Walk around Glasgow’s famous George Square, and you could be forgiven for not even noticing that there’s a railway station there… let alone the third busiest in Scotland.
Glasgow Queen Street, located to the northwest of George Square, is not only the gateway to the Highlands, it is also the terminus for trains to Edinburgh Waverley.
It’s a vital link for the prosperity of Scotland, with a shuttle service linking the two major financial powerhouses in Scotland. A 15-minute frequency means four trains per hour run between Edinburgh and Glasgow on the busiest and most important of four routes between the two cities.
It is often described as the ‘flagship’ route north of the Border, and from this December electric trains will be running along the route. Initially Class 380s cascaded from routes in Ayrshire will be used, but next year brand new Class 385s will be introduced.
To accommodate these new trains, changes are needed to the infrastructure at Queen Street, with longer platforms needed and the erection of overhead wires. Network Rail has combined that with the need to introduce a better quality station - one that, when it is finished, people in George Square will not be able to overlook.
Glasgow Queen Street’s current predicament is similar to that of London King’s Cross before the latter’s transformation. Impressive architecture has been buried beneath a 1970s-designed building that hid the station’s ‘good looks’. But this building will be swept away this summer, and eventually a glass-fronted building will be constructed, allowing more natural light into the station concourse. Platforms will also be extended and a remodelled concourse will be laid out for passengers.
But that’s in the future. From March 20 the station will be closed until August 8. The 20-week closure is necessary to enable other work to take place that complements the £742 million Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP).
There is plenty of infrastructure work about to start. At Cowlairs, five point ends at the South and West Junctions will be renewed and four point ends at the West Junction will be refurbished. Additionally, around three kilometres (1.8 miles) of plain line track will be renewed.
In Queen Street Tunnel, Network Rail will remove 10,000 tonnes of existing concrete slab, and install new twin-track OBB Porr Slab track through the tunnel (918 metres), as well as four new sets of switches and crossings, new drainage, 4,000m of new rail, and a conductor bar that will be used for electrification.
The first three weeks of the blockade focuses on the work at Cowlairs. “We said right, OK, we don’t want to have this massive 17-week blockade and then upset people on a subsequent number of weekends,” Network Rail’s EGIP Programme Manager Paul Reilly tells RAIL, explaining that the work at Cowlairs would otherwise have involved a series of weekend closures.