FOR the third time in its rich history, Glasgow’s Subway – the city’s famous ‘clockwork orange’ – is undergoing a significant upgrade.

Subway director Antony Smith explains: “The ongoing Subway modernisation programme is a huge piece of work for SPT.

“Every modernisation has brought something new - in 1935, it was the move to electrification; in the late 1970s, major work on the stations created the 15-station set up we have now, and introduced, where it was possible, some double platforms.”

He adds: “This modernisation phase, however, really has been all-encompassing, with the introduction of new Smartcard ticketing, the complete refurbishment of stations, and, of course, the introduction of new, driverless trains.”


Subway director Antony Smith


Glasgow’s Subway, now part of Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT), is celebrating its 125th anniversary year. It is the world's third oldest underground railway, after London and Budapest, opening on December 14, 1896.

As part of the celebrations, a prestigious Red Wheel commemorative plaque was added to the former ticket office at St Enoch Square, marking the Subway as a “significant site of historical importance to transport heritage in the UK”.


The bustling Subway in the 1960s


The city had enjoyed spectacular population growth throughout the 19th century, as people came for work. Getting people around became a priority for the city leaders, and demand grew for a public transport system that was quick, good value and accessible to all.

In 1891, Glasgow District Subway company begin construction at St Enoch Square by digging tunnels at 31 feet below sea level. The work took seven months to complete. On its opening day, 1400 people used it within the first hour.

The Subway was originally built for the Glasgow District Subway Company and operated as a cable-hauled system. It was the first of its type in the world with propulsion provided by stationary steam engines.


Subway passengers in the 1980s


In 1935, electrification was rolled out across its network and in 1977, work started on structural improvements, new trains and major refurbishments. The new-look Subway was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 1979 – she bought a ticket from a delighted clerk for the purposes of a photo for the newspapers – and it reopened to the public in April, 1980.

Once the current £288m modernisation is complete, Glasgow will have one of the most modern subway systems in the world, says Antony Smith.

“That is due not only to the new ticketing systems, the refurbished stations and the new trains which, of course, will be obvious to our customers, but also because of the huge work going on behind the scenes: a new signalling and communications system, for example, and new equipment and infrastructure in our depot to help maintain and run the new trains,” he explains.

“Currently, our trains have three separate carriages - the new model will allow passengers to walk the entire length of the train for the first time.”

Mr Smith adds: “Once we move to an unattended train operation (UTO), or driverless system, and platform screen doors are in place, passengers will be able to enjoy a ‘driver’s view’ from the front of the train as it goes around the system.”


Glasgow's subway in the 1990s


The last time the Subway was upgraded, it closed down for two and a half years. That was not an option this time, explains Mr Smith, but upgrading a busy Subway without shutting down the system has not been without its challenges.

“A lot of hard work has gone into the delivery of this modernisation programme, and it has been challenging to do some of that work in the restricted time we have between the last train out of passenger service each evening until the first one at reopening the next morning,” he says.

“The extended work time we have on Sunday evenings into Monday mornings has been vital in helping us get the intensive work done.”

He adds: “We really didn’t want to close the Subway this time – we are fully aware of how many people rely on it to get around Glasgow, and we know the impact any sort of long-term shut down would have had on them.

“It has been no easy task, but I am very proud of the work our staff do to help keep our passengers moving around Glasgow while we continue to work to bring them this new Subway which will run for future generations of passengers.”