Can the Circle be broken? Glasgow Subway Petition for expansion.

The Glasgow Evening Times carried this piece today (22/03/16) from a group called ‘Glasgow Tube’ and I guess in some ways you see the circle of the subway, it’s limited coverage and think well, yes, that’s a point.

I don’t want to be too quick to comment further though because, well, this.. 

I think this was the final or one of the final coloured rail map for Strathclyde and of course it’s a far greater area than just ‘Glasgow’ alone.

But how far do you define ‘Glasgow’ and it’s travel to work area, how do you define a package of transport infrastructure measures that would cut car use and how do you implement?

The issue that ‘think outside the circle’ have is that Glasgow’s subway was built to a unique scale and has a narrow track arrangement. 

It was originally a cable driven system with cars pulled around the circuit and use of gravity and slopes at stations.

The tunnels are 11ft diameter and the track has a 4ft spacing between rails, that gauge is almost unique and is smaller than the ‘standard gauge’ used on Scotrail and across the UK and international rail network.

 I mention international as that’s where looking at a ‘metro’ system takes you and these systems sometimes are built up from tram systems that generally use Standard Gauge. 


 I’ve seen a variety of ‘fantasy’ networks for Glasgow and I don’t feel these really are much different and I was interested that the proposal from Glasgow Tube has a Twitter and Facebook feed and a petition site, but saw no proposal that looked other than these two that I screen grabbed.

I do think there’s a case to be made to serve Renfrew and Braehead and to utilise tunnel formations that exist in the city to a wider purpose. 

I think there’s some awareness that the current arrangement of the Argyle and North Clyde lines west of Glasgow Central and Glasgow Queen Street is near capacity as far as number of trains per hour goes. 

I think there’s a case for using the tunnels, if condition permits,that run out towards Parkhead too. 

It’s possible that the subway might be able to expand out of its circle.

But the party pooper is cost, the subway is undergoing a huge refurbishment of stations, track (it will close for four weeks this year for new track to be laid) and in terms of new ‘driverless’ cars that will be supplied to replace the existing stock that made it ‘clockwork orange’ back in the late 1970’s. 

The Stadler trains will cost £200 million in an overall package of £288 million which has a large part of that as Scottish Government Funding. (This was announced on 3rd March 2016)

Additionally £40 million was the sum allocated for Fastlink Bus Transit Projects and there are additional projects for how that will work in the city centre with dedicated stops and other features.

In recent years the Whifflet and Paisley Canal railway lines have been electrified and new trains introduced for the Inverclyde and Ayrshire lines which in turn have allowed mainly six carriage operation on the North Clyde and Argyle line networks.

The subway as it exists serves certain areas of the city, but to break it out of its existing circuit would mean either:-

A) Regrading and widening the tunnels to operate trains on Standard Gauge, like the trains running ‘low level’ through Queen Street and Central Stations.

As far as I understand the two portals for inner and outer are fairly close together, would need a great deal of engineering and reinforcement and a great amount of downtime to achieve that under the mixed underground geology of Glasgow.


B) Breaking out the circle at some point and running the trains at the 4ft gauge with an additional rail between standard tracks so that the subway stock could work on existing Scotrail lines and over new stretches of constructed route.

The downside is that operating a overhead line electrified railway together with a ‘conductor’ bar at the bottom as the subway, currently has would be that the systems short out.

 (I’m no electrical engineer but  600V DC and 25KV AC shouldn’t mix too well, they certainly avoid it in London where there’s changeovers in the Thameslink system to avoid that)

So, is it worth ripping up the years of work and already committed funding to modernise the subway to the proposed standard to try and break the circle?

Obviously it’s a no and whilst I believe Glasgow Tube are well intentioned and have a point in trying to advocate a step change in improving the city  transport network, I don’t think their proposal can practically work.

Where there is actual potential is in seeing where the Tram/Train to Glasgow Airport leads. 

Maybe a future extensionto Renfrew/Braehead or even to Govan via the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, if possible. 

That might be a starting point for converting other lines to tram/train and perhaps even penetrating the city centre through Tram layouts that way and reducing car use and dependence.

Other cities in Europe have used trams in tunnels as s gateway to a metro or if you will ‘tube’ like system.

It’s something that one way or another has been looked at since the 1990’s and the ‘Strathclyde Tram’ scheme. (Hint, structure plan for Clyde Valley)

Finally I must admire the talent to get the ‘petition’ into the newspaper and online in the public domain, it creates a debate.


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