Central SMT

Glasgow Terminals : Waterloo Street : History

Fr Alex Strachan writes :-

'Glasgow Bus Scene', tells us that it was built by the Glasgow General Omnibus Company as a joint garage for its buses and private cars, and opened in 1927. Other sources suggest 1929. Situated on the corner of Wellington Street and Waterloo Street, the building consisted of two distinct parts: the rear 'garage' section and the brick-built, red sandstone-fronted, station house. Ownership passed to Central S.M.T. when GOC changed its name in 1932. Until closure, in February 1971, Waterloo Street was listed in company timetables as Central's Glasgow depot.

The depot section was a single storey, gable-end, structure, of corrugated iron walls and corrugated sky-lit roof, supported on iron struts and rafters. The flooring was tarmac-ed using red granite chips - a Lanarkshire County Council idiosyncrasy. All buses entered here from Wellington Street. Photographs suggest a vertically-sliding shutter door closed access off during silent hours. More than a decade later, a Central Stance Inspector told me that two buses - and Company cars - could be accommodated along the back wall. One former Central driver recalled often seeing a (single-deck?) Staff Bus there, but a former Western driver could not verify this. The majority of vehicles approached from a westerly direction, along Waterloo Street, cornering left, then turning hard-right to enter the terminus. Buses from Dunbartonshire, and Peebles, approached from the north end of Wellington Street, turning hard-left into the station.

Once inside, buses turned hard-right, into one of five run-through platforms, facing out on to Waterloo Street. Buses had to line up exactly, as each stance had an archway mouth leaving little room for driver error. Anecdotal evidence from former management, crew and public, suggests that some drivers adopted a less-than-rigorous method, manoeuvring faster than the regulation 'Dead Slow'(!). Wings could suffer - so, as a counter measure, the station inspectorate held a stock of spare wing mirrors. From a passenger's point of view, this could be interesting, as double-deckers lengthened to 31ft 6 in, and widened to 8ft. Single-deckers stretched to 33ft from 1963.

Pedestrians entered Platforms One to Four, face on, through archways, from the pavement on Waterloo Street. Platform Five was accessed by a side door from Waterloo Lane. For much of the station's lifetime, boarding of buses was regulated by conducting staff, manually opening gates on each platform, once the desired vehicle had come to a standstill. Prior to departure, the gate would be closed. Apparently a fatal accident occurred on Platform Five when a rear-entrance bus started out, through the narrow archway, before the conductress had boarded her vehicle. In an attempt to jump on, she slipped and fell, becoming trapped. In the station's later years, with forward entrance buses increasing in number, these gates and railings were removed. Each platform could accommodate two standard length vehicles end on. Between ground and first floor, on Waterloo Street, a gable-shaped canopy sheltered members of the public standing or queuing out on to the kerb. This structure was glass-roofed and fronted by red-painted wood, with 'WATERLOO ST. BUS STATION' in red neon lettering.

There were stairs at the side entrance to Platform Five and at the back of each other platform. Features upstairs included public toilets - above Platform Five; the Conductors' Training School - above Platform One; the passenger waiting room; and Western SMT Booking Office. The Central SMT Booking Office was on the ground floor, five steps up from pavement level, set at a diagonal angle, on the corner of Waterloo and Wellington Streets. Staff toilets and offices were also downstairs on the Wellington Street inside of the building. There was also a tea 'bothy' but no canteen as such. Platforms were fitted with coin-operated vending machines selling cigarettes and chocolate.

By 1961 approximately 290 buses departed each working day. Central crews might enjoy enough time to light a cigarette, or visit the toilet, after the driver had changed the destination display, before having to move on. Arrival and departure continued throughout the day, with silent hours being between 1 and 4am. Before the days of mass private car ownership, it would not be unusual to see buses parked along Wellington Street on both sides of the road, either laying over until the next duty - or, perhaps on the Glasgow Fair Weekend - duplicating oversubscribed seaside services. Central buses were not unknown to supplement their Western sisters on such occasions.   

In 1967 and '68, additional services, operated by Central SMT and Eastern Scottish, were extended from their traditional Carlton Place terminus into Waterloo Street so that, in its final years, whilst the number of routes serving the station increased, the number of daily departures fell. Even so, as many as 250 buses a day were passing through by the time closure came. Increases in vehicle length and breadth, the need to centralise and facilitate interchange between services, and a discernably greater demand for comfort from the travelling public, brought about the station's closure and demolition.

The official Central SMT Fleet History (1975) describes it, in a photograph caption, as a 'depressing' place. Perhaps it became so with age. However, from an enthusiast's point of view, I remain its most staunch advocate. As a young child I learned to love buses, Western and Central operations in particular -- and Lodekkas above all -- through family days out via Waterloo Street. For sounds, vehicle sightings, atmosphere, and activity, it was second to none. A child standing only feet away from a rolling FLF Lodekka, whose front near side wheel was as tall as he was, sandwiched between walls and crowds, could not but be impressed. 

Sadly, closure came before my seventh birthday, but not before an incomparable impression was left on my soul. Most of its bus services joined others from Clyde Street, at the new Blythswood Street Station, under the Anderston Cross Centre. Anderston itself closed to buses in September 1993.