IT was once the beating heart of the British locomotive industry, an engineering powerhouse in the second city of the Empire during the Age of Steam.

But now it seems that work at Glasgow's Springburn rail depot is to finally hit the buffers after its owners announced the plant is to close with the loss of 180 jobs.

While a consultation period is yet to run its course, Gemini Rail Services have warned of an "unsustainable decline" in the amount of work carried out at the factory, which today carries out repairs on all of the rolling stock north of the border.

The decision will mark the end of the line for more than 150 years of railway industry at the site, which first opened its doors in 1856 and grew to supply almost two thirds of the trains used across the UK.

Known as the St Rollox Locomotive Works, the plant was established by the Caledonian Railway, which built many of Scotland's rail networks from Glasgow to Edinburgh and Aberdeen after relocating 'up the water' from Greenock.

Sited just one and a half miles from the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway - the first railway to come into the city and one of the first in Scotland - the St Rollox works quickly grew to become the main train construction yard in Scotland, dwarfing the three other yards belonging to other companies nearby.

READ MORE: Closure of historic Glasgow rail repair plant with 180 jobs at risk 'will send work to England'

By 1882 the directors decided the factory had to be expanded, and constructed a series of connected workshops which eventually sprawled over an 11-acre area alongside Springburn Road.


Steam engines were the factory's staple product

Inside 'the Caley', there could be found everything needed to construct a steam locomotive, from boiler-makers to wheel shops, joiners and carriage makers - and even timber drying stores and brass-smiths - laid out in an assembly-line fashion which allowed the factory to churn out trains, mainly of the Cardean and Dunalastair Class.

Over the years hundreds of rolling stock came out the yard's tracks, some of them destined for far-flung corners of the globe. 

One, nicknamed 'Sar', returned from service with the South African Railways company running the Johannesburg to Cape Town line to take up pride of place in Glasgow’s Riverside Museum in 2007. 

Meanwhile, the factory went from strength to strength, with the workforce swelling to 4,000 by the time the Caledonian Railway company was absorbed into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923. 

This was to spell the end of locomotive production at the site, which switched over to a repair and maintenance centre in 1929, the role it holds today. 

But the change was not the end of full-scale building at the site, with work resuming during WWII. But this time it wasn't trains which came out of the factory's doors, but gliders for the invasion of Normandy during the D-Day landings.

READ MORE: Ministers hit out as they learn of closure of historic Glasgow rail repair plant through the media​

In 1948, the newly-formed British Rail took over the site, establishing British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL), which remained Scotland's main train servicing site until privatisation in 1995. 


The following years would see St Rollox pass through the hands of a series of corporate owners and, as the workforce dwindled, parts of the massive works were sold off or became abandoned.

Now, the latest threat to the plant could see its doors close for the last time. Scottish Labour MP for Glasgow North East and Shadow Scotland Minister Paul Sweeney said that everything should be done to try and save the iconic 'Caley' from the scrapyard of history, and preserve the jobs still there. 

Following a meeting with workers yesterday, he said: “This is obviously a worrying time for workers at The Caley but it was clear from meeting with them and their union representatives this morning that they are up for the fight.

“What is scandalous is not only the callous way the new owners have behaved in the run-up to Christmas, but also their inability to recognise the potential of the St Rollox works.

“It is a failure of management vision that they cannot see a future for this plant and its skilled workforce and it appears their agenda has been to run it down in favour of their other facility at Milton Keynes.”

READ MORE: 1953: Mauritius-bound locomotive test-run

Bob Doris MSP for Maryhill & Springburn added: "With some workers in excess of 40 years of service at the site, staff are well aware of the proud heritage of the depot but what they require now is a bright future for their families.

“The determination to save jobs at St Rollox is clear and I understand the Scottish Government have already been seeking to identify potential work for the site.

“During my visit there were many fond stories of days gone by when 60 per cent of locomotives were built in Springburn. However, securing jobs for the highly-skilled workforce, while building a positive future for this historic site, will help forge new memories for the area.”