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Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Other Underground Railway in Glasgow

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What do you do if you find yourself with a couple of hours to spare in Glasgow on a November weekday? There are the museums, of course, but all of the outdoor tourist options are pretty much off the table at that time of year.

A search for what’s available suggested the possibility of the Central Station Tour. I’d heard of this before and had often wondered what it entailed. A quick look added to the intrigue – a chance to see behind the scenes of one of the busiest train stations in the UK, with a bit of history thrown in for good measure.

Booked in advance, I turned up at the designated time, the muster point being right beside the Boots store on the station concourse. We were greeted by our guide, Jackie, and her passion for the station and all it means was evident from the outset.

A Glasgow lass to the core, and a railway employee for many years, her enthusiasm was infectious and the mixed group of 20 or so of us on the tour was soon gelled into a willing bunch of followers as we set off, in our Hi-Viz gear, though a secret door near the station platforms. And yes, the Harry Potter comparisons were well made.

Over the next two hours, we heard how the building of the station obliterated an entire community that had stood by the riverside for hundreds of years, all the stats you’d expect and how it has up to 1400 train movements each day. As Jackie said, if your train is the only one delayed one day, please don’t complain because that just means they got another 1399 off on time….

The tour is fascinating and not just for railway buffs – but it every much works for them too. Covered off are the people behind the station development and operation, the evolution of the terminus and the part it has played in the development of Glasgow, along with very poignant reminders of how facilities like Glasgow Central played their part in two world wars. The culmination of the tour is a visit to a museum hidden deep underground and then on to a disused platform from the Victorian era.

It’s difficult to describe how emotive both these areas are. The museum gives further depth and understanding to the narrative that Jackie uses on the tour and the platform is adjacent to those still in use today, so the sounds, rumbling and atmosphere of a railway are right there with you. This isn’t a theme park re-creation, it’s a living (but constantly evolving) exhibition in own right.

The museum creation and the future development of the platform experience is something that Jackie, and her colleague Paul, are continually enhancing so even if you’ve been on this tour a few years ago, if you go again now, it’ll be even better than you had previously experienced. The plans for the future are even more exciting – to hear them though, you’ll have to join a tour yourself.

You can book online but be aware, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Glasgow. I can’t recommend it enough though. Afterwards, when I headed to the Champagne bar in the adjacent Central hotel, with its views over the station concourse and the very traditional surroundings evoking feelings of a bygone era, it allowed me some time to reflect not only on the substantial history of the railways in the city, but also the fact that the story definitely isn’t over yet.

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