Glasgow–Edinburgh via Carstairs line

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Glasgow–Edinburgh via Carstairs line
TypeHeavy rail
SystemNational Rail
OwnerNetwork Rail
Operator(s)Abellio ScotRail
London North Eastern Railway
Virgin Trains
DB Cargo
Direct Rail Services
Rolling stockInterCity 125
InterCity 225
Class 220 "Voyager"
Class 221 "SuperVoyager"
Class 380 "Desiro"
Class 390 "Pendolino"
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Electrification25 kV 50 Hz AC
Glasgow–Edinburgh via Carstairs line
Glasgow Central
(Glasgow Subway St Enoch)
Eglinton Street
Uddingston Junction
Wishaw South
Law Junction
Carstairs Junction
Tarbrax branch
Midcalder Junction
Wester Hailes
Edinburgh Princes Street
Haymarket Edinburgh Trams
Edinburgh Waverley
(Edinburgh Trams St Andrew Square tram stop)

The Glasgow–Edinburgh via Carstairs line is a main railway route which connects the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, by means of their respective branches of the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

Along with the Shotts line, the Falkirk line, and the Helensburgh to Edinburgh route via Airdrie and Bathgate, the line is one of four direct rail links between Glasgow and Edinburgh(and one of three electrified links) and is frequently used by passenger and freight traffic. Passenger services are operated by Abellio ScotRail, CrossCountry, London North Eastern Railway and Virgin Trains with freight services operated by DB Cargo, Freightliner and Direct Rail Services.


This line was opened by the Caledonian Railway as part of a plan to link Glasgow and Edinburgh to the railways in England. The main line from England (now known as the West Coast Main Line) splits at Carstairs, with one branch going to Edinburgh Waverley and the other to Glasgow Central. The Glasgow–Edinburgh via Carstairs line consists of those two branches joined by a short connecting chord at Carstairs. The Edinburgh portion opened for passengers on 15 February 1848; and the Glasgow section opened for passengers on 1 November 1849.

The original Edinburgh terminus was at Lothian Road, until Princes Street opened on 2 May 1870. It closed under the Beeching cuts in 1965, when the remaining services were diverted to Edinburgh Waverley. The Glasgow terminus was initially Buchanan Street, but when Glasgow Central opened on 31 July 1879 this became the terminus, and Central has remained the Glasgow terminus ever since.

From 1849 to 1869 the Caledonian Railway provided a service from Edinburgh (Lothian Road) to Glasgow (Buchanan Street), by way of Carstairs, Coatbridge and Stepps, although this was a somewhat circuitous route compared to the rival Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway line via Falkirk High. The E&G line was already well established by this time, having opened from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Haymarket in February 1842 and been extended to Edinburgh Waverley in August 1846. The Caledonian therefore opened its direct route via Shotts in 1869, and diverted all of its Edinburgh to Glasgow services via that line. Regular services between the two cities via Carstairs would not resume for over 120 years, although the lines remained busy with services from both cities to and from England.

After the 1922 grouping, all the lines became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway company, and after nationalisation in 1948 they became part of British Rail.

The Carstairs to Glasgow section was electrified by British Rail in 1974 as part of the electrification of the Weaver Junction to Glasgow Central section of the WCML. The Carstairs to Edinburgh section was not electrified at that time. Many long distance trains from the south used to split into separate Edinburgh and Glasgow portions at Carstairs, and diesel locomotives continued to operate the Edinburgh to Carstairs part of the service. This procedure added significantly to journey times typically adding at least 20 minute to Edinburgh schedules. Division on northbound services was relatively simple, with the electric locomotive continuing forward with the Glasgow portion of the train, while a diesel loco would be attached to the rear part and would haul the Edinburgh train in the opposite direction. However, attachment would involve the section from Edinburgh arriving into Carstairs first, and pointing in the Glasgow direction, with the Glasgow portion running past and reversing back to join the back of the Edinburgh section.

The Carstairs–Edinburgh line was electrified in 1991 as part the electrification of the East Coast Main Line (ECML). When this was completed, two new services from Edinburgh to Glasgow via Carstairs were reintroduced. Although the line via Carstairs is the longest of the various routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow, its electrification allowed the London King's Cross to Glasgow Intercity services (which had previously run to Glasgow Queen Street via the E&GR line) to be operated by InterCity 225 electric trains and diverted to Glasgow Central station. Electrification of the Queen Street route was not planned at the time, and the London services caused congestion at Queen Street where the platforms were not long enough to accommodate them. In addition, as the North Berwick Line was included in the ECML electrification and the depot for its EMU trains was Glasgow Shields Road TMD, a limited stop ScotRail service was also introduced between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Carstairs partly as a means of utilising what would otherwise have been empty stock movements. Some of these services operate all the way through from Glasgow Central to North Berwick.

From 2011, changes to the franchising arrangements resulted in most of the East Coast London King's Cross to Glasgow Central services being withdrawn. Instead, some CrossCountry services from south-west England to Edinburgh via York were extended from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central in order to maintain a service from Glasgow to north-east England. Although these are operated by diesel trains they continue to operate via Carstairs rather than the more direct Shotts line, which is not maintained for high speed running.


Map of the line in dark blue, it is the top half of the 'Y'.

Starting from Glasgow Central (High Level), the line follows the main spine of the WCML to Motherwell where it continues to Carstairs. South of the station, the line splits at Carstairs Junction where it joins another branch from the southern section of the WCML through a tight curve with a permanent speed restriction of 20 mph.

From Carstairs the line proceeds in a north easterly direction up the Edinburgh branch of the WCML towards Edinburgh. At Kirknewton the line joins up with the Shotts line and continues towards Haymarket station in western Edinburgh.

At Haymarket, the line joins the Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line from Glasgow Queen Street with four tracks running through the two main tunnels into Edinburgh Waverley station. London North Eastern Railway services and some Virgin Trains services use the two straight through platforms at either side of the historic station, while Abellio ScotRail services not working to North Berwick terminate at the several bay platforms on the west side of the station.


The main services to use the route are East Coast, Cross Country and Scottish Regional Services. It is generally not regarded as a main commuter route between Glasgow and Edinburgh owing to its circuitous route which involves travelling 30 miles south towards Carstairs and returning north again, and the lack of available train paths since long distance freight and express services are given priority on it.

Summer 2007[edit]

The most frequent user of the line was GNER which runs a service to and from Glasgow Central every two hours until 2000. However, due to engineering work at Edinburgh Waverley from late July until November, only one return service per day used the line. Buses replaced trains from Motherwell station, and passengers were advised to travel from Glasgow Queen Street station.

Virgin Trains West Coast operated services from both Edinburgh and Glasgow Central to London Euston via the WCML. Virgin CrossCountry operated services from Edinburgh via the ECML and Glasgow via the WCML to destinations as far as Brighton, Bournemouth and Penzance.

First ScotRail operates services to/from North Berwick on the line. Only a few services continued from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central from the coastal town. A similar service operated from Glasgow Central to North Berwick.

Winter 2007/08[edit]

The users of the line are:

  • National Express East Coast (NXEC) which runs a service to and from Glasgow Central on an approximately two-hour frequency.
  • Virgin Trains use the line to run services to England (to London and Birmingham).
  • CrossCountry trains operate services from Glasgow to Edinburgh for destinations to the southcoast.
  • First ScotRail operate services to/from North Berwick on the line. Only a few services continue from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central from the coastal town. A similar service operates from Glasgow Central to North Berwick.

Summer 2008[edit]

All First ScotRail services call at Haymarket, Carstairs and Motherwell on the route.

A few Virgin Trains services call at Carstairs, and most trains call at Haymarket and Motherwell (or their journeys to/from Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively).

All NXEC services call at Motherwell, with most now calling at Haymarket also, (the departure time for London bound services from Glasgow is now 10 minutes earlier than the 2007 timetable to allow for this extra call), previously passengers traveling from North Scotland would have to change at Edinburgh Waverley, often with tight connections.

Summer 2011[edit]

First ScotRail run services, as extensions of North Berwick Line services, running twice a day (Monday–Friday).

East Coast run two services per day on the route using InterCity 225s (one to/from London Kings Cross, and one to/from Edinburgh).[1]

CrossCountry service run approximately every two hours extending onto the ECML, and onwards to Birmingham and points south.

Journey times on the route are usually around 1 hour.

Winter 2012/13[edit]

Most of the services are almost the same as Summer 2011, but with East Coast running only one service to London leaving Glasgow at 0650 and one Glasgow bound from London arriving in Glasgow by 2130.

CrossCountry services are the same with every 2 hours but nearly all the Glasgow departures leave at the top of the hour.

First ScotRail has a few extensions to Glasgow through Edinburgh from North Berwick, but recently introduced the additional services between Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively calling at Edinburgh Suburbs, Carstairs, Carluke, Wishaw and Motherwell. These are every two hours on Mondays to Saturdays only. They are provided by Class 380s, as the section of line is electrified.


As of May 2018: Abellio ScotRail run a service roughly every two hours between Glasgow and Edinburgh calling at Motherwell, Wishaw Carluke Carstairs Haymarket and Edinburgh Waverley though 2 trains call at Kirknewton, Curriehill, Wester Hales, Kingsknowe and Slateford, All other services pass through without calling at these stations without calling but they are served regular by Shotts Line services, Most of these services are extended to/from Ayr with a few also continuing beyond Edinburgh to North Berwick, These services are operated by Class 380s though Class 156s can also be seen, These services don't operate on Sundays.

CrossCountry run a two hourly service to/from Glasgow Central with these services being operated by Class 220s, Class 221s and InterCity 125s.

Rolling stock[edit]

The route is electrified throughout using 25 kV overhead lines, and three of the passenger companies that use the route employ electric traction. Class 220 (non-tilting) and Class 221 (tilting) 'Voyager' diesel units are used on services to the Midlands and western and southern England.

  • London North Eastern Railway use InterCity 225s on its trains to and from Glasgow Central.
  • Abellio ScotRail use Class 380s, class 156 and 158s on the line, on Glasgow to/from North Berwick and Edinburgh- Glasgow services.
  • Virgin Trains West Coast use Class 390 'Pendolino' EMUs and Class 221 'Super Voyager' DEMUs on its Edinburgh / Glasgow to London Euston services.
  • CrossCountry use Class 220 'Voyager', Class 221 'Super Voyager' DEMUs and InterCity 125s on its services that continue from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central.

'Thunderbird' locomotive[edit]

Carstairs station is also the home of one of Virgin's special 'Thunderbird' Class 57 locomotives named after the Thunderbirds animation series and locomotives use characters from the series as their names. 'Thunderbirds' are used to haul broken down services for Virgin and are compatible with both the Pendolino and Voyager fleets.



  1. ^ "MONDAYS - FRIDAYS (23rd May to 9th December 2011)" (PDF). East Coast. 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 May 2011.


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  • Jowett, Alan (March 1989). Jowett's Railway Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland: From Pre-Grouping to the Present Day (1st ed.). Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85260-086-0. OCLC 22311137.