AS we shall see later in this series, in many senses Glasgow in the late Victorian era and early 20th century could well have laid claim to the title of rail capital of the world.

Yet had it not been for early pioneers of railways in and around the city, Glasgow might never have reached the status of Second City of the Empire.

Rail travel with carriages pulled by steam engines had been developed in northern England by George Stephenson, with his Locomotion No 1 becoming the first steam locomotive for passenger use on railways in 1825, but the merchants and industrialists of Glasgow were, as ever, quick to cash in on innovation no matter where that took place and plans were already in place for a rail line that would bring coal from Lanarkshire to meet up with the Forth and Clyde canal for onward carriage to the city. The difference was that this new line, the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway, would employ steam engines rather than the traditional horses to pull the coal-filled containers. It was an inspired concept and would be successful from the outset.

The Railways of Scotland by Sir William Acworth, published in 1890, is one of the best sources of information about these early railways.

He is in no doubt that the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway was the first “Scotch” railway, as he put it.

What made the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway (M&K) so pioneering was that it was intended from the start to carry steam locomotives, and in a first for the UK, and thus the world, Parliament decreed that it should be so.

The Monkland and Kirkintilloch Act of 1824 contained this clause: “And be it further enacted that it shall and may be lawful to and for the said company of proprietors, or any person or persons authorised or permitted by them, from and after the passing of this act, to make and erect such and so many locomotive or moveable engines as the said company of proprietors shall from time to time think proper and expedient, and to use and employ the same in and upon the said railway, for the purpose of facilitating the transport, conveyance, and carriage of goods, merchandise, and other articles and things upon and along the same, and for the conveyance of passengers upon and along the same.”

Bear in mind this act was passed a year before Stephenson provided proof of concept on the Stockton and Darlington line.

Glasgow’s need for coal and the determination of leading businessmen to satisfy that need led to the far-seeing decision that steam-powered transport and travel was the future.

The late PJG Ransom’s excellent work The Iron Road, The Railway in Scotland, published by Birlinn in 2007, correctly identifies the two engineers who were behind much of the early rail developments in Scotland including the creation of the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway. They were Thomas Grainger and John Miller.

Ransom wrote: “Thomas Grainger was the older, born in 1794, he had been practicing in Edinburgh as an engineer and surveyor since 1816. He had worked largely on road improvements, the M&K seems to have been his first railway work – first preparing the plans, then supervising construction. Miller, born in 1805, had originally intended to be a lawyer, but entered Grainger’s office in 1823. In 1825 Grainger took him, still young, into partnership. He would eventually be responsible for building much of the main-line railway network of Scotland.”

There is some doubt as to the exact date when the M&K actually started operations, doing as it was intended to do – connecting the rich mineral wealth of the Monklands to the Forth and Clyde Canal – but it was sometime in 1826, the year that Parliament approved the construction of the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway.

To my mind this was really the beginning of railways in Glasgow. It connected with the M&K and had the same gauge, 4ft 6ins, though many years later it was converted to the “standard gauge” of 4ft 8.5ins. Most importantly, the terminus of the new line was at Townhead to serve the giant St Rollox works of the Tennant family.

A version of Stephenson’s Rocket was adapted for the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway, with the new locomotive being named St Rollox. Originally designed to be a single-track line with passing places, the plans were changed to bring in a double line and this was completed quite quickly in the summer of 1831.

The idea behind the double line was simple – it would mean the railway could carry passengers.

On September 27, some weeks after the line began to operate, the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway for both passengers and freight was formally opened with a grand ceremony. Acworth wrote: “The railway was opened in 1831, when amidst a scene of great public rejoicing the first train was drawn along the line by the George Stephenson engine, whose driver was none other than George Stephenson himself.

“The cost of the carriage of coal from the Monkland field to Glasgow fell within a short period from 3s. 6d. to 1s. 3d. per ton.”

The success of the railways was such that a rail-building mania began. The Ballochney Railway linking Airdrie to Glasgow had opened in 1828 but did not carry passengers until much later.

Coal was still the main cargo and that’s why most of the new railways were known as coal railways. Wishaw and Coltness Railway opened in 1833 to take advantage of the iron ore deposits near those towns, and the Slamannan Railway was built by 1840 to connect Monklands and Edinburgh.

Other areas began schemes to build their own rail links to Glasgow, but the big leap forward was the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway authorised by Parliament on July 4, 1838.

New terminus stations had to be built for the new line, and they were at Haymarket in Edinburgh and Queen Street in Glasgow.

Operating from 1842, the new line linked several new stations across the central belt, Falkirk High and Polmont among them. Within a year the expected passenger numbers had been achieved and surpassed.

King Rail was here to stay.