The history of Glasgow Central station

The larger of two stations in Glasgow and the busiest station in Scotland.

An uneasy rivalry and a burgeoning city were the perfect combination for the emergence of Glasgow Central Station. Rapidly rising passenger numbers meant that the station expanded and improved until it became one of the two main stations in Glasgow.


To understand the arrival of Glasgow Central Station it is necessary to look further back in time. In 1840 Glasgow’s main terminal was south of the river Clyde at Bridge Street. It was jointly operated by two companies, the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayrshire Railway Company (GPK&A) and the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway Company (GP&G). In 1847 the GP&G joined the Caledonian Railway Company and in 1850 the GPK&A merged with another company to create the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company.

Breaking into the City

As Glasgow expanded in the 1860s both companies desired a station closer to the city, but it required crossing the river Clyde. Opposition from the Clyde Navigation Trust was strong whenever a proposal was made to bridge the river because it would restrict trade on the river. Not only this but rival companies would block attempts to get closer to the city, creating a stalemate for some 25 years. With the population of Glasgow rapidly increasing it became evident that Bridge Street was not adequate for the rising passenger numbers. This led to the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company building St. Enoch’s Station, leaving Bridge Street under the Caledonian Railway’s management.

The Caledonian Railway finally received an Act to bridge the river Clyde and build Glasgow Central Station (then known as Gordon Street Station) in 1873. The original plan was to create and upper railway deck on the already existing Jamaica Bridge, like the High Level Bridge in Newcastle, but in 1875 their plans had been amended to create a separate bridge and to realign the track. The bridge was built by Sir William Arrol, who would go on to build the Forth Bridge. Glasgow Central opened with eight platforms in 1879. The cost to build the original station was around £2,000,000.

Low-Level Station

To exploit the freight traffic coming from the expanding docks and shipyards in the city it was proposed to build an elevated railway above the streets, much like those of New York. The main advantage of this was that it was cheaper than tunnelling but had the disadvantage of spoiling the aesthetic of the city and the noise. The elevated railway would pass over Argyle Street and through Central. Under pressure from the city’s authorities and businesses these plans were abandoned in favour of the Glasgow Central Railway Company, which would instead run under the city and form Glasgow Central Low-Level Station, opened in 1896.

Massive Expansion

The passenger demand on the station quickly overwhelmed the facilities and a few years later Central was expanded, adding a ninth platform. This was only a temporary solution and between 1899 and 1905 the station was substantially expanded by the architect James Miller. This involved increasing the number of platforms from nine to thirteen, extending over Argyle Street with a new frontage at Hope Street. The expansion retained the original roof, but the new section had arched ironwork rather than the traditional horizontal ironwork of the original roof. Low-Level was also connected to the main high-level station. A new bridge was also built alongside the existing bridge to carry eight more tracks. The extension carried ornamentation, large canopies, stained glass panels, wood panelling, ornate ironwork and decorative stonework. Because of this work the Caledonian Railway decided to close Bridge Street Station in 1905.

Only small changes were made to the station between 1905 and 1980. The Low-Level station was closed in 1964 and then re-opened for the suburban Argyle Line in 1979 with redesigned and simplified passageways. In 1966 Central station was modernised, removing most of the ornamentation including the station clock, replacing the wrought iron with plastic panelling and building a new main ticket office. By 1980 the manual train departure boards had been replaced by dot-matrix screens.

Modernisation and Refurbishment

In the 1990s, as part of the Railtrack Station Regeneration Programme in Scotland, Railtrack spent £80m refurbishing the station with conservation in mind. This included refurbishing the roof structure, restoration of glazed screens and new station buildings were built to mimic the original James Millar structures of the original station and the restoration of the Hielanman’s Umbrella. In 2005 the 1980s dot-matrix screens were replaced with LED screens and the upper restaurant area was improved. In 2009 as part of the Paisley Corridor Improvement Project two new tracks and bridge deck were added, two new platforms were also built replacing the short stay car park. New Overhead Line Equipment (OLE) and signalling accompanied these new features.  

In 2014, to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, a further refurbishment was undertaken by Atkins. This work included transforming the Union Street entrance, Low Level station, main concourse washrooms and installing ornate ironwork to compliment the original station design. Glasgow Central was recognised as the National Transport Award’s and Europe’s Station of the Year in 2014 and won the Scottish Design Award for re-use of a listed building. In 2019 it was announced that Network Rail would spend £13m refurbishing Clyde Bridge over two years.

Did you know?

The Glasgow Central Signal Box built in 1908 was placed between the two approach bridges, over the Clyde on a cantilever. This was because no space could be found to build it on land.

In the 1990s, the restoration of the station took over 850,000 person-hours.

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