Why was so much of suburban Glasgow electrified?

Discussion in 'Railway History & Nostalgia' started by GLC, 16 Aug 2019.

  1. GLC

    GLC Member

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    First of, I apologise if this has been asked before. I did search both the forums, and the internet generally, but nothing really came up.

    I recently saw a map of all railway lines in the U.K., and while I knew that the U.K. network was mostly non-electrified, I had no idea that Glasgow was a bit of an outlier in terms of how much of the network was electrified.

    Given that a lot of the suburban lines in Glasgow went to OHLE way back in the 1960s, I was wondering why this occurred in Glasgow? It’s not the biggest city in the U.K., and the WCML wasn’t electrified to Glasgow until the 70s, so the local network was a little island of electrification for a while. Obviously I am pleased it has happened, but I would be interested to know the finer details of what made Glasgow suitable for such extensive electrification
     
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  3. dubscottie

    dubscottie Member

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    Population density and economics. While industry stayed where it was, the population moved further away to new build estates due to poor housing/bomb damage so the demand for trains increased.

    Families of 6 that lived in a 2 room tenement could now afford to rent a 2-3 bed council house and commute to the shipyards or steel works.

    Running many more steam/DMU trains on start/stop routes was expensive.

    Same reason the Southern expanded its 3rd rail.
     
  4. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    Glasgow actually has the largest suburban rail network in the UK outside London, and it must have been well-used in the 1960s to merit electrification rather than downgrading or closure as happened to many suburban services in Manchester, Birmingham and Tyneside for example. Something to do with the closure of the tram network about the same time, when the other cities got rid of theirs earlier?
     
  5. Jorge Da Silva

    Jorge Da Silva Established Member

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    Some still closed though. Much of it free of development
     
  6. 70014IronDuke

    70014IronDuke Established Member

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    The OP poses an interesting question, and you make a good point about the size of the network (which I didn't know). Certainly, I remember arriving at Glasgow Central on the overnight from St Pancras at about 07.30 in 1965 and being amazed at the frequency of steam-hauled arrivals as we waited around until about 09.00. It felt like going back in time. (I didn't really take much notice of the electric service at the time.)

    Interestingly, this was Good Friday, which wasn't a bank holiday in Scotland at that time.

    TBH, my first reaction to the OP was "politics" (meant in a good sense here for once). Yes, the suburban service in Glasgow was and is extensive, and clearly investment had to be made, if only in DMUs, but I suspect it was felt in London that money had to be shared out, the city had been bombed and was infamous for its poor housing - and the best use of any rail investment in Scotland was the Glasgow suburban. A case of the more bums (on seats) for bucks.

    I wonder if there may have been a visionary planner who thought: If we can get the wires up to Motherwell, we could also cut the investment costs for electrification to Weaver - but maybe that's a vision too far.
     
  7. CaledonianBlue

    CaledonianBlue Member

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    The size of the suburban network must have given it a critical mass that must have seemed obvious at the time. Also I'd have thought having tunnelled sections would be part of it, electric being preferable to steam. (a similar case for Mersey rail in a tunnel between Liverpool and Birkenhead/the Wirral, which I see was electrified in 1903).

    In fact you could pose the question the other way, and ask why not more of the Glasgow system was electrified. Almost unbelievably, a then operating steam service through Glasgow Central low level was actually shut (1964), rather than being electrified, even after the Queen St low level line had been electrified (1960).

    A little research reveals the Glasgow Central Railway had been considered for electrification, and gained powers for it,. as far back as 1898.

    Can't help wondering if there would ever be a case for reopening the sections from Stobcross to Maryhill and/or Bridgeton to Tollcross etc. [Speculation alert!] There can't be many sections of urban tunnelled railway so abandoned (stubs in London, also the curiously forgotten Scotland Street tunnel in Edinburgh )
     
  8. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    I think the closures were mainly where the networks of the Caledonian and North British were pretty much parallel. Even the Argyle Line sort of parallels the line through Queen Street Low Level, which had a branch to Bridgeton Central that was electrified with that line but closed when the Argyle re-opened providing a better service to a station a short walk away. The other closures were mainly at the outer extremities of the network and probably never saw much commuter use.
     
  9. 6Gman

    6Gman Established Member

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    Fascinating question from the OP.

    My suggestion would be that it was a case of dividing up the investment across the Regions.

    The LMR got WCML electrification. (I think they got the first prize!)

    The SR got the Kent electrification.

    The WR, being the WR, got their "different from everybody else" hydraulics and spurned electrification.

    The ER got extensions to the electrification out of Liverpool Street.

    The NER got ... very little! (Perhaps they were more freight-orientated hence Tyne and Tees Yards.)

    The ScR looked at their network and the only place that justified electrification was Glasgow. Which they got ...
     
  10. GLC

    GLC Member

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    I’m glad I’m not the only one who was curious about this issue! There are a lot of great ideas thrown out here, which I have greatly enjoyed reading. After reading some of the posts here, I was inspired to actually dig out the BR modernisation plan (https://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/BTC_Mod001.pdf), which, on page 14, specifically calls out Glasgow suburban electrification as being a priority( 190 miles of it!). Reading the earlier pages of the plan, it seems that the density of the railway station network in Glasgow, coupled with the fact so much of the network shared a good amount of track, meant that Glasgow would see a big difference in electric traction versus diesel traction, and it would be cost effective to implement, with so much commonality between lines (Atleast leaving glasgow central high level anyway). So yes, it looks like economics, and network density were the reason behind it all.

    The modernisation plan also calls out the Inglis report, which some googling tells me made the case for electrification of Glasgow. Unfortunately I’ve not yet found a copy of this so far online( only a physical one for £17), so perhaps this report will be the missing link in all this!
     
  11. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    I was familiar with these networks shortly before they joined the WCML.

    The North Side lines run in a substantial tunnel across the city, and Queen Street Low level was a smelly smoky hole. It must have been apparent to all that very frequent dmu services there would be intolerable. There was also a desire to beat the local bus services, which at the time (late 1950s) were converting over from a very extensive, but slow, tram network.

    The south side lines less so. The Cathcart Circle even after electrification had quite wide intervals, compared to the "always one in sight" bus services up above, and never seemed to carry significant loads.

    Both sides had issues with electrification in the inner areas, and had sections of reduced 6.25Kv electrification which gave severe problems. It was the north side that had the fatal 1961 transformer explosion in one of the new Blue Trains that caused their withdrawal almost immediately after introduction, they were off service for the best part of a year.
     
  12. Albaman

    Albaman Member

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    Something which has always puzzled me regarding this scheme is the fact that the Scottish Region appears to have had the autonomy to specify their own design, both internal and external, for the class 303 units and not accept units similar to the , more or less, contemporaneous class 304.Over the years I have read various articles about the Glasgow Suburban Electrification scheme but I have never seen a reference to this point.

    Anyone got any thoughts, please?
     
  13. randyrippley

    randyrippley Established Member

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    I thought they were based on the designs for the Swindon Trans-Pennine DMUs
     
  14. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    The front cab windows were the same as the Trans Pennines, likewise the Clacton 309s except these had a corridor inserted. All ended up getting rebuilt because the curved glass windscreen could not be made robust enough.

    Being used to the Wirral units before I went to Scotland, they did not seem unusual, except that the traditional swing door to the guards' compartment, lined internally in wood planking, looked anachronistic with the rest of the unit.

    For 25Kv units they didn't seem to be driven particularly hard or fast. And, going by the performance of the 2x27 Edinburgh-Glasgow trains at the same time, it wasn't as if Glasgow crews couldn't run spectacularly if they wanted!
     
  15. RLBH

    RLBH Member

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    Glasgow Corporation, as it was at the time, did want to electrify everything - even the lines that got closed! I think the only exceptions were the goods lines, and Cowlairs Tunnel which was to be abandoned in favour of a new, much larger, station on the site of Buchanan Street station.
     
  16. Journeyman

    Journeyman Established Member

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    The idea was to produce a specific train to give Glasgow's electric network a distinctive identity. I suppose it was easier to do when you're starting an electric system from scratch - the Southern was always hamstrung by its obsessive recycling of underframes and need for backward compatibility, which made it impossible to introduce power doors.

    Also, there are issues with running metro-layout trains over longer distances, which is another reason why the Southern were wedded to slam doors and compartments - the Glasgow network was fairly compact with typical journey times fairly short, whereas the Southern's longest suburban runs made standing very unpopular.

    The design of the 303s was pretty radical for the time, when you look at how drab and miserable their slam-door contemporaries were, especially when not looked after properly - the North London 501s were particularly bad in this regard.

    Was this part of their post-war plan to redevelop Glasgow's railways as some sort of metro system?
     
  17. RLBH

    RLBH Member

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    Certainly part of Glasgow's generally quite mad plans in the 1950s to develop the city into a kind of transport utopia.
     
  18. d9009alycidon

    d9009alycidon Member

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    There was the infamous Bruce Report https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Report and video here https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/3158 which proposed to demolish all four of the Glasgow Stations and replace them with two purpose built stations Glasgow North and Glasgow South. Almost the entire city centre would also have been razed to the ground and rebuilt. Thankfully this report was never taken any further, the option of building the new towns outside Glasgow being used instead, God only knows what kind of ugly brutalist city we would have ended up with had it went ahead.
    Meanwhile back on the rails, the Central Low Level line has an interesting history as has been noted before it was shut in 1964 but the decision was made to leave the track and signalling in place through the core section (Rutherglen to Partick) as what would become the Clyderail report was already being formulated and this envisaged the reopening of this line, unfortunately such was the degree of theft and vandalism the track and signalling was removed in 1965. The line almost never was reopened as in the latter half of the 1960s the Scottish Regions was totally strapped for cash and started disposing of closed sites (e.g. St Enoch and Buchanan Street) very quickly. Pasts of the low level line would also have been sold off had the issue not been brought to the attention of HQ in London who put the brakes on the wholesale selloff. As it was part of the old "north" platform site at Central Low Level which was partially open air was sold off and a property development built, thankfully this did not get in the way of the reopening. There is a fascinating thread on this line in the Urban Glasgow site.
     
  19. 30907

    30907 Established Member

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    The only point I would add to the original discussion is that Glasgow was behind most major English conurbations in getting electrification - Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle had theirs (Manchester was piecemeal, but had just had Crewe added). The West Midlands was due to be covered (in part) as part of the WCML electrification.
     
  20. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    Actually some of Glasgow's local runs are quite lengthy, particularly after the Gourock/Wemyss Bay lines came on line in 1967. Where I worked there in the mid-1970s there was a colleague from Helensburgh, and it seemed the whole town there revolved round the just two commuter "expresses", which were semi-fast in from Dumbarton to Charing Cross in the morning and back in the evening. They weren't that much faster, as there was no 4-track or opportunity to overtake, but it saved a good few minutes, probably at the expense of delaying other services.

    I never quite got the benefit of reopening the Central Low Level lines; they just branch off from the Queen Street lines and run parallel through the city generally no more than 10 minutes walking distance apart. Out to the east, the former Queen Street branch to Bridgeton, whose trains on that last lap must have been down to single figure numbers of passengers, stopped just spitting distance from where a link under the road would have plugged them in to the Central line alignment, allowing running on to Rutherglen and beyond. Bridgeton on the Queen Street line was closed when the one over the road on the Central line was opened.
     
  21. matchmaker

    matchmaker Member

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    There were serious injuries caused by a transformer explosion at Renton, but no fatalities. It was in December 1960, and electric services were withdrawn shortly after.
     
  22. 30907

    30907 Established Member

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    Taking pressure off Central HL perhaps, without overloading QS LL? And maybe the eventual burrowing junction at Partick was a better bet than a connection at Bridgeton?
     
  23. d9009alycidon

    d9009alycidon Member

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    The connection at Bridgeton was on the original Clyderail Plan, but was later dropped due to low cost benefit. Had this idea been adopted instead of the Kelvinhaugh junction, you would have had a double track bottleneck all the way form High Street to Hyndland instead of the current bottleneck between Kelvinhaugh and Hyndland which is bad enough. One of the guys on the Urban Glasgow site put forward an idea which in retrospect would have been far better than the Kelvinhaugh burrowing junction, his idea was to continue the original Central Low Level route up to west of Hyndland, and make the junction there https://urbanglasgow.co.uk/fantasy-thread-t4645.html. It wouldn't have completely removed the bottleneck but it would have been more flexible
     
  24. d9009alycidon

    d9009alycidon Member

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    The two services were one express (headcode 22 to Bridgeton and 12 to Helensburgh) an one limited stop (Headcode 24 to Bridgeton and 14 to Helensburgh). Although you are correct in saying that there were no 4-track sections all the fast trains ran via the slightly shorter and less intensively worked route via Yoker while the stopping train went up round via Singer so the expresses could easily overtake the stoppers before Hyndland.
     
  25. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    The purely suburban electrification in Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle dated from the pre-Grouping era when some of the more forward-looking companies electrified and improved their services, mostly in response to competition from electric trams. Apart from Glasgow, most of the suburban services converted to electric traction in the 1960s were essentially adjuncts to schemes intended for intercity passenger and freight traffic. Walsall was a partial exception but after electrifying the main passenger and freight routes and principal connecting lines it was little more than a minor infill.

    So it's even more curious that the opposite policy was followed in Glasgow, electrifying not only those lines that would (a decade later) carry main line electric services, but also those that would only ever be suburban. The equivalent in Manchester for example would have been to electrify the Marple and Buxton lines, which haven't been done to this day.
     
  26. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

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    I wouldn't say that the 303s were particularly 'radical' in they design, after all the class 306 and 506 EMUs were fuctionallly the same (ignoring the 506's 1500VDC supply requirement). They were cosmetically different which was probably to give a marketing boost when the electric lines opened. Known as 'Blue Trains' they had a short honeymoon, as BR adopted rail blue in the mid-'60s across all non-express trains.
     
  27. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    I like to think that BR's sliding door stock concepts were set by the 1938 Wirral units, which as described above I came from familiarity with to Glasgow. These had all the aspects, of air doors, passenger push-button plus guard control, efficient seating layout, etc. They were designed by a Met-Cam/BRCW consortium, and followed a lot of London Underground style that these same builders were working on at the time. They would not feel out of place on any system today.

    It was notable that all of the Euston-Watford, Bury and South Tyneside electric lines, which had old saloon stock with manual sliding end doors, were replaced in the 1950s by Southern-style units with doors to each seating bay, which seemed a backwards step. I believe that there were many criticisms over what replaced the LNWR Watford stock, which felt uncomfortably inferior.
     
  28. CaledonianBlue

    CaledonianBlue Member

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    Surely almost any section of underground rail can be regarded as a precious urban asset (barring stubs like Aldwych in London), that other cities without them would be grateful for; in this case the ability to serve both Glasgow's main termini with underground services to south/east and west.
     
  29. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Having saloon stock with end doors on suburban services seems like a recipe for long dwell times to me.
     
  30. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    BR seems to have taken a step backwards in suburban unit design. Units for both the LMS (Wirral) and the LNER (Shenfield and Hadfield) designed around WW2 had power double doors at thirds, but excepting Glasgow all BR designed units adopted Southern practice of slam doors (to every bay on shorter-distance units) until the PEP prototypes and Class 313 in the 1970s.
     
  31. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

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    Yes, I'd agree. That's why the 306s lasted into the '80s on the Shenfield services. Intensive metro operation didn't seem to beat them that often although the ac mods didn't do much for extreme crush loads.
    Equally the LNER EMUs were Metro-Cam and BRCW, EE traction equipment and pneumatic doors at 1/3-2/3 positions. They also had series/parallel switching from the 1500VDC bus to reduce the power dissipated in the load resistors, (this was retained in the ac converted design as well).
     

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