HomeRail NewsGlasgow Queen Street station - half transformed

Glasgow Queen Street station – half transformed

Rail Engineer has reported on numerous infrastructure upgrade projects to provide the extra and longer trains needed for increasing passenger numbers. This extra traffic also requires station enhancements to provide space for passengers to move as well as providing a more attractive passenger environment and stimulating developments in the vicinity of the station.

Recent examples are London King’s Cross (2012), Birmingham New Street (2015), Manchester Victoria (2015) and Edinburgh’s Haymarket station, which had its passenger circulating area increased tenfold (2013). Now Glasgow’s cramped Queen Street station is about to be transformed. As will be seen, enlarging this relatively small city-centre station is a challenging project.

The Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway

Queen Street station opened in February 1842 as part of the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway, which then operated four trains a day between the two cities with a journey time of 2½ hours. The railway company had originally intended to approach Glasgow by a bridge over the Monklands canal and build a station just north of the present station. However, the canal company’s opposition to this idea resulted in Queen Street station, which is approached down one of the steepest parts of the UK rail network, a tunnel under the canal with a 1 in 44 gradient.

Although the canal is long gone, its legacy of a cramped station at the end of a steep tunnel remains. The original Queen Street station soon proved woefully inadequate for its increasing traffic and it was rebuilt between 1878 and 1880, with the tunnel being shortened by 153 yards to create a new station throat and platform extensions. The wrought-iron arched roof was also built at this time. As part of an East-West line under the city, the low-level station was excavated underneath the original station and opened in 1886.

The nearby Buchanan Street station closed in 1966, which resulted in Queen Street becoming the terminus for destinations north of Glasgow as well as the main line to Edinburgh. Whilst this may not have been a problem at the time, the station is now too small for its 16.4 million passengers each year who make it the third busiest in Scotland.

The capacity of the Edinburgh to Glasgow main line was significantly enhanced when, first, its train service was doubled to four trains an hour in 2000 and then, shortly afterwards, six-car Class 170 DMUs were introduced on the route.

Yet, just nine years later, this was still not enough as, in 2009, the Scottish Government published its Strategic Projects Review. This concluded that increasing rail capacity between Edinburgh to Glasgow was a high priority and proposed electrification and six trains an hour on the main line between the two cities.

However, this was a costly proposal that required significant infrastructure works including a grade-separated junction at Greenhill and a new chord at Dalmeny. In 2012, the then Scottish Transport Minister announced a revised scheme that did not require these infrastructure works as the required extra capacity was to be provided by longer trains rather than increasing service frequency and that this new approach was due to “new opportunities”.

View of station from Buchanan Galleries during 2016 blockade.


One of the new opportunities concerned the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre, immediately north of Queen Street station. In 2011, its developers unveiled plans to expand the centre that would provide the station with an opportunity to extend its platforms to accommodate eight-car trains.

Hence, it was decided that the required extra capacity would be provided by longer trains instead of by increasing service frequency. In addition to the Queen Street work, this would require platforms to be lengthened at four intermediate stations on the route. This work was done as part of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP), which has also electrified the route, rebuilt Haymarket station and built a new train depot at Millerhill.

The EGIP programme required two major blockades on the route. In 2015, Winchburgh tunnel clearance work requiring the installation of slab track closed the tunnel for six weeks.

In 2016, the tunnel into Queen Street was shut for twenty weeks to replace its life-expired slab track, install OLE conductor bar and remodel the station’s track and platforms. This remodelling required 165 metres of new track, seven new switch and crossing units and 642 metres of new platform walls. At the same time, the new OLE infrastructure was installed within the station environment.

This work enabled Queen Street to accommodate seven-car units when electric trains started running on the Edinburgh to Glasgow line in December 2017. An eight-car service, however, awaits the completion of the Queen Street station rebuild. Before this work could start, an order under the Transport and Works (Scotland) Act (TAWS) was required to give Network Rail the necessary powers, including those to demolish buildings and purchase the land on which they stood.

Consort House and the Millennium Hotel extension before their demolition.


The redevelopment for which the TAWS application was sought extends the station southwards to front onto West George Street, on the corner of George Square, as well as the redevelopment of the east side of the station. This required the demolition of station facilities on the east side of the station, the seven-story Consort House office block of brutalist concrete appearance and a bedroom wing extension to the Millennium Hotel which was within the 20-metre overrun risk zone beyond the buffers – of particular significance as trains approach the station down its steep tunnel.

The station is in the Glasgow Central Conservation Area and the train shed, with its iconic iron arch, is a grade A listed structure while the Millennium hotel is grade B listed. Consort House and the hotel extension were built during the late 1960s / early 1970s. The project’s environmental statement notes that these buildings were of “minimal architectural and historic interest” and that “they are of a dated and generally poor appearance”.

Consultation for the TAWS application took place in 2014. This resulted in changes to the draft order, which was submitted in September 2015.

It was then considered by the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA), which had to consider objections to the order of which the most significant was from the owner of the Millennium hotel – concerned at the loss of 51 bedrooms from the demolition of its extension.

Published in October 2016, the DPEA’s findings concluded that the demolition of the hotel extension was unavoidable as the station works were necessary and had been clearly justified in the public interest. The report included some minor changes to the order and various conditions, including the requirement for a Code of Construction Practice.

Following further consideration of responses to the draft, the TAWS order was finalised and came into force on 11 April 2017. This was nine months later than had been anticipated in the consultation leaflet, which had stated that the work would take three years. With the TAWS order now in place, Network Rail was able to start the Queen Street station enhancement works and announce that it would be completed in March 2020.

However, whilst the TAWS order was being considered, Land Securities, which owns the Buchanan Galleries, placed its £390 million development plan on hold “due to the increased level of risk generated by the simultaneous delivery of the EGIP programme”. As a result, the associated development of the east side of the station is no longer part of the current station enhancement work, other than its use for temporary ScotRail office accommodation during the work. Options for the use of this part of the station, including a possible Platform 8, are now part of a GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) study which is at stage 2 (project feasibility).

Work starts

In April 2017, Balfour Beatty was awarded a £16 million enabling-works contract for the station’s redevelopment. In August, it was announced that the company had been awarded a £63 million contract to demolish buildings and build the new station. This is a target cost contract in which any gain/pain is equally shared between Network Rail and the contractor and any exceedances over ten per cent are wholly borne by the contractor.

The project’s principle designer is Arup, with BDP architects acting as architectural sub-consultants. Key sub-contracts placed were demolition (Dem-Master), scaffolding (Lyndon), piling (Roger Bullivant), steelwork (J&D Pierce), cladding and roofing (Curtis Moore), curtain walling (Charles Henshaw), railway and frangible decks (Story Contracting) and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (Balfour Beatty Kirkpatrick).

The enabling works included the demolition of the accommodation block on the east side of the station and preparation for the demolition of Consort House and the Millennium hotel extension. At the same time, a pub on Dundas Street, by the west entrance of the station, was converted into ScotRail’s ticket office to be used for the duration of the work.

On 7 August 2017, the station work became evident to passengers as the ticket office was transferred to this temporary office, the station’s southern entrance was closed, and hoardings were erected around the demolition area. At the same time, traffic on West George Street was reduced to a single line with one lane becoming part of the worksite to be used for the receipt and despatch of lorries.

The old ticket office was part of the west-side office accommodation by Platform 2 that was demolished later that year to create space for the extension of Platform 1. Much of this was completed during the Christmas closure of the station in 2017.

Consort House was then fully scaffolded and covered with protective sheeting. In January 2018, lightweight excavators were craned 36 metres to the roof of Consort House to start the top-down floor-by-floor break up of its reinforced concrete and steel frame. At the same time, long-reach excavators were used to demolish the hotel extension.

By March, this enabled the station’s historic train shed to be seen from George Square for the first time in forty years. However, this also exposed it to a wind loading for which temporary work was needed to stabilise the structure. Another revealed aspect of the station’s heritage was the words “North British” on the hotel’s newly exposed end wall, which was surveyed by drone in July.

Demolishing the hotel extension.

By the time the demolition work was completed in October, 14,000 tonnes of material had been removed from the site, requiring around a thousand lorry movements. A crushing plant was used to enable 94 per cent of this to be recycled.

The project achieved its first delivery milestone on 7 May 2018 when the extended Platform 1 was brought into service. This had been extended by 50 metres to accommodate four-car trains using the space created by the demolition of the west-side offices.

Over half-way there

On 26 November, Rail Engineer was pleased to visit the project and meet Network Rail’s route delivery director Kevin McClelland, programme manager Tom McPake and project manager Joe Mulvenna, as well as Balfour Beatty’s senior project manager Barry Nicol. At the time, the project was on schedule and 86 weeks into its 154-week programme.

The project briefing included safety management arrangements, which included Network Rail’s involvement in briefing and reporting arrangements. Barry and Kevin emphasised how such close collaboration was typical of the project’s open and honest working arrangements.

Completed demolition work seen from above the temporary ticket office in October 2018.

Kevin advised that the sub-contractors were generally based within a 30-mile radius of Glasgow. He noted that using local suppliers enables the project team to visit companies, such as Glengarnock-based J&D Pierce which is supplying the structural steelwork, enabling him to monitor progress much more easily than if he was working with someone based at a remote location. There is also the associated environmental benefit of a reduced carbon footprint through shortened travel and delivery routes to site.

It was also stressed how the project had benefited from the single three-dimensional model produced as a result of working to BIM level 2. This had provided walk-throughs using virtual-reality headsets, which had proved to be very useful for visualisation and consultations. It has also avoided both design and construction clashes, especially when planning the later stages of the project when different sub-contractors will be working in close proximity.

The sub-surface station on the low level is not directly affected by the works. However, its fire and evacuation arrangements must be maintained and there are weight restrictions above its tunnels. Joe Mulvenna described the challenges of working in such a constrained site, with only one entrance for vehicle movements, while maintaining the operational integrity of a station with 45,000 daily passenger movements.

To ensure effective liaison with the station, Network Rail has funded a full-time ScotRail representative who is dedicated to the project. Joe also advised that there is excellent liaison with the Millennium hotel, with work being carried out in accordance with the Code of Construction Practice to minimise disruption to the hotel and other affected parties.

Tom described how community engagement is an important aspect of the project. He noted that the project’s Twitter account has nearly 3,000 followers, many of whom followed the demolition works with close interest. In July, the project commissioned local artist Gabriella Marcella to produce colourful artwork on the project’s hoardings that were inspired by the Glasgow coat of arms.

Rail Engineer’s tour of the station started on its cramped concourse, where a small area has been hoarded off at the end of Platform 5. This is being used for work at night for the removal of asbestos lagging from pipes that run along the buffer stop ends below the concourse. These pipes and other services must be moved to allow the extension of Platforms 2 to 5.

In the worksite outside, there was a large amount of empty space around the train shed following the completion of the demolition works. One aspect that was not evident to the public was the depth of the area south of the train shed. In the two months since the completion of the demolition work, piling and basement works had created a level four metres below street level that will eventually accommodate the station’s toilets, left luggage office and plant rooms.

Also visible were tracks at the western end of the low-level station where an old concrete deck had been removed over Christmas 2017.

Basement under construction where Consort House once stood.

The remaining work

Barry advised that visual progress of the work will soon become far more rapid as the steelwork around the train shed is built up. This started with the erection of the 74-metre-long west truss, which was installed in three parts by a 750-tonne crane on the night of 15 December. In January, a tandem lift by two 500-tonne cranes will erect the south truss. By April the remainder of the steelwork, 1,400 tonnes in total, will have been installed around these trusses.

Part of west truss being lifted into position. (Peter Devlin)

This will then enable cladding and roofing works to commence. By October, all the cladding will have been put in place, comprising of the following types of cladding: Eurobond and Kingspan wall (3,200 square metres), stone (1,300 square metres) and anodised gold (3,000 square metres). The roofing is 3,100 square metres. The curtain walling, which includes 500 square metres of glazing, will be completed by December.

By the summer, this station envelope work will enable the concourse to be extended to enable the platform extension work to take place. To avoid disrupting train services during the Edinburgh Festival in August, this will be done in two four-week stages in July (Platforms 2 and 3) and September (Platforms 4 and 5). This work involves new buffer stops and the frangible decking behind them, concourse substructures, drainage, service diversion and OLE work.

When complete, this work will extend Platforms 2, 3, 4 and 5 to accommodate eight-car trains – Platform 7 can already accommodate them. This will achieve the key milestone of having all extended platforms in use so that eight-car trains can be introduced with the December 2019 timetable change.

The last station work is the plant fit out and its associated mechanical and electrical work, which will be ongoing between April 2019 and March 2020. This programme is planned to meet the project completion date of Spring 2020.

BIM graphic showing west and south trusses.

EGIP phase 2?

The completion of Queen Street station will also mark the end of the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme, which has delivered 150 single track kilometres of new electric railway, redeveloped three stations and built one more, constructed one depot and remodelled another as well as extending platforms at four stations.

Before the EGIP programme, the main Edinburgh to Glasgow line carried four 6-car diesel trains an hour in each direction between the two cities, each having 396 seats and completing the journey in a minimum of 49 minutes. The current seven-car electric trains have 479 seats (21 per cent more) and do the journey in a minimum 47 minutes. Once Queen Street’s platforms are extended, the December 2019 timetable will see eight-car trains with 546 seats (38 per cent more than the diesel train) covering the distance in 42 minutes.

Concourse when complete.

In addition, Glasgow is to get an iconic city-centre gateway station to replace one hidden from view from its main square, which will no doubt provide a stimulus for further development. The station’s passengers will also benefit from improved facilities, including a concourse increased from 960 to 1,800 square metres.

Although it would seem that EGIP is almost complete, the planning and execution of this programme to deliver a 38 per cent increase in capacity has taken about ten years. Yet, in ten years’ time, passenger numbers between Edinburgh and Glasgow are projected to grow by a further 40 per cent, so maybe now is the time to start planning EGIP phase two to provide six trains an hour by 2030!

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Having been familiar with the station for nearly 60 years, visiting to see the traction involved in its trains, using them, and for many years being a Traffic Controller of them, it is good to become aware of the latest nuts and bolts of the place – well done all!


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