The Glasgow and South Western Railway was a compactly arranged medium sized railway company which served south west of Scotland. With Glasgow, Portpatrick and Gretna Junction at its corners its headquarters were in Glasgow. It became the third largest in Scotland and was formed by the amalgamation of earlier railways in 1850, when the line from Glasgow and Carlisle was completed which required the Caledonian Railway to allow running powers from Gretna Jct to Citadel Station.
The earliest created constituent of the G&SWR was the Duke of Portland's privately financed Kilmarnock and Troon Railway. This was authorised in 1808 as a public railway, although it was actually built as a plateway opening in 1812. Built to 4 foot gauge it carried coal from the Duke's and other pits near Kilmarnock to Troon harbour on the Ayrshire coast. As it was a public railway any operator could use it (if they paid the appropriate toll) and it was by this means that it became used to carry passengers as well. This line had several "firsts" for Scotland - the first railway viaduct (which still stands), first fare paying pasengers, and first steam locomotive - although it was too heavy for the primitive tram road track which was usually horse operated. Rebuilt to standard gauge in 1846, the K&T was operated by the G&SWR under lease until 1899 when it purchased both the line and the harbour.
The main line also had an outstanding structure in the Ballochmyle Viaduct over the River Ayr near Mauchline. This had the largest single-span stone arch in the world at 157 feet.
Traffic difficulties with the London - Glasgow West Coast companies restricted through working. The G&SWR welcomed the completion of the Midland Railway's Settle to Carlisle line in 1876 and the two companies immediately started running through expresses between London St Pancras and Glasgow St Enoch - a slower route that the London and North Western/Caledonian, but through attractive scenery and using luxurious carriages. Pullman coaches after the American pattern were used in these early days and Glasgow and South Western staff continued to use the "Pullman" to describe its Carlisle expresses long after the actual Pullman cars were discontinued in favour of Midland built jointly-owned stock.
Coal was always an important part of traffic owing to the many collieries in Ayrshire and associated ironworks, steelworks, brickworks and other industries. About 60% of the entire G&SWR wagon fleet were coal wagons, the company having a policy to strictly limit the number of traders wagons authorised for use on its lines. In common with other railways the G&SWR carried a wide variety of general merchandise, and more specialised traffic like fish from the Ayrshire ports, boiler and machinery from works in the Glasgow/Paisley/Renfrew area.
There was a consolidation of routes with various branches and inter-connecting lines being built up to 1906, the last two being the coast line from Ayr to Girvan via Turnberry (with luxurious railway hotel and golf courses of worldwide fame) and the Dumfries to Moniave branch.
In 1905 the Kilbirnie loop line was opened, which effectively doubled the capacity of routes from Paisley towards Ayr as far as Dalry. This loop line was unique in Scotland for its burrowing junction at Elderslie and "flying" junction near Dalry to avoid conflict of train movements with the earlier (1840) line to Ayr. In modern times these would be referred to as grade separated junctions. The G&SWR was also the only Scottish railway to have quadruple tracks, from Brownhill Junction north of Dalry to Kilwinning. This allowed separation of freight and slow passenger traffic for fast services to overtake
In the earliest times locomotives were built by private firms until the railway company engineers had sufficient experience to establish adequate workshops. Patrick Strirling (better known for the latter part of his career (1866-1895) on the Great Northern Railway in England) became locomotive superintendent in 1853 at the age of 33. He arranged for the works and department headquarters to be moved from cramped conditions in Glasgow to a new site in Kilmarnock. He and his younger brother James virtually standardised a very successful all purpose mixed traffic 0-4-2 tender locomotive, gradually enlarged with each succeeding class, with a few 0-6-0s for heavily graded lines and mineral work. Main line passenger trains were hauled by 2-2-2 "Singles" soon uprating power to 2-4-0 and 4-4-0 types under brother James after Patrick had moved to Doncaster on the Great Northern Railway. James himself went on to recognised for his work at Ashford on the South Eastern Railway.
After the Stirlings further locomotive development took place under Hugh Smellie and then James Manson, both of whom were Ayrshire born, trained at Kilmarnock, acquired further promotion and experience elsewhere and then returned to Kilmarnock as Locomotive Superintendents. Smellie continued the domeless boiler preference of the Stirlings, but otherwise modernised designs to take account of heavier traffic, his main output being two successful classes of 4-4-0 and a standard goods 0-6-0. He also designed the last 2-4-0 type to be built for the G&SWR, of almost equal power to a 4-4-0 but capable of being turned on a smaller turntable, such as that at Stranraer. Manson continued with gradually increasing size of 0-6-0s and 4-4-0s now with domed boilers and more generous cabs for shelter. Main line trains regularly required double heading - "coupling the Pullman" they called it and under pressure from the Directors he designed a 4-6-0 in 1903. Even these were not sufficient for the heaviest trains, and a later version of which only two were built were superheated with improved performance.
Manson retired in 1912 and was succeeded by Peter Drummond, younger brother of Dugald Drummond whose work he greatly respected. Drummond brought a host of different ideas and practices to Kilmarnock. His first two designs, an 0-6-0 and then a 4-4-0 each copied Dugald's steam drier and were large, heavy, but slow on the hills and coal consumption was very heavy. After these debacles Drummond abandoned the steam drier idea, and adopted full superheating for the next 4-4-0 and an enlarged 0-6-0 which became a 2-6-0.
Both of these classes were much more successful although still not without problems. Drummond also turned attention to tank locomotives, a type which had been markedly avoided on the G&SWR, and introduced a class of 0-6-2T's, 18 in number, for Ayrshire coal traffic and general short distance goods - also a class of three dock shunters. One of the latter managed to survive long enough at a private colliery, after being sold out of service, to become the only G&SWR locomotive to be preserved, and is now in the Glasgow Museum of Transport.
Peter Drummond unfortunately died in harness in 1918 and for the last four years before the railway grouping Robert Whitelegg was the locomotive superintendent, then Chief Mechanical Engineer. Whitelegg came from the London Tibury and Southend Railway. Whitelegg had to get to grips with a backlog of maintenance and aging engines which had been heavily used during the 1914-18 war. He embarked on a programme of reboilering using new standard boilers of his own design. Regrettably, these changes appeared to impair steaming and performance, issues which were also alleged with his modifications to Manson's Stephenson valve gear with the aim of reducing the number of moving parts. That said, Whitelegg's two new designs, the large 4-6-4 Baltic tank passenger engine for the coast expresses and 4-4-0- "Lord Glenarthur" 1922 rebuild of a one-off Manson 4 cylinder 4-4-0 of 1897 were highly commended.
Under the London, Mildland and Scottish Railway formed in 1923, in which the former Caledonian Railway was the dominant Scottish partner, the lines and the stations saw little change until line closures became to take effect after 1930. The greatest change was in the rapid scrapping of locomotives and their replacement with Caledonian or new LMS types, partly because the boilers were not compatible with Caledonian boilers adopted as group standard.
Traffic on the Clyde coast, serving numerous resorts amid outstanding scenery, was a very important aspect of the traffic. The Glasgow and South Western developed its fleet of passenger steamers on the Firth of Clyde. These vessels had a handsome livery of French grey hull with white topsides and paddle boxes, and deep red funnel with black top. These vessels, mostly named after classical gods provided a service to the Isles of Arran, Bute and Cumbrae, and places on the mainland between Greenock and Stranraer. They were not permitted to carry passengers upriver of Greenock, nor to sail to Campbeltown or Inverary. Fast connecting trains serving Greenock Princes Pier, Ardrossan Winton Pier, Fairlie and Largs ran from Glasgow St Enoch in competition with the Caledonain railway. By 1908 this traffic was recognised as insufficient for the intense resources provided by the railway companies and pooling arrangements such as developed on the Ardrossan - Arran route to share the use of steamers were brought in. Several steamers served in the First World War, mostly a minesweeper for which the shallow draft of paddle steamers was advantageous. The "Mars" and ”Neptune" were sunk and the "Minerva" was captured by Turkish forces.
During the 1930s there was some small restructuring in the network by closures of uneconomic routes, but more closures tool place in the 1950s and following the Beeching report or "Reshaping of British Railways" in 1963. They included a general reduction in goods facilities as more traffic turned to road haulage. Closures continued, prompted by political dictat, with the last closure was as recently as 1983 of the Paisley Canal line and the Kilmacolm branch. The tide was turning in favour of railways and with European development funding and local authority subsidies the Glasgow/Paisley to Ayr, Ardrossan and Largs lines were electrified by 1986. Part of the Paisley Canal line was re-opened in 1990. A series of station reopenings, particularly on the former main line via Kilmarnock and also the Ayrshire coast lines has improved services for commuters and residents of rural town. There has been further investment in new generation multiple unit, both diesel and electric powered.