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Caledonian Railway
(including St Rollox Railway works and the Gretna train crash of 22nd May 1915)

Central Station, Glasgow

The Caledonian Railway was a major Scottish railway company, formed in the early 19th century. It was eventually absorbed into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1923, by means of the Railways Act 1921.

The company was formed in the 1830s to link local railways around Glasgow and Edinburgh to the railway network in England, at Carlisle, and built the first cross-border mainline. At the time, the quickest route between Glasgow and London was by sea to Liverpool and rail for the rest of the journey. The Caledonian wished it was the only railway line built between Carlisle and Scotland, but they did not succeed. Two other lines were opened - from Carlisle to Glasgow via the south-west and the Waverly line to Edinburgh. After the Caledonian main line opened in 1849 it was possible to travel between London and Glasgow, by express train, without needing to change trains. It cut the total journey time to 12.5 hours.

In later years the lines reached out to serve Oban, Ballachulish, Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen. The company was well supported by Glasgow and Edinburgh shareholders, however more than half of its shares were held in England.

In 1873 the Caledonian Railway finally obtained a Act to build a railway bridge across the Clyde, and initially planned to widen Glasgow Bridge and use part of this; however, their plans were changed in 1875, when a new Act was obtained to build a separate railway bridge. A, four track, railway bridge was built by Sir William Arrol across the Clyde. By 1879 construction work had been completed on Glasgow Central station and Bridge Street station was also rebuilt. The Caledonian Railway mainline services to London were transferred from Buchannan Street station to Central Station. Bridge Street station however remained the terminus of the Caledonian Railways Clyde Coast services until Central Station was rebuilt 1901 - 1905. It was then closed.

Glasgow Central Station is still considered to be one of the finest stations in the United Kingdom.

The Caledonian Railway Association website can be found at www.crassoc.org.uk. They have old timetables and general historical information for sale.

A detailed map of junctions and stations can be found at www.railscot.co.uk/Caledonian_Railway/frame.htm. The line shown here is the original route of the Caledonian Railway before it bought out other lines and expanded it's network.

At Glasgow Central Station there is a World War 1 memorial of the Caledonian Railway employees who lost their lives. Click here to see all names listed.HappyHaggis. Happy to Help.


St. Rollox Locomotive Works and St Rollox Carriage and Wagon Works were built in 1856 in Springburn, north-east of Glasgow. They were built for the Caledonian Railway, moving away from their works at Greenock. The new works was built on the site of the station of the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway which the Caledonian had absorbed, and was named after the nearby church of St. Roche.

At the height of production during the first world war the St. Rollox complex of engine works and goods yards covered over 190 acres and provided work for approximately 5,000 men.

During the national railway strike of 1919, rail unions claimed that the government was applying a wartime pay agreement in such as way as to bring about wage cuts for some grades, due to the fall in the cost of living, to which the pay agreement was linked. It was to prove one of the most successful actions ever taken by rail unions.

The bulletin bolstered the morale of the strikers and kept them informed of events in various districts, including the incidence of 'scab' labour (employees who worked during the strike). Volunteer workers attempted to keep the trains running. Workers in the administrative and clerical sector within the railway industry performed duties such as signalling, guard duty and portering, and some even drove engines.

Although the general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen promised that it would be a 'model strike', without violence, there were isolated incidents including one in Glasgow. Police charged 'mobs' of strikers and headlines screamed of 'Glasgow Bolshevism', 'Disgraceful Scenes', 'Riot Act Read'.

When the Caledonian Railway amalgamated to form the LMS in 1923, new production ceased. It continued to be a primary Scottish repair centre until 1986. St. Rollox was unusual in being purpose built for both locomotive and carriage & wagon works. It became the main works of the Northern Division of the LMS, although new building ceased. In 1929 wagon repairs were moved to Barassie, leaving St. Rollox as the carriage repair centre.

During World War II, like other workshops, both Cowlairs and St. Rollox joined in the war effort, among other things, producing Horsa gliders for the D-Day airborne assault. Cowlairs also produced 200,000 bearing shells for Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

To download Caledonian Railway Route map (1913), St Rollox smiths photo (1898) and Railwaymans Strike Bulletin (1919), click HERE HappyHaggis. Happy to Help..

On the 22nd May 1915 Britain's worst ever rail disaster occurred, when 224 passengers and 3 servants were killed and over 240 were injured, at Quintinshill, near Gretna.

A signalman was distracted when being relieved at the change of his watch, and forgot that a stationary local train was waiting at his signals, leading to a multiple crash between a troop train, the local train, a coal train in an adjacent siding and shortly afterwards, an express train which ploughed into the wreckage.

Of the 485 soldiers of the 7th Royal Scots on the troop train, 215 were killed, including 3 officers, 29 NCOs and 182 men. The exact number of the fatalities from the Royal Scots was never known due to the roll of the regiment being destroyed in the ensueing fire. The Battalion lost 42 per cent of its casualties for the whole of the war on this one day. The disaster was made far worse by fire caused by wooden carriages and gas lighting, and because the troops were locked into the carriages, a common practice in those days. The precise number of fatalities is not known because the roll of the regiment was destroyed in the fire.

Quintinshill is poorly known because most of the victims were military and it occurred during the first world war when all news was subject to official censorship.

The accident happened for three reasons:

  • A change of duty at an unauthorised hour, which caused James Tinsley to be preoccupied in writing up the Train Register Book, and so diverted his attention from his proper work
  • George Meakin handing over the duty in a very lax manner
  • Both signalmen neglecting to carry out various rules specially framed for preventing accidents due to forgetfulness on the part of signalmen. They were sentenced to 3 years 18 months in prison for culpable homicide due to gross neglect of duties.

    The bodies of the victims were buried in Rosebank Cemetery in Leith near Edinburgh with the funeral procession taking over three hours to reach the graveyard. There are memorials to the disaster at the site and at Larbert station, Stirlingshire where the troops boarded the train.

  • Funeral procession at Leith - two postcards of the procession. Images are in a .zip file for easier download. HappyHaggis. Happy to Help.
  • Rosebank Cemetery link
  • Copy of accident report - dated 17JUN1915 from The Railways Archives. (.pdf document 3.8MB in size)


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