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The Glasgow Underground (Subway)

Built by The Glasgow District Subway Company

Opened 14 December 1896 Taken over by Glasgow Corporation Transport in 1923 Operated by Cable till 1935

Route Map 1961

I find the Days of cable operation 1896 to 1935 the most fascinating, how did it work. The in depth answer to that question and a detailed account of electrification in 1935 though to the closier and modernisation in the mid 1970's can be found in “The Glasgow Subway” by David L. Thomson and David E. Sinclair published in 1964 and in “Circles Under The Clyde” by John Wright and Ian Maclean published in 1997. But to give some idea of the cable operation a look at the figures involved will perhaps give an idea of the scale of the project.

The Tunnels, 2 loops each 11,527 yds or approximately 6 ½ miles long, at an average depth of about 30 ft. The internal diameter of 11 ft and the gauge of the rails 3 ft 9 in.

15 Stations, ( see map above ) it was envisaged that all stations would be of similar dimensions. An island platform 130 ft long and 10 ft wide raised 2 ft 2 in. above the rail level, the overall width of the stations would be 28 ft. However there were exceptions to this due to local conditions.

The Power Station was built in Scotland Street this not only housed the winding gear but also four 79 Kilowatt Dynamos (generators) which suppied the electrical requirements for the lighting systems, working the pumps and operating the hoist at Kelvinbridge.

Within the Power Station there were 2 enormous steam engines these were supplied with steam from 8 Lancashire boilers each 30 ft long and 8ft diameter. Flue gases from the boilers were emitted through a brick built 180 ft high chimney. Each of the 2 stream engines had a capacity of between 1500 and 2000 horse power through a single cylinder 3 ft 6 in. in diameter which had a stroke of 6 ft , this drove a flywheel with a diameter of 25 ft weighing 50 tons and turned at around 55 revolutions per minute which moved the cable at a speed of around 15 mph. Coal for the plant was delivered via private sidings by the Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway which ran at the back of the Power Station. On the roof supported by 14 cast iron columns was a cast iron water tank again of enormous proportions 73 ft long, 34 ft 8 in. wide and 8 ft 9 in deep in all 125,000 gallons of water was stored, the water alone weighed over 558 tons.

The Cables, there were 4, 2 in use and 2 in reserve each 11,650 yds long, 1 ½ in diameter, 57 tons in weight contained 600 miles of wire and were delivered via the railway sidings mentioned above. The cable ran in the centre of each track at a height 2 in. above the rail level held by 1700 sheaves and moved at a speed of approximately 13 miles per hour or one circuit per haft hour giving a running time of 39 minutes. The life of a cable varied but could last over 2 years and run up a mileage of over 175,000 miles.

The Cars, 30 were ordered, numbers 1 to 20 were ready for the opening in 1896 and 21 to 30 delivered in early 1897. The most important part of the train was the Grip, this device was mounted under the leading axle and was controlled by a handwheel and a lever operated by the Gripman ( Driver ). The Grip controlled the forward motion of the train by a method of gripping and releasing the cable.

As I said at the beginning a full history of the Underground ( Subway ) can be found in .“The Glasgow Subway”and “Circles Under The Clyde”


Motor Coaches: Nos. 1-3, 6,11-12, 14-18, 20-21, 23-25, 27-30, 55-60: 1896.

BUILDER: Oldbury Railway Carriage & Wagon Co., Birmingham; reconditioned for electric traction by Hurst Nelson, Motherwell.

BODY: Open saloon type with end vestibules and 'corridor' doors. Access to cars from one side only. Fitted leather upholstered seats for 42— in three sections per side of 9, 3 and 9. Power-operated collapsible steel gates are provided at each end platform though some cars now have solid sliding doors. One platform has the motorman's equipment while the other has the control panel.

BOGIES: HN 5' 6" wb., 2' diam. wheels. SKF roller bearings now replacing earlier oil bearings.

motors: MV 101DR, 4x60 h.p. Nos. 6,14, 17-18, 28, 30 have GEC motors.

EQUIPMENT: MV remote control, single-ended, with West, air brakes. These cars were originally gripper cars on cable-operated line electrified by the Corporation in 1933-1935. Cars 56 and 3 form three-car train (with Car 32) working as multiple unit.

Trailer Coaches: Nos. 4-5, 7-10, 13, 19, 22, 26, 31-32, 34-39, 41-45, 52:1896.

BUILDER: Hurst Nelson, Motherwell.

BODY: As for motor coaches but without control gear. Nos. 31-32, 34-35, 37-38, 39, 41-42, 44, 52 have shorter vestibules with 4 seats in the centre portion of the car—total seating 44. These cars were built originally as 4-wheel trailers, but c. 1900 were lengthened and converted to bogie type by Hurst Nelson, who also later reconditioned them for electric traction. No. 32 is rebuilt as a centre-entrance car to form a three-coach train with Car 56 leading and Car 3 behind operating as a multiple unit, on outer circle.

bogies: HN 5' wb., with SKF roller bearings replacing earlier oil bearings.

Battery-Electric Locomotive.

BUILDER: British Electric Vehicles, Liverpool, 1927.

BODY: 4-wheel 'steeple' cab type.

MOTORS: 2x 16 h.p. Supplied by BEV.

EQUIPMENT: EE (type D.K. DP4) controllers, hand brakes.

power supply: 64 acid cells.


Cable Winding Gear
Cars No1 & 2
The Grip
Power House
Delivering a New Cable
A Station in the 1930's
“The Glasgow Subway” by David L. Thomson and David E. Sinclair published in 1964
The Tunnels
“Circles Under The Clyde” by John Wright and Ian Maclean published in 1997