Glasgow and South Western Railway

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Glasgow and South Western Railway
GSWR logo.png
Locale Scotland
Dates of operation 1850–1923
Predecessor Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway and Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway
Successor London, Midland and Scottish Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 1,128 miles (1,815 km)
Headquarters Glasgow

The Glasgow and South Western Railway (G&SWR) was a railway company in Scotland. It served a triangular area of south-west Scotland between Glasgow, Stranraer and Carlisle. It was formed on 28 October 1850 by the merger of two earlier railways, the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway and the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway. Already established in Ayrshire, it consolidated its position there and extended southwards, eventually reaching Stranraer. Its main business was mineral traffic, especially coal, and passengers, but its more southerly territory was very thinly populated and local traffic, passenger and goods, was limited, while operationally parts of its network were difficult.

It later formed an alliance with the English Midland Railway and ran express passenger trains from Glasgow to London with that company, in competition with the Caledonian Railway and its English partner, who had an easier route. In 1923 the G&SWR formed a constituent of the London Midland and Scottish Railway group.

Much of the network remains active at the present day; Glasgow commuting particularly has developed, and parts of the network have been electrified. Many of the earlier mineral workings, and branches constructed to serve them, have ceased, and many local passenger stations in rural areas have closed.

In 1921 the G&SWR had 1,128 miles (1,815 km) of line (calculated as single track extent plus sidings) and the company’s capital was about £19 million.


Before the G&SWR[edit]

In the early 1830s, there were already several mineral railways operating in Scotland; local in extent, they were mostly built to serve coal mines and other mineral activity. The successful operation of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway as an inter-city line, and then the Grand Junction Railway reaching northwards, caused railway promoters in the west of Scotland to consider that one day, there might be a through railway line to London.

The Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway (GPK&AR) was authorised, and opened its line to Ayr. It was a locomotive railway, and in due time it opened its branch line from Dalry to Kilmarnock, with the intention of extending to Carlisle to meet up with whatever railway might reach that city from the south. The GPK&AR had anticipated constructing its authorised line and then the extension, but by 1846 there was a frenzy of competing schemes that threatened to destroy the Company's core business. Few of these were realistic, but the GPK&AR itself felt obliged to promote numerous branches, many of them tactical, in order to keep competing schemes out. This period of railway promotion was followed by a slump, when money was difficult to come by, and these factors prevented the GPK&AR from bringing its Carlisle extension into reality.

Enthusiasm for a connection to English railways continued, however, and was intensified by the promotion of other schemes to link central Scotland and England. Interests friendly to the GPK&AR formed the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway (GD&CR) to extend from the southern extremity of the GPK&AR to Carlisle; their route became known as the Nithsdale Route. Opposing promoters put forward a so-called central line via Carstairs and Beattock, that had the advantage of a shorter mileage, and the capacity to serve Edinburgh directly, but the disadvantage of much heavier gradients and running through a less populous area. This route became known as the Annandale Route.

The GD&CR was authorised by Act of Parliament, but the rival Caledonian Railway (CR) had already had authorisation for building its line on the Annandale route; the GD&CR's financial position led it to abandon its intention of building an independent line to Carlisle, and it altered its plan so as to join the CR at Gretna Junction, relying on negotiating running powers for its trains to reach Carlisle.

The GD&CR and the GPK&AR formed the definite intention of merging; at first the GD&CR demanded terms that were excessive, particularly as their own financial situation was difficult: they were funding construction of their line with money loaned by the GPK&AR. However more realistic expectations emerged later, and by Acts of 1846 and 1847 it was determined that the two companies would merge when the GD&CR had completed construction of its line. The GPK&AR extended as far as Horsecleugh (between Cumnock and New Cumnock) and the GD&CR reached an end-on junction there on 28 October 1850.[1]

The G&SWR formed[edit]

System map of the G&SWR at vesting in 1850

Accordingly on 28 October 1850 the G&SWR was formed.[2] Although this was described as a merger, the reality was that the penniless GD&CR was dissolved, its operation was taken over by the GPK&AR, and the latter company changed its name to the G&SWR. The GPK&AR had been working the GD&CR's line for it since it (partially) opened.

The new company had lines from Bridge Street in Glasgow to Ayr (although the section from Bridge Street to Paisley was jointly owned with the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway, and the Ayr station was north of the river, at Newton-on-Ayr); from Dalry Junction to Gretna Junction via Kilmarnock and Dumfries; and a number of lines in mineral districts, including the former Kilmarnock and Troon Railway, now upgraded to contemporary technical standards.

The trains on the Dumfries line now ran through to Carlisle, an arrangement having been made with the Caledonian Railway to permit this. However the CR did not encourage the G&SWR and only on 1 March 1851 was a booking clerk given accommodation at Carlisle Citadel passenger station. This was granted on an undertaking that the G&SWR would never interfere with the business of the CR or the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, and tolls were charged for use of the line from Gretna, and for bulk goods passing through Carlisle, whether transshipped or not. The CR ensured that all traffic between south of Carlisle and Glasgow or Edinburgh was routed over its own line.[1]

The accounts for the first half year, produced in March 1851, showed gross income for the six months to be £87,186 and a 2¼% dividend was declared. The Company owned 72 engines, 171 passenger coaches, and 2,416 non-passenger vehicles. Good enough as the results were, the long main line to Gretna was not producing much, due to the dominance of the Caledonian Railway, and business in general declined following the first half year. A pooling agreement was finalised in 1853 which mitigated some of the worst toll charges, but routing of goods traffic via the CR was made obligatory in many situations. The agreement included a comprehensive limitation on encroachment by either railway into the other's territory.[1][3]

Expansion by alliance[edit]

In the years immediately following the formation of the G&SWR, the non-availability of capital meant that no definite steps were taken for further expansion. Local initiatives were encouraged, however. The Ayr and Dalmellington Railway Act was passed on 4 August 1853. At this time the G&SWR Ayr station was north of the River Ayr, and the A&DR was to run from Falkland Junction, a short distance north of the station, and round the east side of the town. There were important ironworks owned by the Houldsworth family, and ironstone and coal deposits, in the lands near Dalmellington. The independent company was later absorbed by the G&SWR by Act of 28 June 1858, effective on 1 August 1858.

On 10 July 1854 the Ayr and Maybole Junction Railway was authorised to reach Maybole by a junction from the Ayr and Dalmellington; the junction was to be called Maybole Junction, but was named Dalrymple Junction when the line opened to goods traffic on 15 May 1856, but passenger opening was delayed until 2 August 1856 because of the Board of Trade Inspecting Officer's dissatisfaction with the works. The new line had an Ayr passenger station (a temporary structure at first), and as the line was routed round the east side of the town, it was less convenient than the old terminus; until January 1860 the old station continued to be used by some trains.

There were discussions of a further extension railway to reach Girvan and develop the harbour there, possibly as a ferry port for Ireland: a Maybole and Girvan Railway was being formed in 1855; it got its authorising Act on 14 July 1856. All of these local initiatives received the promise of cash support from the G&SWR. The Maybole and Girvan line opened on 24 May 1860; the Maybole station, east of Redbrae, was unsuitable for an onward route and was by-passed, the new passenger station being at Culzean Road.

The Ardrossan Railway had long been allied to the G&SWR and by Act of 24 July 1854 it was vested in the G&SWR, effective on 1 August 1854. The line ran between Ardrossan Harbour and Kilwinning, with mineral branches extending further east.[1][2]

Reaching towards the north of Ireland[edit]

The wide space of countryside west of Dumfries and south of Girvan still lacked any rail connection. In 1856 a provisional Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway (CD&DR) was gaining momentum. It was independently sponsored, although it was seen as a possible first step in opening up the entire region; it was authorised on 21 July 1856. This prompted the G&SWR to relocate the Dumfries station to a point north of St Mary's street; the former "temporary" station was relegated to goods status. The new station opened on 13 September 1859: it was described as "equal if not superior in lightness and beauty to any in Great Britain".[4] The CD&DR line opened on 21 July 1856.[note 1][1]

For many years schemes had been put forward to reach Portpatrick. There was a small harbour there and ferry crossings to Donaghadee provided the shortest route to reach the north of Ireland. Mail, cattle, and soldiers had been conveyed that way, but reaching it with a railway across difficult and sparsely populated land had been a challenge. Encouraged by the CD&DR authorisation, at the end of 1856, promoters resolved to build a British and Irish Grand Junction Railway, 62 miles (100 km) from Castle Douglas. Government assurances were given about the use of the sea route for mail and improvement of the tiny harbour at Portpatrick, and suddenly rival railways including the English Great Northern Railway were hastening to put up money for a share. With a capital of £460,000, the line looked well supported and got its Act of Parliament on 17 August 1857, retitled the Portpatrick Railway.[5]

The construction, through difficult terrain, went ahead, and as completion became near, the Portpatrick Railway discussed the working of its line. The G&SWR were working the CD&DR and offered to work the Portpatrick line for 72% of gross receipts. The G&SWR had recently announced that it worked its own railway for less than 38%, and the Portpatrick line decided the proposed charge was too much; on 28 March 1860 they decided that "the board should retain the working of the line under their own management". The G&SWR had been certain that its terms for working the line would have to be accepted; it had promised a further £40,000 towards the capital cost of the Portpatrick Railway, and on a pretext it now declined to make that payment, further alienating the Portpatrick Railway. The lien opened, stoutly independent, on 12 March 1861 as far as Stranraer.[6][5][7][2]

A central Glasgow station[edit]

As traffic increased, dependency on the Bridge Street station as the G&SWR Glasgow station became ever more strained, and a nominally independent central terminus was proposed; this would involve constructive the first railway bridge over this part of the Clyde—there had previously been no connection across the river in Glasgow. The G&SWR and the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway were partners and invited the Caledonian Railway to join in. However the manner of extending that invitation offended the CR, and it declined, invoking the long-standing agreement banning intrusive lines. Many in the G&SWR thought it over-ambitious, but the City of Glasgow Union Railway obtained Parliamentary authorisation on 29 July 1864; the capital was £900,000 with the G&SWR and the E&GR taking one-third of the shares each.[8] (The following year the two existing companies agree to take all the stock themselves.) The line would run from a junction with the Paisley joint line at West Street to Sighthill on the E&GR, with a new passenger station at St Enoch, a large goods station in land vacated by the University of Glasgow and a connection at West Street to the General Terminus goods branch on the bank of the Clyde.[2]

Other new lines proposed, and existing branches absorbed[edit]

As well as supporting the City Union line, in 1864 the G&SWR proposed a large number of branch lines, most of them tactical in respect of competition with the Caledonian Railway. This caused considerable disquiet among shareholders—the same was true within the Caledonian company—and some moderation of the proposals took place. As part of the rapprochement, the G&SWR was granted permanent powers to run between Gretna and Carlisle, for £5,000 a year.

In 1865, four railways were absorbed, effective from 1 August; they were the Bridge of Weir Railway (from Elderslie, opened in 1864), the Maybole and Girvan Railway (described above; it had never made money and had run out of cash to finish the buildings and ancillary works on the line); the Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway; and the Kirkcudbright Railway. The CD&DR and the Kirkcudbright Railway were now operated as the Kirkcudbright branch as a single unit from Dumfries.[2] The Caledonian Railway was granted running powers between Dumfries and Castle Douglas for trains it ran between Lockerbie and Stranraer.[1]

Other lines[edit]

The Prince's Pier, Greenock, in use today as a shipping terminus

Passenger ships[edit]

The G&SWR ran a fleet of passenger steamships on scheduled and excursion services from its various piers and harbours. In 1872 the Greenock and Ayrshire Railway Co bought the second-hand paddle steamer PS Marquis of Bute, dating from 1868.[11] In 1891 the G&SWR took her over and bought five more second-hand steamers. Three of them came from the fleet of Captain Alexander Williamson: PS Sultan (launched in 1861);[12] PS Sultana (launched in 1868)[13] and PS Viceroy (launched in 1875).[14] The others were PS Chancellor and PS Scotia (both launched in 1880).[15][16]

Thereafter the G&SWR had various Clyde shipyards build new steamers to order. PS Glen Sannox was launched in 1892.[17] PS Neptune and PS Mercury, who were sisters, were also launched that year.[18][19] PS Minerva (1893) and her near-sister PS Glen Rosa were launched in 1893.[20][21] With the delivery of the new ships the company sold Sultan in 1892[12] and Scotia in 1893.[16] PS Jupiter was launched in 1896,[22] the company sold Sultana in 1897[13] and PS Juno was launched in 1898[23] The company sold Chancellor in 1901[15] and PS Mars was launched in 1902[24] In 1904 the company bought a second-hand paddle-steamer, PS Vulcan (launched in 1897)[25] and sold Marquis of Bute.[11]

In 1901 the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company, shipbuilder William Denny and Brothers and passenger steamer operator Captain John Williamson formed the Turbine Steamer Syndicate. The G&SWR supported Williamson by guaranteeing his overdraft. The syndicate introduced the World's first turbine steamer, TS King Edward, which was launched that year. Denny built her, Parsons supplied her machinery and Williamson operated her on the River Clyde and Firth of Clyde. Despite this early involvement, it was not until 1906 that the G&SWR got a turbine steamer of its own, TS Atalanta, launched that year by John Brown and Company.[26] After that the G&SWR sold Viceroy in 1907[27] and sold Vulcan back to her previous owner in 1908.[25]

In the First World War, paddle steamers were found suitable for service as auxiliary minesweepers so the Admiralty requisitioned most of the G&SWR's fleet for war service. The steamers' names were changed because the Royal Navy already had warships bearing many of their original names. In 1917 two were lost on active service. In April Neptune, serving as HMS Nepaulin, was sunk by a mine[18] and in November Mars, serving as HMS Marsa, sank as a result of a collision off Harwich.[24] Minerva survived the war but did not return to the G&SWR. She remained with the Admiralty until April 1920 and was sold to new owners in Turkey in 1924.[20]


St Enoch station no longer exists. British Railways (BR) closed it in 1966 and it was turned into a car park. The roof was demolished in 1975. The site was redeveloped as the St Enoch Centre, which was opened in May 1989.

A stub of the G&SWR route relaid at Kilmarnock for coal traffic in 2010

BR closed the Bridge of Weir Railway and the Greenock and Ayrshire Railway to Greenock Princes Pier between Princes Pier and Kilmacolm in 1966. However, in 1971 the Princes Pier stub was connected to the Inverclyde Line at Cartsburn Junction in order to serve the Clyde Port Authority container terminal.

BR closed the Paisley Canal Line completely in January 1983, and the original Paisley Canal station, on the east side of Causeyside Street, was converted into a steak house. In the 1980s and 1990s the course of the line beyond Paisley was made into a footpath and cycle path. This links Lady Octavia Park in Greenock, through upper Port Glasgow, Kilmacolm and past Quarrier's Village to Paisley. It is part of the Sustrans National Cycle Route linking Edinburgh and Gourock.[28]

In June 1965 BR closed the G&SWR Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway and the joint G&SWR and CR line between Castle Douglas and Challoch Junction (between Dunragit and Glenluce). BR withdrew the local passenger service from the Dalry Junction — Kilmarnock part of the Carlisle main line in 1966 and closed it completely in October 1973 after completion of the West Coast Main Line electrification. Thereafter all services to Glasgow ran over the Glasgow, Barrhead and Kilmarnock Joint Railway via Stewarton.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On 24 December 1902, a freight train was derailed at Carlisle, Cumberland after the driver misread signals.[29]

The G&SWR today[edit]

Various lines of the G&SWR still operate today out of the former Caledonian Railway's Glasgow Central station. They are the Paisley Canal Line (now truncated at Paisley Canal) and SPT's Ayrshire Coast Lines; the Glasgow South Western Line to Dumfries and Carlisle; and to Stranraer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f David Ross, The Glasgow and South Western Railway: A History, Stenlake Publishing Limited, Catrine, 2104, ISBN 978 1 84033 648 1
  2. ^ a b c d e Stephenson Locomotive Society, The Glasgow and South Western Railway, 1850 - 1923, 1950
  3. ^ Campbell Highet, The Glasgow & South-Western Railway, Oakwood Press, Lingfield, 1965
  4. ^ Glasgow Herald (newspaper), 27 September 1859, quoted in Ross
  5. ^ a b C E J Fryer, The Portpatrick and Wigtownshire Railways, The Oakwood Press, Headington, 1991, ISBN 0 85361 408 3
  6. ^ David L Smith, The Little Railways of South West Scotland, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1969, ISBN 0-7153-4652-0
  7. ^ H D Thorne, Rails to Portpatrick, T Stephenson and Sons Ltd, Prescot, 1976, ISBN 0 901314 18 8
  8. ^ E F Carter, An Historical Geography of the Railways of the British Isles, Cassell, London, 1959
  9. ^ "Greenock". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1911. 
  10. ^ a b c John Thomas
  11. ^ a b "PS Marquis of Bute". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  12. ^ a b "PS Sultan". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  13. ^ a b "PS Sultana". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "Viceroy (1875)". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  15. ^ a b "PS Chancellor". Clyde Built Database. Clydesite. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  16. ^ a b "SS Scotia". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  17. ^ "PS Glen Sannox". Clyde Built Database. Clydesite. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  18. ^ a b "PS Neptune". Clyde Built Database. Clydesite. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  19. ^ "PS Mercury". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  20. ^ a b "SS Minerva". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  21. ^ "PS Glen Rosa". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  22. ^ "PS Jupiter". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  23. ^ "PS Juno". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  24. ^ a b "PS Mars". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  25. ^ a b "P.S. Kylemore (ex - Vulcan, ex - Britannia, ex - Kylemore)". Tramscape. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  26. ^ "TS Atalanta". Clyde Built Database. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  27. ^ "PS Rhos Colwyn ( ex - Viceroy)". Tramscape. Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  28. ^ "Leisure - Sports". Inverclyde Council. 
  29. ^ Trevena, Arthur (1981). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 2. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 21. ISBN 0-906899-03-6. 


  1. ^ The SLS says 7 November.


  • The Railway Year Book: 1912. London: Railway Publishing Company. OCLC 12305143. 

External links[edit]