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Glasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line

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Title: Glasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Argyle Line, Balerno line, First ScotRail, Railway electrification in Great Britain, Waverley Line
Collection: Railway Lines in Scotland, Standard Gauge Railways in Scotland
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Glasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line

Glasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line
Type Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Scotland
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) CrossCountry
Abellio ScotRail
Virgin Trains
Virgin Trains East Coast
DB Schenker
Direct Rail Services
Rolling stock Class 91
Class 220 "Voyager"
Class 221 "SuperVoyager"
Class 380 "Desiro"
Class 390 "Pendolino"
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Electrification 25kV 50hz AC

The Glasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line is a main railway route which connects the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, by means of their respective branches of the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

Along with the Shotts Line, the Falkirk Line and the Helensburgh to Edinburgh route via Airdrie and Bathgate, the line is one of four direct rail links between Edinburgh and Glasgow (and one of two electrified links) and is frequently used by passenger and freight traffic. Passenger services are operated by CrossCountry, Abellio ScotRail, Virgin Trains East Coast and Virgin Trains with freight services operated by DB Schenker, Freightliner and Direct Rail Services.


  • History 1
  • Route 2
  • Services 3
    • Summer 2007 3.1
    • Winter 2007/08 3.2
    • Summer 2008 3.3
    • Summer 2011 3.4
    • Winter 2012/13 3.5
  • Rolling stock 4
  • 'Thunderbird' locomotive 5
  • References 6
    • Notes 6.1
    • Sources 6.2


This line was opened by the Caledonian Railway as part of a plan to link Glasgow and Edinburgh to the railways in England. The main line from England (now known as WCML, the West Coast Main Line) splits at Carstairs, with one branch going to Edinburgh and the other to Glasgow. The Glasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line consists of those two branches joined by a short connecting chord at Carstairs. The Edinburgh portion opened for passengers on 15 February 1848; and the Glasgow section opened for passengers on 1 November 1849.

The original Edinburgh terminus was at Lothian Road, until Princes Street opened on 2 May 1870. It closed under the Beeching Axe in 1965, when the remaining services were diverted to Waverley. The Glasgow terminus was initially Buchanan Street, but when Central opened on 31 July 1879 this became the terminus, and Central has remained the Glasgow terminus ever since.

From 1849 to 1869 the Caledonian Railway provided a service from Edinburgh (Lothian Road) to Glasgow (Buchanan Street), by way of Carstairs, Coatbridge and Stepps, although this was a somewhat circuitous route compared to the rival Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway line via Falkirk High. The E&G line was already well established by this time, having opened from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Haymarket in February 1842 and been extended to Edinburgh Waverley in August 1846. The Caledonian therefore opened its direct route via Shotts in 1869, and diverted all of its Edinburgh to Glasgow services via that line. Regular services between the two cities via Carstairs would not resume for over 120 years, although the lines remained busy with services from both cities to and from England.

After the 1922 grouping, all the lines became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway company, and after nationalisation in 1948 they became part of British Rail.

The Carstairs to Glasgow section was electrified by British Rail in 1974, during the electrification of the northern, Weaver Junction to Glasgow Central, section of the WCML. The Carstairs to Edinburgh section was not electrified at that time. Many long distance trains from the south used to split into separate Edinburgh and Glasgow portions at Carstairs, and diesel locomotives continued to operate the Edinburgh to Carstairs part of the service. This procedure added significantly to journey times typically adding at least 20 minute to Edinburgh schedules. Division on northbound services was relatively simple, with the electric locomotive continuing forward with the Glasgow portion of the train, while a diesel loco would be attached to the rear part and would haul the Edinburgh train in the opposite direction. However, attachment would involve the section from Edinburgh arriving into Carstairs first, and pointing in the Glasgow direction, with the Glasgow portion running past and reversing back to join the back of the Edinburgh section.

In 1989 the Carstairs to Edinburgh line was electrified, to connect with the electrification of the East Coast Main Line (ECML). When this was completed in 1991, two new services from Edinburgh to Glasgow via Carstairs were reintroduced. Although the line via Carstairs is the longest of the various routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow, its electrification allowed the London King's Cross to Glasgow Intercity services (which had previously run to Glasgow Queen Street via the E&GR line) to be operated by electric trains and diverted to Glasgow Central station. Electrification of the Queen Street route was not planned at the time, and the London services caused congestion at Queen Street where the platforms were not long enough to accommodate them. In addition, as the North Berwick Line was included in the ECML electrification and the depot for its EMU trains was Glasgow Shields Road TMD, a limited stop Scotrail service was also introduced between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Carstairs partly as a means of utilising what would otherwise have been empty stock movements. Some of these services operate all the way through from Glasgow Central to North Berwick.

From 2011, changes to the franchising arrangements resulted in most of the Glasgow Central to London King's Cross services being withdrawn. Instead, some CrossCountry services from south-west England to Edinburgh via York were extended from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central in order to maintain a service from Glasgow to north-east England. Although these are operated by diesel trains they continue to operate via Carstairs rather than the more direct Shotts line, which is not maintained for high speed running.


Map of the line in dark blue, it is the top half of the 'Y'.

Starting from Glasgow Central (High Level), the line follows the main spine of the WCML to Motherwell where it continues to the town of Carstairs, South Lanarkshire. Here the line splits at Carstairs Junction where it joins another branch from the Southern Section of the WCML through a tight curve with a permanent speed restriction of 20 mph.

From Carstairs the line proceeds in a north easterly direction up the Edinburgh branch of the WCML towards the capital. At Kirknewton, West Lothian, the line joins up with the Shotts line and continues towards Haymarket station in western Edinburgh.

At Haymarket, the line joins the main Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverley line with four tracks running through the two main tunnels into Edinburgh Waverley station. National Express East Coast services and some Virgin Trains services use the two straight through platforms at either side of the historic station, while First ScotRail services not working to North Berwick terminate at the several bay platforms on the west side of the station.


The main services to use the route are East Coast, Cross Country and Scottish Regional Services. It is generally not regarded as a main commuter route between Glasgow and Edinburgh owing to its circuitous route which involves travelling 30 miles south towards Carstairs and returning north again, and the lack of available train paths since long distance freight and express services are given priority on it.

Summer 2007

The most frequent user of the line was GNER which runs a service to and from Glasgow Central every 2 hours until 2000. However, due to engineering work at Edinburgh Waverley from late July until November, only one return service per day used the line. Buses replaced trains from Motherwell station, and passengers were advised to travel from Glasgow Queen Street station.

Virgin Trains use the line to run services to England. Some services use the northern section of the West Coast Main Line to/from Glasgow Central but most trains are for destinations including London Euston, Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol and Plymouth. Services into Edinburgh on the line are also mostly from these destinations.

First ScotRail operate services to/from North Berwick on the line. Only a few services continue from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central from the coastal town. A similar service operates from Glasgow Central to North Berwick.

Winter 2007/08

The users of the line are:

  • NXEC which runs a service to and from Glasgow Central on an approximately two hour frequency.
  • Virgin Trains use the line to run services to England (to London and Birmingham).
  • Cross Country trains operate services from Glasgow to Edinburgh for destinations to the southcoast.
  • First ScotRail operate services to/from North Berwick on the line. Only a few services continue from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central from the coastal town. A similar service operates from Glasgow Central to North Berwick.

Summer 2008

All First ScotRail services call at Haymarket, Carstairs and Motherwell on the route.

A few Virgin Trains services call at Carstairs, and most trains call at Haymarket and Motherwell (or their journeys to/from Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively).

All NXEC services call at Motherwell, with most now calling at Haymarket also, (the departure time for London bound services from Glasgow is now 10 minutes earlier than the 2007 timetable to allow for this extra call), previously passengers traveling from North Scotland would have to change at Edinburgh Waverley, often with tight connections.

Summer 2011

First Scotrail run services, as extensions of North Berwick Line services, running twice a day (Monday to Friday).

East Coast run two services per day on the route using British Rail Mark 4 rolling stock and Class 91 locomotives (one to/from London Kings Cross, and one to/from Edinburgh).[1]

CrossCountry service run approximately every two hours extending onto the East Coast Main Line, and onwards to Birmingham and points south.

Journey times on the route are usually around 1 hour.

Winter 2012/13

Most of the services are almost the same as Summer 2011, but with East Coast running only one service to London leaving Glasgow at 0650 and one Glasgow bound from London arriving in Glasgow by 2130.

Cross Country services are the same with every 2 hours but nearly all the Glasgow departures leave at the top of the hour.

First Scotrail has a few extensions to Glasgow through Edinburgh from North Berwick, but recently introduced the additional services between Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively calling at Edinburgh Suburbs, Carstairs, Carluke, Wishaw and Motherwell. These are every two hours on Mondays to Saturdays only. They're provided by Class 380's as the section of line is electrified.

Rolling stock

The route is electrified throughout using 25 kV overhead lines, and three of the passenger companies that use the route employ electric traction. Class 220 (non-tilting) and Class 221 (tilting) 'Voyager' diesel units are used on services to the Midlands and western and southern England.

  • First ScotRail use Class 380 EMUs on the line, on Glasgow to/from North Berwick services/
  • Virgin Trains use Class 390 'Pendolino' EMUs on the route on services from London Euston and Class 221 'Super Voyager' DEMUs on their Edinburgh / Glasgow to Birmingham New Street services.
  • CrossCountry use Class 220 'Voyager', Class 221 'Super Voyager' DEMUs and HST on their services that continue from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central.

'Thunderbird' locomotive

Carstairs station is also the home of one of Virgin's special 'Thunderbird' Class 57 locomotives named after the Thunderbirds animation series and locomotives use characters from the series as their names. 'Thunderbirds' are used to haul broken down services for Virgin and are compatible with both the Pendolino and Voyager fleets.



  1. ^


  • Butt, R. V. J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations: details every public and private passenger station, halt, platform and stopping place, past and present (1st ed.). Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd.  
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