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Time travel: Glasgow Subway celebrates 120 years of service

We look back at some old memories of the city's famous Clockwork Orange and tales from its history.

The past

On December 14, 1896, Glasgow officially followed in the footsteps (or tracks) of London and Budapest by opening its underground railway.

The 15 stations opened to the Glaswegian public that day remain the same 15 spread across Scotland's largest city to this day.

The Glasgow District Subway was operated on a widely praised cable haul system across both the inner and outer circles.

December 1896: The opening of the Subway.
December 1896: The opening of the Subway. courtesy of SPT
Historic sign: Glasgow District Subway.
Historic sign: Glasgow District Subway. SPT

The Subway has always been a popular method of transport for Glaswegians and tourists alike, with around 13 million passengers on board annually.

It proved popular from its opening day, with around 1400 workmen on board in the first few hours after patiently waiting to queue up for a slice of history.

The system was eventually overwhelmed and two cars collided between Bridge Street and St Enoch, which halted any more services running until January the following year.

St Enoch: The iconic building, formerly the station ticket office.
St Enoch: The iconic building, formerly the station ticket office.
Cable car: More comfortable than the current carriages?
Cable car: More comfortable than the current carriages? SPT

In 1923, the new owners, Glasgow Corporation Transport Department, attempted to give the Subway a new name as the Underground but many still referred to the system by its original moniker.

A whole raft of new changes came in with the electrification of the line in 1935, four years before the start of the Second World War.

During that time the system survived a bombing of the tunnel just south of Merkland Street station (which later moved to Partick).

Even after the war ended there were still problems facing tunnels, with flooding affecting the city in 1946 - a boat borrowed from Hogganfield Loch was used to transport staff through the network.

Underground overground: The St George's Cross station in 1962.
Underground overground: The St George's Cross station in 1962. courtesy of SPT
Major renovation: The tracks at St Enoch in 1979.
Major renovation: The tracks at St Enoch in 1979.

The next major change for the network did not come until the late 1970s and early 1980s, which would also mark the last improvements for at least another three decades.

Greater Glasgow Passenger Transport Executive took over in 1977 and closed it for three years to allow the renovation works to take place.

Upon opening on April 16, 1980, passengers were greeted with bright and vibrant orange branding compared to the red and cream and brown of previous years.

Glasgow Subway: The change in the cars' exterior.
Glasgow Subway: The change in the cars' exterior.
SPT Subway: The Underground was changed back to its original name.
SPT Subway: The Underground was changed back to its original name. © STV

By 2011, on the 115th anniversary, the now named Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) knew modernisation would have to take place with signs of ageing across the board.

Much was promised with driverless trains and a new smartcard system included in its plans.

Primarily, £500,000 works had to take place to help waterproof the tunnels after the previous incursions with bombs and flooding.

That was only a fraction of the proposed £20m figure intended to be spent on the updating of the Subway over the next four to five years.

To many, 15 stations were enough and plans were introduced for a second circle which would take in the east end of the city ahead of 2014's Commonwealth Games.

The present

The figure escalated somewhat, with nearly £300m spent on the revamp of the 15 stations despite scrapping the idea of the second circle.

Technological revolutions, even in the last decade, helped further plans such as the electronic smartcards, with one East Kilbride firm developing tests at a number of stations in 2013.

New signalling was introduced as a precursor to the driverless trains option and over the years the stations have had a facelif,t including Govan and Hillhead (video below).

New entrance: Part of the revamp at St Enoch.
New entrance: Part of the revamp at St Enoch. Alisdair Woodburn

The future

While newly decorated trains will come in over the next few weeks to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the network, the focus now for SPT is delivering the promise of driverless trains by 2020.

Each service will run as four cars instead of three with minimal other changes to the design which has stood firm for more than a century.

It has led to more closures, though, with six weeks off this summer, two more than originally intended, used to improve the line between Buchanan Street and Govan.

In the 120 years so far the Subway has grown to welcome more than 40,000 commuters a day.

Those experiencing the changing face of the city both overground and underground will continue to shoogle on the Subway for many more years to come.

Driverless trains: First look at the future of the Subway.
Driverless trains: First look at the future of the Subway. SPT

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