Cowlairs Incline

Location type


Name and dates

Cowlairs Incline (1842-)

Opened on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway.


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 act 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. 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.