 16. ISBN 0-906899-03-6. 
  23. ^ Earnshaw, Alan (1989). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 5. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 7. ISBN 0-906899-35-4. 
  24. ^ Earnshaw, Alan (1990). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 6. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 10. ISBN 0-906899-37-0. 
  25. ^ George Dow, Railway Heraldry, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1973, ISBN 0 7153 5896 0


  • Thomas, John (1971). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. VI Scotland: The Lowlands and the Borders (1st ed.). Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-5408-6. OCLC 16198685. 
  • Thomas, John; Paterson, Rev A. J. S. (1984). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. VI Scotland: The Lowlands and the Borders (2nd ed.). Newton Abbott, Devon: David & Charles. ISBN 0-9465-3712-7. OCLC 12521072. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mullay, A. J. (2010) Through Scotland with the Caledonian Railway. ISBN 9781840334913
  • Ross, David (2013) The Caledonian: Scotland's Imperial Railway - A History ISBN 9781840335842