The Origins of the Neilston Line
Regular rail commuters using Muirend station are perhaps not aware that their daily journey to and from Glasgow Central traverses the tracks of two distinct railway lines - the Cathcart District Railway (Cathcart Circle) and the Lanarkshire & Ayrshire Railway.
The circle was built as a suburban commuter line (co-funded by the Caledonian Railway company and private investors) with local mineral and goods yards at some of the stations. The first section was completed only as far as a temporary Cathcart station (just north of the White Cart) in 1886 serving the stations via Mount Florida. The west side ‘extension’ of the circle, via Maxwell Park, was completed in 1894 when the full circular service first operated via the existing Cathcart station. Until 1905, trains continued to stop at Bridge Street, the original Caledonian Railway terminus before the Clyde was bridged to Central Station.
The L&AR, completed in 1904, was built by the Caledonian primarily as an exclusive mineral and freight route between Ardrossan Harbour (Montgomerie Pier) and the Lanarkshire coalfields, via Newton. The western section and stations had already been opened from the coast as far as Giffen as early as 1888. The new line continued eastwards through Neilston (High); north eastwards under the East Kilbride line just west of Clarkston; through Muirend, then at a tangent to the Circle line at Cathcart for only a few yards on a separate parallel bridge over Clarkston Road. The line continued towards Burnside and connecting with the West Coast main line at Newton. A graded junction was built north of Cathcart to connect the city to Lanarkshire via Burnside. A flat junction was also built south of Cathcart for the secondary purpose of allowing express ‘boat’ trains to run from Central Station via Neilston to connect with Ardrossan steamer services to Ireland, Arran and the Isle of Man.
New stations were also built on this line, including Muirend in 1903, but these were served only by local stopping trains. Muirend had a goods yard that was operational until 1967 and long sidings were also created at the south of the station that were used to berth football specials serving Hampden Park on match days. The station building still retains some interesting architectural features including the ’Art Deco’ grill above the disused gents toilet at the north end and two ’fireplace’ features above the booking office at the south end which probably framed the station clocks. For a few years until 1909, a motorbus service was operated to connect Eaglesham to Clarkston and Cathcart stations.
During the construction of the line from Ayrshire northwards towards Cathcart, a connection was also made to the East Kilbride line which allowed access to Lanarkshire via Clarkston, East Kilbride & Hamilton. This is the reason the impressive twin red brick arched viaducts over Eastwood Mains Road were built. This link was underused when the route via Cathcart was completed and was disconnected as early as 1907. The west viaduct continues to be used by the Neilston service while the east viaduct has been unused for over a century. The section of line beyond East Kilbride towards Hamilton was later closed in 1914.
At the turn of the 20th century, suburban railway mania was also expanding south from Paisley towards Barrhead, with the Caledonian Railway and Glasgow & South Western Railway Companies in fierce competition, resulting in a complex of lines and stations that blighted the centre of Barrhead. The Caledonian built a circle line via Glenfield and Dykebar plus a link from Barrhead to the Neilston Line at Lyoncross (near Balgray Reservoir at Aurs Road). This would have allowed a greater circular rail service to operate from Glasgow Central via Paisley Gilmour Street, Glenfield, Muirend, Cathcart and Mount Florida and back to Central, in both directions. Incredibly, no passenger trains ever operated over the Barrhead Circle line as competition from the expanding electric tram system in Paisley deemed any new rail services to be uneconomic, although it was used for freight until the early sixties. The link from Barrhead to LyonsCross was never utilised.
By the 1930s the L&AR line was no longer of major importance due to the exhaustion of coal in many of the Lanarkshire pits and shipping being diverted from Ardrossan to Rothesay dock at Clydebank from 1907. Access to the coast could be achieved by the lines via Paisley. While new stations were built at King’s Park, Croftfoot and Williamwood, the passenger service from Glasgow Central to Ardrossan via Neilston was cut back to Uplawmoor in 1932.
From 1958, new diesel trains replaced some steam services before the Cathcart Circle, Newton line to Motherwell and Neilston line were fully electrified in 1962 with Uplawmoor station being closed. The opportunity was take to reconfigure the junction at Cathcart to allow trains to run from the west side of the Cathcart Circle (via Maxwell Park) to the Newton line by removing the L&AR parallel bridge and part of the south end of the platform at Cathcart. This service however was (and still is) unable to call at the Cathcart station platforms. Eglinton Street station was closed in 1965. When the Lanarkshire rail services from Glasgow Central to Hamilton, Motherwell and Lanark were electrified in 1974, trains to Motherwell via the Cathcart Circle were curtailed at Newton.
Over the last thirty years, there have been various proposals which would have had an impact on the Neilston line, none of which have been implemented.
In 1983, to reduce the cost of supporting rail services, Strathclyde PTE produced a report to rationalise the Strathclyde rail system which included a package of limited electrification, line closures and reduction of ‘costly working practices.’ Included in those proposals was the closure of the Neilston line beyond Whitecraigs and also the section of East Kilbride line through Thornliebank and Giffnock stations. By creating a connection between Muirend and Clarkston, the East Kilbride service was to be operated hourly via Mount Florida as an electrified service, utilising recycled overhead line equipment from the closed section of the Neilston line. This proposal was never implemented.
In the nineties, a Crossrail network was proposed for Glasgow by utilising the former St Enoch bridge over the Clyde, building new curves at Pollokshields and High St and station/interchanges at West Street, Gorbals and Trongate. This would have allowed suburban south side rail services, including the Neilston service, to run to Queen Street, Partick and beyond. Journey times to the city centre would have increased, however, due to the circuitous nature of the route via Pollokshields and High Street and the additional stops. At the new stations. Congestion through Queen St low level tunnel and especially through the Partick to Hyndland section of the North Electric line would also have been problematic. Ultimately these plans were dropped.
Other proposals have been considered to convert the south side rail services to Light Rail (such as the Manchester Metro and the embryonic Edinburgh tram system), running to a new terminal in the vicinity of the St. Enoch shopping centre. Conversion would allow street running extensions to Newton Mearns from the Neilston line and to Castlemilk from the Newton line.
The former rail junction at Lyoncross near Balgray Reservoir at Aurs Road has been considered as the potential site of a new station on the Neilston line serving the south side of Barrhead at Auchenbach, but is dependent on the southward expansion of housing. As originally built over a century ago, the double track widens at this location to allow the construction of an ‘island’ platform similar to Muirend.
The Cathcart Circle/Neilston/Newton services have remained relatively unchanged since electrifcation in 1962 although there have been frequency adjustments. The Neilston line and the east side of the Cathcart Circle via Mount Florida is still very much the ‘main line‘. Muirend station benefits with a half hourly service, even on a Sunday and also has several additional peak hour trains including an express both in the morning and evening rush hours.
An excellent book, The Cathcart Circle, by Jack Kernahan, has just been re-published containing many photographs and maps. (Lightmoor Press £25).