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The Caledonian Railway



SCOTLAND has ten railways, and if put end to end they would extend for 3843 miles, of which no less than 2267 would be single track. Four of them are short local lines working independently and of little importance; the others are the Caledonian, Glasgow & South Western, Great North, Highland, North British, and the Portpatrick & Wigtownshire worked by a joint committee which has not an engine of its own. The Caledonian, which comes first in alphabetical order, may be dealt with first, especially as at the time the Act was obtained it was believed to be impossible that there should ever be more than one railway from England into Scotland, the Caledonian beginning in England. And that was no longer ago than 1845. In the course of its development it has absorbed the successors of several of the old wagon-ways besides the Pollok & Govan referred to in the introduction, but for present purposes we may take it as originating with the line by which it first obtained access to Glasgow. This was the Glasgow & Garnkirk, opened in 1831, the Act for which, like that for the Dundee & Newtyle, dates from five years before.

Garnkirk is some seven miles eastward of Buchanan Street, Glasgow, and the line which ended at Canal Street, just behind St. Rollox, was 8¼ miles long. It came from Cargill colliery near Gartsherrie, on the Monkland & Kirkintilloch, opened in October 1826, and now part of the North British, and it ended at St. Rollox because of the canal and the chemical works into which it ran its coal wagons to tip their contents through trap-doors into carts waiting below; the wagons returning laden with Glasgow goods to be put on the Forth & Clyde canal at Kirkintilloch, thus avoiding the Port Dundas cut.

The first Glasgow terminus was Townhead, a stone hut about 9 ft square and high, and from it five passenger trains left daily in the summer and four in the winter, business being done on artificial-light saving principles, the number of passengers in and out averaging 200 a day. The line was laid with fish-bellied, wrought-iron rails on stone blocks; it cost £40,000; and George Stephenson supplied the first two engines, the one bearing his name being a 4-coupled, and the other, the St. Rollox, a low-bodied, long-chimneyed single with 11-in by 16-in cylinders, and 4½ ft driving wheels.


Another railway, the Wishaw & Coltness, authorised in 1829, came to join the Garnkirk on its way, and it was to Garriongill on this line that the Caledonian was brought from Carlisle in the first section of its own making. This measured 84¾ miles; the second was the Edinburgh branch from Carstairs, which measured 27¼ miles; and the third, known as the Castlecary branch, filled in the 10 miles between Garnqueen Junction with the Monkland & Kirkintilloch, 52 chains north of Gartsherrie and Greenhill, where it joined the Scottish Central, thus completing the 122 miles authorised by the Act.

It had been long in arriving. The real trouble in the background was that there were two projects, the other being the one that had been under consideration for years in Glasgow, and has developed into the Glasgow & South Western, which was all Scottish, whereas the Caledonian was of English origin, and began with the Grand Junction. In 1835 that enterprising company sent their engineer, Joseph Locke, to survey for a line between Preston and Glasgow by way of Carlisle. Locke worked right and left of Telford’s coach road as far as Beattock, and, thinking the rise too great, he returned to Gretna and went up Nithsdale. In his report he recommended the route by this valley, and over the Cumnocks and onwards through Beith and Paisley.

This did not suit the Annandale landed proprietors; and it is a noteworthy fact that, broadly speaking, in England it was the landowners who opposed the railways, in Scotland it was the landowners who favoured them, while the landless were indifferent or antagonistic. Mr. J. J. Hope Johnstone, who owned more land in the Annandale district than any one else, sent a copy of the report to his factor Charles Stewart; and Stewart, seeing that a railway through the property would increase its value, persuaded him to take action, the result being the formation of the Committee of Annandale Proprietors in 1836, to whom the carrying through of the Caledonian project was mainly due.

A West coast express, Caledonian RailwayA WEST COAST EXPRESS, AMONG THE LOWLAND HILLS.

Glasgow formed an opposition committee to support the Nithsdale scheme as against what had come to be called the Central; and to end the matter a proposal was accepted to have both routes gone over by different engineers, John Miller for Glasgow surveying Nithsdale, and Locke making a resurvey of Annandale. As might be expected, Miller approved the road down the Nith, and Locke found reasons for a not very enthusiastic support of the road up the Annan.

It was not so much the rise from Elvanfoot that made him doubtful, but the descent from Beattock summit “in which there is more danger”, though “perfect machinery”, otherwise brakes, “and perfect watchfulness on the part of the attendants leave no room for apprehension.” But at the same time he warned those who paid him his fee that “a plane like this ought not to be adopted without sufficient reason: you cannot expect it to be so economically worked, nor so certain in its operation as a line of equal length that is free from such a plane” - a fact the Caledonian is never likely to forget, though such gradients are not quite so much dreaded by engineers as they were then. Finally, Locke, to clear himself of responsibility, remarked that, as it might be considered a subject of national importance, it would not be a bad idea if Government were to institute an inquiry into the matter.

EXPRESS PASSENGER ENGINE NO. 142, Caledonian Railway


The suggestion was eventually acted upon, and after an elaborate examination of the various proposals for railway communication between England and Scotland, the Board of Trade reported in favour of the Annandale route. But the opponents were not willing to give in, and after four years’ further resistance, parliamentary and otherwise, during which the line became known as the Caledonian and assumed the Scottish arms, the Act was obtained, and the works, under Locke with Thomas Brassey as contractor, were soon in hand.

The same year, 1845, Locke and Brassey began to make the Scottish Midland, the Scottish Central, and the Clydesdale Junction. Next year the Garnkirk and the Pollok & Govan were bought. In 1847 the main line was opened to Beattock; the year afterwards it was complete to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Castlecary; and in 1849 the Wishaw & Coltness was absorbed. Thus the road was cleared to Greenock and Paisley and Glasgow, and, by way of Castlecary and the Scottish Central, to Perth, and thence on to the Scottish Midland and the Aberdeen.


For some years the Caledonian went gently, while a crowd of little lines were preparing for absorption, some of them undergoing an intermediate amalgamation like the Scottish Midland, which in 1856, taking over the Newtyle & Coupar-Angus, the Newtyle & Glamis, the Arbroath & Forfar, and the Aberdeen, became the Scottish North Eastern. At length the Caledonian woke up, and in the three “amalgamation years” more than doubled its mileage. In the first of these, 1865, it took over the Scottish Central, which had absorbed the Dundee & Perth in 1863, which in its turn had absorbed the old Dundee & Newtyle in 1846; and, by means of the General Terminus, obtained access from the Pollok & Govan to the River Clyde. Next year the Scottish North Eastern came into the net, with a few smaller lines; and in the third of these years of extensions, 1867, wishing to have a proper port of its own, and fixing upon Grangemouth, it had to purchase the Forth & Clyde canal, including the Monkland, a canal of some interest, as by its purchase the Caledonian can claim James Watt as one of its originators.

Watt was the consulting engineer of the Carron Ironworks, his first partner in the steam-engine being Dr. John Roebuck, the Birmingham man, or rather the man from Sheffield, who established them. At the time he was engaged in surveying work yielding moderate returns. The very year, 1769, that he took out his patent for the steam-engine he was asked to survey a route for the projected canal, and it was on his survey that the Act was obtained “for making and maintaining a navigable cut or canal and wagon-way from the coalleries in the parishes of Old and New Monkland to the city of Glasgow”. He was the first engineer, but want of means put a stop to the works in 1772, the year that Roebuck failed, and in 1775 he went to Birmingham and became the partner of Matthew Boulton. In 1789 the £100 shares in the unfinished canal were bought by the Stirlings at £5 apiece, and it was extended to Port Dundas to join the Glasgow branch of the Forth & Clyde, which afterwards bought the shares at £400 each, and in 1867 became absorbed by the Caledonian Railway Company.


Nowadays the Caledonian extends from Carlisle to Aberdeen on the east coast, and to Oban and Ballachulish on the west; but Carlisle is not its most southerly station, for, by means of the branch from Kirtlebridge and through Abbey Junction, it reaches Brayton. At Lockerbie there is a branch to Dumfries, taken over in 1865, whence by the Kirkcudbright section of the Glasgow & South Western it obtains access at Castle Douglas to the Portpatrick & Wigtownshire.

This curious line is of single track throughout; it is 82 miles long, and its importance consists in its affording, from Stranraer to Larne, the shortest route to Ireland, the distance being only 39 miles, in traversing which the boats spend but little over an hour on the open sea. It runs through Galloway and Wigtownshire, with a southerly branch to Wigtown and Whithorn from Newton-Stewart and a junction with the Glasgow & South Western at Challoch, and is a joint affair belonging to the Caledonian, the London & North Western, the Midland, and the Glasgow & South Western, the two Scottish companies controlling and working it by turns. Every three years the control of the engines, stores, telegraphs, and permanent way of the whole line is similarly changed about, and the road requires some looking after, for it rises to a summit level of 800 ft and amongst its many stiff gradients has three miles of 1 in 57.


At Elvanfoot, on the Caledonian main line, a branch goes off to Wanlockhead among the lead mines, where William Symington was born, and at Symington one to Peebles on the Tweed; and then Carstairs is reached, which was the company’s first junction and the starting-point of the engineering work. To begin at Carlisle would never have done, as it would have recalled the English origin of the enterprise which had been so excellently hidden in its name; Glasgow was hostile, and was reached on an existing line, and Edinburgh could not be chosen without giving further offence. Carstairs was neutral and really convenient, and here the first sod was cut, or rather three sods: one towards Glasgow, one towards Edinburgh, and one towards Carlisle, so as to be quite impartial. From Carstairs the road to Edinburgh continues to the right while that to Glasgow trends to the left; and then the network begins that ends on the west coast at Ardrossan and Wemyss Bay, and stretches eastwards to Midcalder and northwards to Dunblane, where the western road goes off to Loch Tay and the Firth of Lorne, and the eastern to Perth and onwards to Aberdeen.

Altogether the Caledonian is nearly 1100 miles in length, and has about fifty terminal stations. In a year it carries 34 millions of passengers, 23 million tons of minerals, and over 5 million tons of merchandise; and it owns some 65,000 vehicles and 927 engines. On its main track the Beattock bank ensured its having powerful engines from the first, though on the local lines it annexed were a few miscellaneous antiquities that need not here detain us.

For opening the line Robert Sinclair, afterwards of the Eastern Counties, designed some 2-2-2’s, of which the leading and trailing wheels were 3 ft 6-in and the drivers 6 ft; the cylinders, 15-in by 20-in, were outside and inclined, the heating surface was 770, and the grate area 10½. They worked at a pressure of 90 lb, and with the 4-wheeled tender, that held 800 gallons, weighed 28 tons. The springs were peculiar; for the driving and leading wheels they were under-hung, but those of the trailers were elliptic and controlled by a screw arrangement on the footplate which lifted the weight off them and transferred it to the drivers. These he followed by a more powerful class with 7 ft driving wheels and 16-in by 20-in cylinders.


In 1856 he resigned, and was succeeded by Benjamin Conner, who held the position for twenty years. Conner began with some excellent and quite famous singles with 8 ft 2-in drivers, and cylinders 17-in by 24-in, the heating surface being 1172 and the grate area 13·9. The weight of these engines in working order was 30 tons 13 cwt, and the tractive force was 4700 lb. As Mr. M’Intosh says, “this stately engine, with its monstrous and steady stride, was long the admiration of the whole country”, and Colburn years ago described it as “standing gracefully on its wheels, large yet compact, and qualified to run at any speed with ease and steadiness.”

Like Stirling’s 8-footers, the only engines to which they came second in appearance and efficiency, the class had a long career, but the increase of the train load became too much for them, particularly up Beattock bank, and when in 1882 Mr. Dugald Drummond, better known, perhaps, as of the London & South Western, took over from Conner’s successor, George Brittain, he had to supersede them by engines of greater power.

During the race to Edinburgh his No. 123 was a 4-2-2 with 7 ft drivers, the cylinders being 18-in by 26-in, the working pressure 150, and the weight of engine and tender 75 tons 7 cwt, but most of his engines were 4-4-0’s. As an example may be mentioned the Eglinton, which was put on the rails in 1887; this had 18-in by 26-in cylinders, 6½ ft driving wheels, a heating surface of 1200, and a grate area of 19·5, the pressure being 160 and the tractive force 12,900. Mr. Lambie, who succeeded him, was responsible for only six express engines, the excellent class Nos. 13-18.

In 1895 Mr. John Farquharson M'Intosh became locomotive superintendent, and soon his Dunalastairs led the way. The second Dunalastairs were 4-4-0’s with 19-in by 26-in cylinders and 6½ ft drivers; they had a heating surface of 1500, a grate area of 20¾, a pressure of 175 and a tractive force of 16,840; and with tender complete they weighed 94 tons. With the Dunalastair classes the reputation of the Caledonian engines was greatly enhanced.


A remarkable experiment was made with fourteen of them on the 7th of September 1899 at an excursion of the people at the company’s locomotive works at St. Rollox. These 15,000 excursionists were carried in fourteen trains each of eighteen coaches all alike, and each engine was an improved Dunalastair. The first train started for Carlisle from Glasgow at ten minutes after five, the others leaving at ten minute intervals, except the last two which were twenty minutes apart. They were timed to reach Carlisle in 2 hours and 25 minutes, the return journey to take 2½ hours; and with each train out and home the time was kept to the minute. Each engine consumed 1 ton 12 cwt of coal on the journey, or 35 lb per mile; that is to say it took 3 lb 4 oz of coal to carry each passenger from Glasgow to Carlisle. Think what a wonderful thing is a locomotive that will so use the force obtained from 3¼ lb of coal as to drag a man over a hundred miles in two hours and a half.

And be it remembered that the road is far from a level one. From Carlisle it falls gently for about 7 miles to nearly sea-level, then rises for 7 at 1 in 200, falls gently for 4, rises for a similar distance at 1 in 200 past Ecclefechan, falls for 7 past Lockerbie, and rises for 7 to just past Wamphray. Then it rises for 4 miles at 1 in 200 through Beattock, and from this ascending slope it climbs at 1 in 75 and 1 in 80 to Beattock summit, 1014 ft above the sea. From the summit it descends with slight undulations through Abington and Symington for over 20 miles to Carstairs, and from there it follows the Clyde down to Glasgow. A rising gradient of 1 in 112 trebles an engine’s work; one of 1 in 75 quadruples it; thus an engine requires four times the power to climb to the summit level that it does from there onwards.

The second Dunalastairs were a good class for comparison. Their cylinders being 19 by 26, the cylinder volume was 14,742 cubic in, and as their heating surface was 1500 it follows that the amount of cylinder volume for every square foot of heating surface was 9·82 cubic inches. In the Cardean, which came later, the heating surface is 2460, and consequently the volume per square foot is only 66 cubic in, the cylinders being 20-in by 26-in, and their volume 16,342·86. The engines of this 903 class are 4-6-0’s with 6½ ft drivers, their grate area is 26 and their working pressure is 200 lb. In running order the engine weighs 73 tons, and the 5000-gallon tender 57 tons, the combined weight being 130; and the tractive force is 21,333 lb. The length over buffers of these engines and their tenders is 65½ ft. Thus in the sixty years the length of engine and tender increased by 30 ft, the weight by 102 tons, the boiler pressure by 110 lb, the heating surface by 1630 sq in, and the tractive force from 2344 to 21,333.

The nature of the track had also its beneficent influence on the goods engines, which from the beginning have been workmanlike and powerful, though the engineers of sixty years since would be surprised to find their old 6-wheelers developed into, say, the 600 class with 21-in by 26-in cylinders and 8-coupled 4½ ft wheels, or the 918 class with 19-in by 26-in cylinders and 6-coupled 5 ft wheels, or even the 812 class with cylinders half an inch smaller. What they would have said to the 492 class of 8-coupled tanks - 4½ ft. wheels and 19 by 26 cylinders - with a load behind them, is a mystery, but may be imagined from Sinclair being satisfied with hauling 50 tons.


In his day the goods wagons were 11 ft long and held 6 tons, now by gradual increase they have arrived at 66 ft in some cases, and hold 30 tons. So long ago as 1858 the Caledonian put a 30-ton wagon on the line, and now they are in hundreds; and for miscellaneous goods the packing of these monster trucks is a wonder. Then there was but one pattern of wagon, and everything had to be got into it somehow; now there are special wagons and vans for all sorts of things - milk, fish, beer, furniture, scenery, horses, glass, minerals, armour-plates, and steel castings, the coal and iron districts of Lanarkshire and Stirlingshire being the main source of the company’s prosperity.

When the goods station opened at St. Rollox the first day’s business amounted to the reception of three carts, the first of which brought one package, the next a cask of whisky, the third four small parcels; now 50,000 packages come to Buchanan Street in a day, and it is only one of the eleven terminal goods stations in Glasgow belonging to the Caledonian. Five million tons of miscellaneous goods in detail require some handling; and in the bulk, when added to 23 million tons of minerals, the wagons require some sorting, even on the best hump and gridiron system, as is evident any day at Ross or Robroyston.

The Caledonian crossed the Clyde into Glasgow from the south in 1879 and opened the Central Station, which twenty years afterwards had become too small and had to be enlarged, the extension necessitating another bridge across the river as well as one over Argyle Street. With the hotel it forms an imposing block of buildings, and no one who knows it would suggest a better name. It has a train in or out of it every two minutes during most of the day; the circulating area is about an acre, and there are thirteen platforms, totalling up to nearly 2 miles in length, the space and accommodation being none too large for the crowds that swarm in and out. Let it be enough to say that it is the Liverpool Street of Glasgow.

Coat of Arms, Caledonian Railway

About 480 miles of the Caledonian are single track. When railways began in this country a man used to ride on the engine from one station to another and return by the next train; and, as he could not be in more places than one at the same time, safety was assured. In case of accident the old system is still in use. When worked as a single line on emergencies a pilotman, distinguished by his wearing a red armlet, accompanies every train unless more are going in the same direction, when he travels on the last engine. But for everyday working it was discovered in 1853 that the man could be dispensed with if he left his badge of office behind him. Hence for a long time a short stick like a constable’s truncheon, bearing the names of the two stations between which it could be used, was handed to the driver of the down train and brought back by the driver of the next up train, and this truncheon eventually gave place to a brass casting still called the train staff.

No improvement was needed on this method so long as the trains ran alternately to and fro, but when there were more trains in one direction than in the other there was no way of getting the staff back except by sending the first trains of the batch without the staff but with instructions what to do. Here was an opening for an inventor, and in 1860 the Board of Trade authorised the introduction of the Woodhouse method, which had been adopted for the working of the Standedge tunnel.

This was simple enough. The staff brought by the last train to arrive was shown by the stationmaster to the engine-driver of the next train in the opposite direction, so as to satisfy him that he could not meet a train on the way, and the driver was given a ticket allowing him to run to the station from which the train had come. Train after train could be despatched in this way, each with a ticket, except the last, which carried the staff for it to be in readiness at the other end to be returned in a similar manner. The tickets were collected at the other station on arrival, and kept in a locked box which could only be unlocked by the staff used as a key, and on being taken out they were used again for the trains going back, in which they preceded the staff in the same order. In fact, the staff and tickets were like hen and chickens, the chickens leading the way and the hen following. It was soon found, however, that once the tickets were loose an unlucky one could be given away when the staff was not at the station, and so the tickets came to be made of brass and locked into a hole in the staff, so that they could not be got at unless the staff was at the station they were taken from.

Here again there was no provision for emergencies, and none for the staff reaching a station the last thing at night when a train had to leave the other station first thing next morning. In Wales this had been met by sending the staff by horseback over the mountains, but this did not commend itself generally, and was only possible in the event of the terminals of the line being close together.

The problem was solved by the invention of the tablet system by one of the Caledonian men. In this a box at each station represents the staff, the boxes are in electric connection, in them are so many quoit-shaped tablets which can only be removed one at a time, and then only when the electric circuit is completed by the signalman at the other station. The tablet is taken on by the train to the signalman who has unlocked the box. and not until it has been put into the box at his end can he render another tablet available at the far end. Thus the train is always under the control of the farther signalman.

On the North Western a method much of this character came into use in which there were no tablets but a number of brass sticks all alike, and made so that they could open any of the intermediate sidings within the section; and there are other devices, including that on the Great Western - a modification of the Manson system — where the staff is like a tennis-racket, and set on a post near a station so that it can be hooked off by the engineman’s arm while passing it at speed, to be parted with at speed by being thrown into a net at the end of a section, when the next racket is borne off as in tilting at the ring should the train not stop at the station. But the essential feature of all the systems is that no one thing, staff, tablet, or what not, can be in two places at once.



Along the Caledonian runs our principal mail train - “the postal train for mails and parcels post” that gives an arterial service through Great Britain from London to the northern terminus of the Caledonian, the joint station at Aberdeen.

“The vehicles appointed to work this new postal train,” says Mr. Neele, “were all constructed with connecting covered gangways, so that the Post Office people in charge could pass from vehicle to vehicle throughout the train, and the gangways and doorways were all sufficiently commodious to allow of the transfer of parcel post receptacles when necessary to get them in position at the respective exchange stations. The sorting carriages were all brilliantly lighted, and it was a sight that must have gratified Mr. Baines” - the representative from St. Martin’s-le-Grand who had suggested and organised the scheme - “when the train, on the first night of its running, the 1st of July 1885, was placed in position at Euston for its maiden trip. No wonder the head officials of the Post Office clustered that night at Euston; it was a notable event, the starting of this pioneer postal train.”

It was a train to be remembered; with it began the system of specials for mails only, now in vogue on so many lines; and it has grown in importance and length until it measures 150 yards or more when it starts. Its marshalling is as would be expected. Next to the engine is the Aberdeen brake van with the through bags for Scotland that require no sorting, and in the rear are the English through bags; the Scottish parcel and letter sorting vans and the English sorting vans being in the middle.

It is timed to start at half-past eight; but for an hour or more before that the sorters are at work, amid an array of racks and pigeon-holes and hooks and bags to be seen nowhere else, shuffling, packing, stamping, gathering, and distributing the contents of the bags that red cart after red cart piles in, until the apparently never-ending procession is closed by the late-fee letters and the sacks that time at headquarters has forbidden any attempt to deal with.



Off it goes to the minute. In the sorting vans is the apparatus by which the bags in pouches are received and delivered as it runs, consisting of an arm and a net, the net above, the arm below. At the different places along the line where the train does not stop is the corresponding apparatus with which it gives and takes; this also consisting of an arm and a net, the net being below; and on its journey it will catch and deliver at about five dozen of these, for every one of which the pouch must be ready.

Out go the pouch or pouches on the delivering arm to be caught and the net to catch with; the electric bell starts ringing; clack cluck, the ringing stops, and at the same instant the pouches on the train have gone and the pouch from the roadside arm bounds on to the floor as if it had been shot in from a gun, and sometimes as from a battery, when, as at Bletchley, many come bumping in. Quickly, as if it were an enemy’s explosive, the pouch is opened and cleared out, and up and down the van its contents fly on to the tables and into the pigeon-holes, while out of the pigeon-holes come other packets to be thrown into bags to be thrust into pouches to be hung on the arm and start the bell ringing again. Sort, sort, in the glaring light as the floor thrills and heaves on the springs, hurrying furiously at first and then slowing until the train stops at Crewe or elsewhere, when the haste begins again, the pressure at every stoppage being less and less, as well it might be. As with the letters so with the parcels, heavier work meaning more noise but easily conceivable, the only difference in method being that every parcel has to be called.

Rugby, Tamworth, Crewe, Wigan, Preston, Carnforth, Carlisle, those are the English stopping stations. At Preston the Liverpool van is left and a pilot engine goes on to help in the heavy pull from Carnforth up to Shap (914 ft) and join in the downward swoop to Carlisle.

Here in the early morning - 2.48 a.m. - the London men leave the train. The Scottish sorters take their places, and the one Caledonian engine takes the place of the two North Westerns. The train is now much lighter and it becomes lighter still, for the Galloway van goes off to Stranraer and the Ayr van departs for the Glasgow & South Western. Up to Carlisle the date is the date of departure, north of it the date is that of arrival, and the lettering becomes “Caledonian T.P.O. Night Down”.

In a minute or so the mail is travelling to the Solway as if St. Rollox had pitted itself against Crewe in emulation of the wild career from Shap; and the seven miles down leads to the seven miles up, and makes no more difference than the four up and the four down or the following seven up and seven down, for the engine is in full swing for the gentle rise through Beattock from which it makes its effort up the hill, slowing perforce as the ten-mile climb nears its end, and quickening as down it runs through Abington and Symington to Carstairs. Here the train loses the Glasgow and Edinburgh vans, and the lighter it gets the faster it goes.

At Stirling some coaches from Edinburgh and Glasgow are hooked on, and the western mail packages are left behind; and thence for over thirty miles it sweeps, rushing through Crieff and Auchterarder, reeling off mile after mile at from 55 to 60 seconds each, to stop at Perth at seven minutes before six. Here the engine is changed, and before the clock strikes the hour the mail is on the way again for its flight to Aberdeen, just ninety miles in ninety-seven minutes.


The five hundred and forty miles are completed at last. It is no exceptional run, but the regular task of every weekday. And no better work is done in van or on engine than between London and Aberdeen by the special postal trains.

The passenger work of the Caledonian is of high repute for speed and accommodation. As we have said enough of the West Coast service we will content ourselves here with the Grampian Corridor Express as an example. This train is made up of four varieties of coaches, composite, brake composite, brake third, and third. Each of these is 65 ft long in the body, and 68 ft 6-in over buffers, the width being 9 ft. The under-frames over headstocks are 64 ft 10-in, 44 ft between the bogie centres, and 7 ft 5-in over the sole bars, the wheel base being 56 ft.

In the composite the space between the partitions is 7 ft 4⅝-in in the first class, and 6 ft 4½-in in the third; in the brake composite it is 7 ft in the first class and 6 ft in the third, the brake compartment taking up 12 ft 2¾-in. In the brake third, in which the brake compartment occupies 27 ft 4½-in, it is 6 ft, and in the third it is 6 ft 2⅝-in. The composite seats 30 first-class passengers three aside and 24 third class four aside, the brake composite seats 18 first and 32 third, the brake third seats 40, and the third 72. The composite weighs 38 tons 4 cwt, the brake composite weighs 38 tons 11 cwt, the brake third weighs 35 tons 5 cwt, and the third 36 tons 10 cwt. These details are given to show, among other things, that appearances may be deceptive; in carriages seemingly alike there may be a difference in the knee-space making all the difference in the comfort, though in this case the smallest, 6 ft, is ample for any one of reasonable stature and attitude.

This heavy train - the Grampian - does 30 miles an hour up Dunblane bank, part of which is 1 in 73, for Beattock is not the stiffest gradient on the line, that being the 1 in 40 on the Bonnybridge branch. It is the 10 a.m. out of Buchanan Street and the 9.30 out of Edinburgh joining at Perth, where the restaurant car is put on; and the Glasgow portion weighs over 250 tons. It is not the fastest on the line, that being the 10.5 from Forfar to Perth, 321 miles in 33 minutes, the longest non-stop being the 2.17 a.m. from Carlisle to Perth, 150¾ miles in three hours; but with the exception of the Granite City Express, leaving Glasgow at 5 p.m, it is perhaps the best known.



At the other end of the varied list of passenger rolling stock is the vehicle working the local traffic over Connel Bridge, a notable cantilever structure with a span of 500 ft across Loch Etive between Connel Ferry and Benderloch, which not only runs frequently on weekdays but makes trips out and home on Sundays - a motor-car that hauls trucks on which are placed the motor-cars in which the owners ride as owners used to ride in their own carriages on the railways in the old times.

There are other bridges besides Connel that should be mentioned. Among them are the handsome bridge that crosses the Clyde at Glasgow, the Tay bridge at Perth, the Dee bridge at Aberdeen, and the two Forth bridges - that at Stirling and the swing bridge at Alloa. It was at South Alloa in 1865 that the Caledonian became possessed of its first harbour, the one there being taken over with the Scottish Central. It served as an appetiser and stimulant for the greater venture of 1867, when the purchase was effected of the Forth & Clyde canal, with Bowling harbour at one end and Grangemouth at the other, where the Charlotte Dundas lies buried.



Every one knows that in March 1802 William Symington’s Charlotte Dundas began work on the Forth & Clyde canal, but it is not always added that Symington had a steamboat on the canal before her in 1789 at the expense of Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, which was the successor of another boat tried elsewhere the year before. Miller was Robert Burns’s landlord. He was a director of the Bank of Scotland, and a man of ingenuity interested in many things, among others Clerk of Eldin’s idea of breaking the line which Rodney had found so satisfactory in 1780. “Why not have a ship”, thought Miller, “that can break the line in all weathers and all conditions of the sea?” That was the germ of all that followed; another instance of how the paths of war lead to the triumphs of industry.

Knowing Alexander Nasmyth, the father of the inventor of the steam-hammer, a draughtsman and artist of great ability, he proceeded with his assistance to get out the working drawings of a catamaran with two hulls having paddles between them, the paddles being worked by a five-barred capstan. This was tried on the Firth of Forth on the 2nd of June 1787. The men ran and ran, and slowly moved the catamaran. “I’ll tell ye what, Dalswinton”, said James Taylor, then student of theology and tutor to Miller’s sons and on board as a passenger, “ye might save the puir bodies if ye wad only use the new steaming engine!”

The very thing, thought Miller. Back to the wharf came the catamaran. The new engine was the one patented three days afterwards by Taylor’s friend, William Symington of Wanlockhead, then aged twenty-four.

In 1786, the same year that Wilson reported to Soho that Murdock had made a model road locomotive, Symington and his brother had made “a model steam road-carriage”, which they were exhibiting in Edinburgh, and it was on reading the newspaper notices of this that Murdock had started on his journey from Redruth to London, so as to be first at the Patent Office. He need have been in no hurry, for the road-carriage was never patented and went no further. What Symington patented on the 5th of June 1787 (No. 1610) was a stationary engine - the drawing showing an engine-house complete - which was to develop in quite another direction.

Taylor introduced Miller to Symington, and a conversation followed which ended in his agreeing to place one of these engines duly adapted on board one of Miller’s boats, just as Jonathan Hulls had tried to do with an engine of Newcomen’s in 1736 (Patent No. 556), and succeeded in doing on the Avon at Evesham in 1737. Thus it came about that on the 14th of October 1788 there came forth on Dalswinton lake this noteworthy steamboat, the engine of which is at South Kensington (N. 5). She was built of tinned iron plates, and was a double-hulled catamaran with the paddle-wheel in the middle, and she moved at the rate of four or five miles an hour. On board - according to James Nasmyth - were Miller, Nasmyth, Taylor, Sir William Monteith, Symington, and Robert Burns.

Among the letters not long ago discovered at Soho is one from Cullen on behalf of Miller asking for estimates regarding a Watt engine to take the place of Symington’s, to which the firm replied charging Symington with attempting to evade their patent. This may have stopped Miller from going further with Boulton & Watt, for he continued to employ Symington, and used one of his engines in the boat on the Thames running between Blackfriars and Westminster in 1793, mentioned by

Carlyle, which was followed by the immediate predecessor of the Charlotte Dundas.

The Charlotte Dundas led on to Fulton’s Clermont, Bell’s Comet, and many other developments. Greenock became a steamer port, and to it in 1841 there opened the Glasgow, Paisley, & Greenock Railway which was absorbed by the Caledonian. Then the Glasgow & South Western ran in from the south through the tunnel down to the river, and got into communication with what are known as the coast steamers. In 1868 the Caledonian, intending to extend to Gourock, purchased that harbour, but had to abandon the proposed railway to it owing to the financial panic; and it was not until 1884 that they obtained the Act which gave them the needful access by the line through the tunnel, 2100 yards in length, which is the longest but one in Scotland, the longest being that of 2519 on the North British at Glenfarg. From the Greenock line at Port Glasgow they went on to Wemyss Bay, to pick up more of the profitable coast business which, as far as the steamers are concerned, is now pooled among the three great Scottish lines.

Of these boats the Caledonian own ten; the Glasgow & South Western own ten; and the North British have seven; and to these must be added the boats of the private owners. They are the famous Clyde river steamers, than which there are none better; not the launches plying in the city waters, which, be it understood, are quite another sort of craft.

The Clyde steamer, when she starts, with her spotless paint, white decks, and silver-plated gear, is almost as trim as a man-o’-war, and handsomer. Her handling is excellent; her departure and coming alongside to the very inch of her berth without the suspicion of a seesaw is the perfection of seamanship; and the wonderful number of places she seems to go to, as shown by the pigmy semaphores, is quite a lesson in the geography of the west.

At first the packet companies had things all their own way in taking the people down the river from Glasgow Bridge, but things have altered, and the Broomielaw before breakfast is not what it was. The old Glasgow, Paisley, & Greenock began the new era by putting on the water the Isle of Bute and the Maid of Bute, plying from Greenock. Two more boats followed, and in 1852 the Caledonian built the first of its own, the Greenock, and the Glasgow Citizen, but it was not for another fifteen years or so that there began that combination of rail routes with steamer routes which has developed so surprisingly.


The Clyde is a curious river, practically a narrow canal with vast stretches of mud on either side at low water, and at high water assuming the appearance of a wide estuary. Unlike the Thames, which ends among flats, the Clyde ends among mountains and lakes, and it is worse near the city than the London river; but, as on the Thames, the all river route went out of fashion owing to the increasingly unpleasant state of the water to begin with; then the evidences of industrial enterprise that appeared too prominently on the banks; and then the competition of the railway companies with their cheaper fares, -  in short, the journey was odoriferous at the start and tedious in the continuation, and the railways improved the opportunity.

It was in 1889, when the line opened to Gourock, that a serious fight was deliberately entered upon. The Caledonian ordered a fleet of the finest passenger boats procurable, the first of which, the Galatea, was put on the river on the 1st of June 1890, and, working them in connection with the railway, soon secured the greater part of the passenger traffic with the seaside resorts round the mouth of the Clyde. The completion of the Lanarkshire & Ayrshire gave the Caledonian access to Ardrossan, and for the voyage thence to Arran there started on the 1st of June 1891 the famous Duchess of Hamilton, on which a turbine was first used for electrical purposes. For a long time, with her 18 knots, she was the pride of the fleet, a position now held by the Duchess of Argyll, which is not only lighted by turbine but driven by turbine at over 21. That these boats were and are worked with energy is clear from the Caledonian fleet running more miles in a year than there are from here to the moon; and as the other railways on both sides of the stream joined in the fray as soon as they could, the non-railway shipowners had to come to terms, the result being the remarkable rail-and-boat system that carries all Glasgow to and from the coast in numbers and at fares that the rest of the world wonders at.


You can

“Crack Caledonian Flyers”,

“Railways of Caledonia” and

“Scottish Mountain Railways”

on this website.