Cowlairs Incline

Location type

Place

Name and dates

Cowlairs Incline (1842-)

Opened on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway.

Description

The Cowlairs Incline is a double track mile and a quarter long uphill gradient running north from Glasgow Queen Street High Level to the former station at Cowlairs. The southern half of the route is within the Cowlairs Tunnel.

Departing trains climb out of the station at 1 in 51, then 1 in 43, and 1 in 41, gaining 150ft before the line levels out at Cowlairs. For those trains continuing to Edinburgh Waverley the rest of the line is almost level, marking out the incline as a peculiarity of the route.

The original Glasgow terminus was to have been further out of town, more like the Glasgow (Townhead) terminus of the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway, with an approach on a gentle gradient. This was to have crossed the Forth and Clyde Canal by a bridge. Their opposition to the railway required that the line pass under the canal, necessitating a new alignment which led to the long incline and tunnel.

Operation of the incline has been a constant burden on the line. It was a rope worked incline with a steam engine at Cowlairs, the rope also known as the cable. Early attempts at banking were not successful and rope operation continued. Trains descended under the control of a brake truck, also placed on ascending trains in case of difficulties. Stopping of trains, underpowered engines, rope slippage and rope replacement all placed burdens on operation.

Rope operation ceased in 1908, banking taking over, and the rope was removed in 1909.

With diesel operation banking became rare, although older DMUs were slow and smokey on the climb. The arrival of a train at the northern portal of the Cowlairs Tunnel was often proceeded by clouds of blue smoke.

The tunnel floor was placed on slabs in 1976. These were lowered in preparation for overhead electrification in 2016.

Tags

Incline




Nearby stations
Glasgow (Townhead)
St Rollox [2nd]
Cowlairs
Buchanan Street
Springburn
Cowcaddens [Subway]
Barnhill
Glasgow Queen Street Low Level
Glasgow Queen Street High Level
Buchanan Street [Subway]
Ashfield
Garngad
St Georges Cross [Subway]
High Street
College [1st]
Pinkston Mineral Yard
Tennants Works
Port Dundas East Goods [NB]
Port Dundas West Goods [CR]
Pinkston Power Station
Buchanan Street Tunnel East Signal Box
Port Dundas Basin
Buchanan Street Tunnel
Port Dundas Mid Wharf
St Rollox Depot
Port Dundas Swing Bridge
St Rollox Goods West
Broomhill Cottage
Glasgow Pottery
Tourist/other
Port Dundas Distillery
Location names in dark blue are on the same original line.


Enthusiast in a Top Hat


A well known photograph by Dr Tice Fisher Budden, a pioneer railway photographer, depicts NBR No 598 acting as a pilot to an express being drawn northwards up the incline with the rope. The location is close to the summit and the fireman is walking forward to drop the rope.

On the left a gentleman in a top hat watches, leaning on the lineside wall.


Early Electric Locomotive


In September 1842 the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway experimented with a battery powered locomotive built by Robert Davidson of Aberdeen. The then hemp rope used on the incline suffered in the inclement weather of Glasgow and the possibility of electric haulage appealed.

Based on earlier work with electrical power, including the very first electric locomotive of 1837 which was a small locomotive capable of carrying two people, he built a new locomotive for the E&G.

This locomotive, 'Galvani', was four-wheeled and weighed five tons (around seven with extra batteries). It was fitted with reluctance type motors and the batteries were non-rechargeable zinc-iron acid.

The trial was to draw a train weighing 6 tons over a mile and a half.

Unfortunately it was unable to exceed 4mph and the idea was not pursued.

The locomotive was destroyed, perhaps by Luddites or perhaps with those with vested interests in steam locomotives, and Davidson was unable to recover it from the railway.

Electric banking locomotives using overhead wires, powered by the Pinkston Power Station, were considered but not proceeded with in 1901.

The line into Glasgow Queen Street High Level was electrified in 2017.


The Rope


The haulage rope was initially hemp, wire after 1848. Also known as the cable. It was a continuous rope over two and a half miles long and five inches thick. From the main rope were short ropes which were hooked onto locomotives, the Cowlairs stationary engine being started after the rope was attached. At the top of the incline the stationary engine was stopped and the rope would drop off (and brake vans be disconnected).

Ropes required replacement every 12 to 17 months with the work carried out over a weekend to remove the old rope and put the new one in position.

The engine house, with 90ft chimney and large bay window overlooking the line, was at Cowlairs, located on the east side of the line just south of the station. A coal siding stood to its east, approached from the line to the north.


Books


A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Scotland - The Lowlands and the Borders v. 6 (Regional railway history series)

An Illustrated History of Edinburgh's Railways

An Illustrated History of Glasgow's Railways

An Illustrated History of Glasgow's Railways

Central Glasgow 1893: Lanarkshire Sheet 6.10a (Old Ordnance Survey Maps of Lanarkshire)

Edinburgh ( Western New Town) 1877: Edinburgh Large Scale Sheet 34 (Old Ordnance Survey Maps - Yard to the Mile)

Edinburgh (Rail Centres)

Edinburgh (Rail Centres)
Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Guidebook (Auld Kirk Museum Publications)
Edinburgh To Inverkeithing.: including The Port Edgar, North Queensferry And Rosyth Dockyard Branches. (Scottish Main Lines.)

Edinburgh Waverley

Edinburgh Waverley Station Through Time
Edinburgh's Transport: The Early Years v. 1
Glasgow Stations

Glasgow's Last Days of Steam

Haymarket Motive Power Depot Edinburgh: A History of the Depot, Its Work and Locomotives, 1842-2010

Landranger (66) Edinburgh, Penicuik & North Berwick (OS Landranger Map)

Last Trains: Edinburgh and South East Scotland v. 1

Memories of Steam from Glasgow to Aberdeen

Memories of Steam from Glasgow to Aberdeen

On Either Side, 1939: The Train between London King's Cross & Edinburgh Waverley, Fort William, Inverness & Aberdeen (Old House)

Rails Around Glasgow

The Next Stop: Inverness to Edinburgh, station by station

This Magnificent Line (the story of the Edinburgh-Glasgow Railway

Vanished Railways of West Lothian