John Miller
introduction  •  early years  •  coming of the railways  •  Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway  •  Railway Mania  •  wider career  •  politics  •  church, family and property  •  appreciation  •  selected works  •  sources
The Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway
After 1831, Miller began to undertake railway schemes as a solo engineer, though he remained in partnership with Thomas Grainger until 1845. Both were much in demand during the first half of the 19th century — especially Miller — setting up what would be the basis of the modern Scottish rail network.
Both believed that a wide gauge railway was better for transporting large loads at speed. A wider gauge meant larger wheels, which reduced friction on straight tracks, increasing efficiency (less coal used per unit weight). The greater width allowed goods to be carried between the wheels rather than over them, resulting in rolling stock with lower centres of gravity and better stability.
They favoured a gauge of 5ft 6in (1.68m), measured between the inside edges of the running rails. Though this gauge was later abandoned in Scotland, it was adopted in India at the behest of fellow Scotsman James Andrew Broun-Ramsay (1812-60), Governor-General of India 1848-56. Fellow engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) thought 5ft 6in not wide enough and championed a 7ft ¼in (2.14m) gauge. Most UK railways at the time had a 4ft 8½in (1.435m) gauge, a measurement that derives from the re-use of existing colliery paths as rail routes.
Miller’s first independent venture was the Dundee & Arbroath Railway along the east coast of Scotland, which had a 5ft 6in gauge. He was appointed engineer to the railway company in 1835, at a time when the economic uncertainties of the previous decade were being overtaken by rapid industrial growth. The new prosperity of the Victorian era was about to begin.
The enabling Act of Parliament was passed on 19th May 1836, with the help of the company's major investor and landowner William Ramsay (1771-1852), first Baron Panmure. The 27km route cost £153,100 to build and opened on 6th October 1838, a few months after Queen Victoria’s coronation. At Arbroath, it joined Grainger's similarly-gauged Arbroath & Forfar Railway (completed 1839). In 1845, a Royal Commission chose 4ft 8½in as Britain's 'standard gauge' and both Scottish railways were brought into line — Arbroath & Farfor in 1846, and Dundee & Arbroath in 1847.
Miller wasn't a man to work on just one railway if he could be working on several at the same time. Between 1837 and 1850, when he retired, he worked on at least eight railways and numerous associated structures — including perhaps his greatest achievement, the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway.
He was engineer to the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr Railway, the Act for which received Royal Assent on 15th July 1837. From Glasgow its route was westwards to Paisley, then south west to Dalry and Kilwinning, where it divided, going west to Ardrossan and south to Ayr. At the opening on 11th August 1840, a 21-carriage train carrying 350 people made the journey from Glasgow to Ayr pulled by two locomotives, one of which was the Bruce designed by Miller himself.
The line from Glasgow to Paisley was shared with the Glasgow, Paisley & Greenock Railway, which was engineered by Joseph Locke (1805-60) and John Edward Errington (1806-62). The joint portion opened on 15th July 1840 and the line to Greenock was completed in March 1841.
A branch of the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr line, from Dalry to Kilmarnock, opened on 4th April 1843, completing 88.5km of railway. This was extended in 1846-9 to Cumnock and includes Miller's spectacular Ballochmyle Viaduct, then the world's largest masonry arch.
Concurrently, Miller directed the upgrade (1846-7) of the Kilmarnock & Troon Railway, which became part of the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr. The Kilmarnock & Troon is Scotland's earliest public railway, designed by William Jessop (1745-1814) and constructed 1808-11. It includes probably the world's earliest surviving public railway viaduct — Laigh Milton Viaduct over the River Irvine.
The Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway opened in February 1842. In securing parliamentary approval and an enabling Act — passed 4th July 1838 — Miller had to deal with cross-examination in court and ongoing technical scrutiny from four formidable English railway engineering consultants — John Urpeth Rastrick (1780-1856), George Stephenson, Charles Vignoles (1793-1875) and Joseph Locke.
Planning for the rail line had begun in 1825 when Miller, aged just 20, had assisted engineer James Jardine (1776-1858) with the surveying of the route, along with Grainger. After many iterations and variations, in 1838 the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway Company appointed Miller as Engineer, by which time he was 33 years old.
The 72km route from Haymarket in Edinburgh to Queen Street in Glasgow has many bridges, seven viaducts — including its longest structure, Almond Valley Viaduct — three tunnels (at Winchburgh, Falkirk and Cowlairs) plus a steep incline at Cowlairs.
At first, the rails were laid on stone blocks set at 1.2m centres. It's likely that Miller was following the preferences of Rastrick, Stephenson, Vignoles and Locke in doing this, though all the stone would be replaced with transverse timber sleepers within a few years. Stone had been used in the early days when horses pulled the rolling stock. However, the blocks sank in soft ground and maintaining constant gauge had been difficult.
Also in 1842, Miller bought the Millfield estate at Polmont in Stirlingshire (now Falkirk), and built a manor house there as a family home — the first asset in his property portfolio. A station at Polmont on the Edinburgh & Glasgow gave Miller easy access.
On 1st August 1846, an Edinburgh extension to the railway opened. It ran 2km east in a tunnel and through Princes Street Gardens to North Bridge Station (later renamed Waverley Station), where it met the North British Railway, also engineered by Miller. A 1.6km branch from near Bo'ness (Borrowstounness) to the North British at Causewayend opened on 28th August 1847. And in 1848, one of the Edinburgh & Glasgow's locomotives was named Miller in honour of its engineer.
In all, Miller was responsible for 40% of the total length of Scottish railways built before 1843, while Grainger's work accounted for nearly 22%. Miller was now working at a furious pace and he was soon submitting more proposals than any other railway engineer of the time. Just around the corner was the period generally referred to as the years of 'Railway Mania' ...
introduction  •  early years  •  coming of the railways  •  Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway  •  Railway Mania  •  wider career  •  politics  •  church, family and property  •  appreciation  •  selected works  •  sources
All items by John Miller  •  Everything built ... 1805 - 1883
main reference  BDCE1
portrait of John Miller  courtesy Roland Paxton

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John Miller
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Opening of the Glasgow & Ayr Railway
Extract from the Glasgow & Ayr
Railway Guide
of 1841
"Under the vigilant personal superintendence of Mr. Miller, Engineer — whose professional ability, and devoted interest in this undertaking, have frequently in public been warmly applauded by the Directors — the works progressed very rapidly. A clause in the Act required that the operations should commence at the Ayr end of the line, which was of comparatively easy formation, so that the heaviest part of the work was not begun till September 1839. As giving an idea of the energy as well of the Engineer as Contractors, it is worthy of mention that on the Elderslie cut, between Paisley and Johnstone — the key to the opening of the entire line — 1,400 men were employed on a portion less than half a mile in length ... the entire line was opened in twenty-six months from the time the foundation stone of the first bridge was laid."
Lithograph: Glasgow & Ayr Railway Guide, 1841
Ballochmyle Viaduct
One of the world's largest masonry arches — Ballochmyle Viaduct
Photo: © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Polmont Locomotive Depot
The locomotive depot at Polmont (date unknown), looking northwards. The Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway tracks ran this side of the shed.
Photo: © Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence