Two mechanical shovels work to demolish a bridge over a railway

Scotland network electrification Barrhead to Glasgow upgrade begins

In the south of Glasgow at Nitshill, a bridge is demolished to make way for overhead line equipment Image Network Rail

The UK infrastructure agency, Network Rail, is never really guilty of underplaying its hand, but they might be accused of being a little modest over a project about to get under way in Scotland. The price tag, at nearly 64 million pounds (around 75 million euro), is certainly high enough to merit the headlines, but the overall scheme is delivering a step-change to more than just the single commuter route. It’s not much short of modernising the second biggest metro in Britain.

Glasgow is Scotland’s biggest city. The web of lines serving the attendant conurbation is the biggest in the UK, bar London. Many of the destinations may only be familiar to Scottish natives but that doesn’t diminish the importance for places like Kennishead, Priesthill, Darnley, Nitshill and Barrhead. All of these communities are about to benefit from the sparks effect of electrification – a programme that begun over sixty years ago.

Straight from the steam to sparks

The outer suburban community of Barrhead has been seeing plenty of railway action lately. It’s just eight miles (less than 13km) from Glasgow Central station, and the last city outpost before the Glasgow and South Western Railway main line heads into the Ayrshire countryside, and on to Kilmarnock, Dumfries and Carlisle. That route has been a vital diversionary for West Coast Main Line traffic, unable to use Carstairs Junction, while that location undergoes its own extensive upgrading. Now, just as Europe’s busiest mixed traffic line gets back to regular working, it’s the turn of Barrhead to welcome the engineers.

Glasgow’s enviably comprehensive suburban rail network survived the rationalisation of the 1960s better than most – certainly better than her civic-rival in the east of Scotland, Edinburgh, where that city’s system was swept away almost in its entirety. Left largely intact, Glasgow’s system instead was the welcome beneficiary of a scheme that jumped straight from the steam age and into a transformational electrification project. Cleverly branded “The Blue Trains” for their distinctive livery, that wiring project saw sparks fly over communities from Airdrie to Alexandria. Now, with the added imperative of decarbonisation, work continues to sweep up those parts of the network that missed out in those step-changing sixties.

Greener, cleaner more reliable railway

It is with some eagerness that preparing the Barrhead line for electrification gets underway in June. Engineers will be working around-the-clock for six weeks to deliver the 63.3 million pound (75 million euro) upgrade to prepare the Barrhead line for electrification. The four key stations on the route – Kennishead, Priesthill & Darnley, Nitshill and Barrhead – will see engineering teams install overhead line equipment to facilitate electric services, as well as civil engineering works to update the nineteenth-century infrastructure. The work, which is part of a Scottish Government investment to decarbonise Scotland’s railway passenger services, will take place between Saturday 24 June and Friday 4 August. Replacement bus services will operate between Kilmarnock and Glasgow during this period.

Class 385 electric multiple unit in Scotrail blue livery
Coming your way soon, Barrhead, A class 385 electric multiple unit in Scotrail livery

“Electrification continues to transform travel, with 325 single track kilometres of new electric railway delivered across the central belt over the last decade”, said Paul Reilly, Network Rail senior programme manager. “The Barrhead to Glasgow electrification project represents the current phase of our wider decarbonisation programme and our drive to create a greener, cleaner and more reliable railway. We do appreciate the impact this activity will have on those living closest to the work and are grateful to the community for their continued patience while we complete this vital part of the project.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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