Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway

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Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway
Locale Scotland
Dates of operation 15 July 1837 – 9 July 1847
Successor Caledonian Railway
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Fort Matilda
Greenock Princes Pier(G&AR)
Newton Street Tunnel
Greenock West
Greenock Central
Greenock and Ayrshire Railway
Greenock and Wemyss Bay Railway
Port Glasgow (Inch Green) Goods(G&AR)
Port Glasgow
Bishopton Tunnel
Walkinshaw North & South Junctions
Paisley St James
Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway
Paisley and Barrhead District Railway
Paisley Gilmour Street
Wallneuk Junction
Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway

The Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway (GP&GR) was an early Scottish railway, opened in 1841, providing train services between Greenock and Glasgow. At the time the River Clyde was not accessible to sea-going ships, and the intention was to compete with river boats that brought goods to and from the city. In fact passenger traffic proved surprisingly buoyant, and connecting steamer services to island resorts in the Firth of Clyde provided a very great source of business.

The GP&GR merged with the larger Caledonian Railway in 1851.

The Greenock station was not alongside the steamer berths and as the trade developed, this became a significant disadvantage. The independent Greenock and Wemyss Bay Railway built a branch line to a pier at Wemyss Bay, giving much closer access to Rothesay, and in 1889 the Greenock line itself was extended to Gourock. The work involved the building of Newton Street Tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in Scotland.

The line between Glasgow and Greenock and Gourock is active at the present day.


Before the GP&GR[edit]

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the City of Glasgow had long been growing in industrial and commercial importance. With that growth came the need for transport of manufactured goods and raw materials, and at first crude horse-operated tramways responded to that demand, particularly short lines built to convey minerals to waterways. The River Clyde itself was a major traffic artery, but difficult navigational problems made it impossible for large vessels to reach the city. Increasingly, sea-going ships berthed at Greenock, and goods were trans-shipped there to smaller boats that could navigate the Clyde. Passengers too changed at Greenock to reach the city.

Passenger traffic was heavy following the introduction of steam vessels: traffic density may be judged from the fact that in the years 1838 and 1839 there were 69 collisions on the river.<ref name = paterson>John Thomas revised J S Paterson, A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 6, Scotland, the Lowlands and the Borders, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1984, ISBN 0 946537 12 7</ref>

Greenock itself grew in importance; it had a harbour in 1710, and became a focus for international trade, and the town developed numerous industries, including ship-building, metal working, sugar refining and hat making.<ref name = paterson/><ref name = weir>Daniel Weir, History of the Town of Greenock, Robertson and Atkinson, Glasgow, 1829</ref>

A railway proposed[edit]

System map of the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway in 1841

The successful operation of the "coal railways" in the west of Scotland, notably the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway, encouraged thoughts of a railway between Greenock and Glasgow, and in 1836 these thoughts took the form of a prospectus for a company. This led to a Parliamentary Bill, but at the same time another proposed railway, the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway was being presented; the two lines would have very similar routes between Glasgow and Paisley, and it became plain that Parliament would be reluctant to authorise two adjacent lines; moreover the landowners would be hostile to the double loss of amenity. The respective promoters responded to this by agreeing on a jointly made and operated line between Glasgow and Paisley.

In fact land acquisition was a significant issue for the company. Houston station was built only because Lord Douglas made that the price of his withdrawing opposition to the Bill, and although the Company was pleased to have obtained all the necessary lands without legal sanction (except in one case), it paid 18.1% of its capital for land, compared with 12 - 13% for comparable lines. Its Parliamentary costs were also much higher than for other lines.<ref name = robertsontable40-41>Robertson, tables 40 and 41</ref>

Both companies were authorised by Act of Parliament of 15 July 1837.

The Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal had been authorised by Parliament, but in fact was only built between Glasgow and Johnstone; Parliament wished to prevent partial construction of the new railways, and the authorising Acts required construction to be undertaken from both ends of the lines.<ref name= thomas>Thomas (1971), Chapter VII: The River Clyde and Loch Lomond</ref><ref name = ross>David Ross, The Caledonian—Scotland's Imperial Railway—A History, Stenlake Publishing Ltd, Catrine, 2013, ISBN 978 184 033 5842</ref><ref name = robertson>C J A Robertson, The Origins of the Scottish Railway System: 1722-1844, John Donald (Publishers), Edinburgh, 1983, ISBN 0-85976-088-X.</ref>

Construction and opening[edit]

The track gauge had not yet been decided; the coal railways already active in the west of Scotland used a gauge of 4 ft 6 in (1,372 mm) and for a time it was thought that this gauge would be adopted. At this stage the design of the line was in the hands of Thomas Grainger who had been largely responsible for the coal railways. However much thought was being given by others to a line connecting Glasgow and the English railways. The line was to become the Caledonian Railway; trunk railways in England were already established and standard gauge was in general use there. The implications of a railway network were now understood, and the Greenock line decided to adopt standard gauge. The GPK&AR followed suit.<ref name = g&swr> David Ross, The Glasgow and South Western Railway: A History, Stenlake Publishing Limited, Catrine, 2014, ISBN 978 1 84033 648 1</ref>

The first Secretary to the company appointed in 1837 was Captain Mark Huish; at that time he was new to railway management. He later went on to become the General Manager of the London & North Western Railway Company.<ref>Gourvish, Terry (1972). Mark Huish and the London and North Western Railway, A Study of Management. Leicester: Leicester University Press.</ref>

The contract for the first seven miles of the railway was agreed in 1839, the engineer being Joseph Locke supported by his partner John Errington; the contractor was Thomas Brassey.<ref name = robertson/><ref>Helps, Arthur [1872] (2006). The Life and Works of Mr Brassey. Republished Nonsuch, 2006, page 106. ISBN 1-84588-011-0</ref><ref name = webster>Webster</ref> This was to be the first work of Locke in Scotland; and Brassey's fourth contract.<ref name = webster/>

The GPK&AR was able to open to traffic on the joint section between a temporary terminus in Glasgow at Bridge Street and Paisley, for a demonstration run on 13 July 1840; it opened fully to the public the following day; the GPK&AR went on to extend towards Ayr in the following months. The GP&GR was unable to open at this stage, due to serious difficulties in forming the Bishopton tunnel and the rock cuttings approaching it, and it was not until 31 March 1841 that it was able to open.<ref name= thomas/>

The permanent Bridge Street station opened a week later, on 6 April 1841.<ref name = ross/>

The section between Glasgow and Paisley was managed by a joint committee, of representatives of the GP&GR and GPK&AR; it was known as the Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway: the section of line was jointly owned with the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway.<ref name= thomas />

The construction had significantly overrun Grainger's estimates: he had quoted £393,000 and the Company had exhausted its £666,666 of share and loan capital, and had had to apply for powers for a further £200,000 in loans. Shareholders were critical of some of the contract arrangements, which appeared to be wasteful, if not corrupt.<ref name = robertson/>

First years of operation[edit]

On opening, the company had stations at Bridge Street in Glasgow and at Paisley (both on the Joint Section), Bishopton, Port Glasgow and Greenock.<ref group = note>Butt and Cobb say that the Greenock station was called "Greenock Bridge Street"; Quick adds a question mark. There is, and was, no such thoroughfare in the area; and of course there was no need to specify. This may be confusion with sources referring to "the Greenock Railway's terminus at Bridge Street", referring of course to the Glasgow station. Paisley station was simply known as "Paisley"; the Paisley and Renfrew Railway already had a terminal in the town, but neither station needed a specifier. Paisley station was renamed Paisley Gilmour Street in 1872.</ref>

The 1850 Bradshaw timetable shows nine trains each way between "Glasgow, Paisley, and Greenock", with no tabular indication of running: the starting times only of the trains is shown. The first from Greenock started at 5.30 a.m. (except on Mondays), or as soon thereafter as the arrival of the mail steamer from Belfast will allow.<ref name = bradshaw1850>Bradshaw's General Steam Navigation and Railway Guide, 3rd mo, (March) 1850, reprinted by Middleton Press, Midhurst, 2012, ISBN 978 1 908174 13 0</ref>

The Company paid a good dividend, an annualised equivalent of 4% was declared at the first half-yearly meeting in 1841, but this was before any actual operating income had come in. When actual receipts were known this quickly reduced and never exceeded 2% (annualised). At over 50% the ratio of operating costs to income was poor, and it emerged that a track maintenance contract had been let at first for £250 per mile to the managing director's nephew-in-law, while the GPK&AR paid about £85 per mile to an independent contractor.<ref name = roberston226>Robertson, page 226</ref>

Amalgamation with the Caledonian Railway[edit]

For some time the alliance between the Caledonian Railway and the GP&GR was strong, and in 1847 the Caledonian obtained Parliamentary authority to absorb the Greenock line. This proved to be more contentious than it had appeared: the terms of share transfer were difficult as the GP&GR held out for guaranteed income, and as the Caledonian considered the financial situation of the Greenock company, it became alarmed at apparent financial impropriety in the company. The Caledonian's own finances were not strong, and the alarm increased with time, and on 6 May 1850 the Caledonian board decided to try to repeal the Act of amalgamation.

In fact this was not proceeded with, and in time the Caledonian relented, and on 26 May 1851 an amalgamation agreement was signed; it was enacted by Parliament on 7 August 1851. The Caledonian paid an annuity to the shareholders of the former Greenock company.<ref name = ross/>

Steamer connections[edit]

The passenger traffic on the line exceeded original estimates; a particular growth traffic was passengers connecting with steamers at Greenock for the island resorts. Business people acquired residences on the islands and other Firth of Clyde locations, and in many cases travelled each weekend. The journey time was critical, and goods and parcels traffic for the steamers was required to be sent down by the previous train; passengers making the connection hurried through the streets of Greenock. The station faced Cathcart Street and the steamers berthed at Custom House Quay, a few minutes away.

The Greenock and Wemyss Bay Railway in 1865

Rothesay became extremely popular as a resort, and as demand for journeys to and from the islands established, it was recognised that Greenock was not ideal in providing the railhead. A more suitable location was Wemyss Bay, where a pier giving closer access to Rothesay was available. The Greenock and Wemyss Bay Railway was formed, obtaining Parliamentary authorisation on 17 July 1862. It left the Greenock line at Port Glasgow and skirted the southern margin of Greenock, climbing on to high ground before descending into Wemyss Bay. The line opened on 15 May 1865 and was worked by the Caledonian Railway. Although the Wemyss Bay company was friendly to the Caledonian, relations were sometimes strained; a joint committee oversaw the operation of the line.

The year 1865 saw a more ominous development, when the Greenock and Ayrshire Railway (G&AR) was authorised. It was to join with the Glasgow and South Western Railway and would form a directly competing line for Glasgow to Greenock traffic. The Greenock and Ayrshire line opened to passenger traffic on 23 December 1869, after several weeks running goods trains only. Its Greenock terminus was at Albert Harbour, and the trains ran directly to the berths. Immediately aggressive price competition started, resulting in impossibly cheap fares. The G&AR had an advantage in throughout journey times to Firth of Clyde destinations, and abstracted a large share of the business from the Caledonian. At that time both the Caledonian trains and the G&SWR trains were using Bridge Street station in Glasgow; that station became very congested.

The desperate competition for business, and duplication of steamer sailings, continued for some time, until in March 1871 a traffic pooling agreement was reached: the CR would receive 57.67% of traffic income.

The Wemyss Bay company now protested: it had not been involved in the pooling negotiations and it demanded a better share. The dispute went to arbitration, and the arbitrator's award went against the Caledonian Railway.<ref name = ross/>

Now another player entered the field: the North British Railway opened a pier at Craigendoran, on the right bank of the Clyde, in 1882.

Extending to Gourock[edit]

Railways of Greenock in 1889

In 1841 the Greenock station in Cathcart Street had seemed perfect, but as the Clyde steamer trade developed, its location had become a disadvantage; relations with the Wemyss Bay company were often difficult. The Caledonian Railway had purchased land at Gourock in 1869. It was only 3 miles (5 km) from Greenock by land but considerably more convenient for shipping; the Caledonian had ideas of making a transatlantic ocean terminal at Gourock and in 1878 attempted to get Parliamentary approval, but this was rejected.

The Caledonian revised its intentions, and concentrated on the competitive advantage of Gourock for the Firth of Clyde steamer traffic. Parliamentary authorisation was obtained on 28 July 1884. Although the extent of new railway was short, a long tunnel was required: Newton Street Tunnel became the longest railway tunnel in Scotland, at 2,110 yards (1,929 m), costing £620,000. Greenock station was renamed Greenock Central.<ref group = note>Briefly Greenock, Cathcart Street.</ref> The extension opened on 1 June 1889.

Now the Wemyss Bay company once again took offence, for the Gourock steamer connection would deprive them of traffic. However terms for acquisition of the Wemyss Bay company by the Caledonian Railway were agreed in August 1889. Parliamentary authority was required for this, and there was some delay in obtaining it, but the two companies now acted in concert until the necessary Act was passed on 27 July 1893.<ref name = paterson/>

Caledonian Steam Packet Company[edit]

The Caledonian Railway depended on steamer operators for the onward connections from its piers, and the relationship was not always satisfactory. In frustration the company applied for powers to own and operate its own steamships, but in March 1889 this was rejected, following spirited opposition from the steamer operators themselves. The solution was the formation of a nominally independent company, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company (CSPC).

For some time this proved highly successful, but competition was fierce between the Caledonian (with the CSPC) via Gourock, the G&SWR via their impressive terminal at Greenock, Princes Pier, and the North British Railway via Graigendoran. The competition led to triplication of services vying to provide the fastest transit from island resorts to the City.<ref name = paterson/>

Nock describes the scene in about 1893:

In the half hour following 4 p.m. the Glasgow terminal stations between them despatched no fewer than eleven boat trains, and with these trains were associated thirteen steamers! On the Caledonian no luggage at all was permitted at all on the Clyde boat expresses. When no more than 2 minutes was scheduled at Gourock between arrival of the train and departure of the boat one cannot be concerned with such trifles as luggage! ... At the very height of the rivalry the Caledonian booked the 4.8 p.m. from Glasgow Central to run the 26.2 miles to Gourock in 32 minutes. Although the line is on a fairly easy gradient the run was complicated buy the need to slow down at the junctions at Paisley, and again over the continuous curvature of the extension line from Greenock Central through Fort Matilda to Gourock.<ref name = nock>O S Nock, The Caledonian Railway, Ian Allan Limited, London, 1961</ref>

Improved dock facilities at Greenock[edit]

The Burgh of Greenock went to considerable expense to ensure that its harbour facilities were kept up to date; in 1880 the harbour at Garvel on the eastern side of Greenock was further extended. It provided three miles (5 km) of quays with the most modern mechanical handling equipment. A new connection to dock lines was provided there from the Greenock line at Ladyburn, just west of Bogston station, where an engine shed was also provided.<ref name = g&swr/>

The twentieth century[edit]

After 1900 the carriage of goods assumed increased importance, and the Burgh of Greenock particularly expended considerable effort in improving dock facilities. The grouping of the railways under the Railways Act 1921 consolidated the Caledonian interest with the G&SWR, although relatively limited rationalisation took place. After World War II there was a brief resurgence of the holidaymaking spirit of a sail doon the watter but changing social habits brought this to serious decline in the 1960s, and at length the steamer connection was distanced from railway operation.

The railways of Greenock in 1971

In the early 1960s electrification of suburban routes around Glasgow was being implemented, on the 25kV ac overhead system. After several routes had been electrified, in October 1964 the Gourock and Wemyss Bay lines were authorised for treatment. The Glasgow and Paisley Joint Line was quadruple track, but was reduced to double track as part of the work, and the Wemyss Bay branch was to be partly singled. The track bed in Newton Street Tunnel was lowered to provide electrification clearances. 19 three-car units were ordered for the services, from Cravens, part of the Metro Cammell group; the units became class 311.

A partial service to Gourock started on 5 June 1967, with a full electric passenger service from 5 September 1967.<ref name = gillham>J C Gillham, The Age of the Electric Train, Ian Allan Limited, London, 1988, ISBN 0 7110 1392 6</ref>


The Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway opened between Bridge Street station in Glasgow and Greenock on 31 March 1841; it amalgamated with the Caledonian Railway on 7 August 1851.

The independent Greenock and Wemyss Bay Railway opened on 15 May 1865; it was absorbed by the Caledonian Railway on 27 July 1893.

The extension to Gourock opened on 1 June 1889.

The route was electrified in 1967.

The line between Greenock West and Gourock was closed for tunnel repairs 5 February 1973 to 20 April 1973, and again 3 October 1993 to 27 March 1995.


Paisley to Gourock; the details of the Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway are given in that article.

Stations open at the present day are shown in bold; locations that were not passenger stations are shown in italic.

  • Paisley; Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway station, and junction with the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway; later renamed Paisley Gilmour Street;
  • Paisley St James; opened December 1882;
  • Houston; renamed Georgetown 1926; closed 2 February 1959;
  • Bishopton;
  • Bishopton Tunnel;
  • Langbank; opened by July 1848; may have been called Lang Bank originally;
  • Woodhall; opened 1 October 1945; Woodhall Halt initially;
  • Port Glasgow;
  • Wemyss Bay Junction; for Wemyss Bay branch;
  • Bogston; opened September 1878; closed 1 January 1917; re-opened 1 March 1917;
  • Ladyburn; engine shed and connection to Garvel dock area;
  • Cartsdyke; opened July 1870;
  • Greenock; relocated adjacent as Greenock Cathcart Street 1 June 1889; renamed Greenock Central 1898;
  • Greenock West;
  • Fort Matilda;
  • Gourock.<ref name = quick>M E Quick, Railway Passenger Stations in England Scotland and Wales—A Chronology, The Railway and Canal Historical Society, 2002</ref>

Current operations[edit]

Today, this line together with the former Greenock and Wemyss Bay Railway is fully operational as the Inverclyde Line, operated by First Scotrail. There are typically three trains an hour on the line, one of which is semi-fast. One train per hour runs from Glasgow to Wemyss Bay.

Connections to other lines[edit]


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  • Awdry, Christopher (1990). Encyclopaedia of British Railway Companies. Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-8526-0049-7. OCLC 19514063.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Butt, R. V. J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations: details every public and private passenger station, halt, platform and stopping place, past and present (1st ed.). Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-8526-0508-1. OCLC 60251199.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Robertson, C.J.A. (1983). The Origins of the Scottish Railway System: 1722-1844. Edinburgh: John Donald (Publishers). ISBN 0-85976-088-X.
  • 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 1-8526-0086-1. OCLC 22311137.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Thomas, John (1971). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. Volume 6 Scotland: The Lowlands and the Borders. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-5408-6.
  • Webster, N.W. (1970). Joseph Locke: Railway Revolutionary. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. ISBN 0-04-385055-3.

External links[edit]

Template:Historical Scottish railway companies