Birmingham Industry

Alstom (Metropolitan-Cammell Ltd) – Washwood Heath

Alstom (Metropolitan-Cammell Ltd) - Leight Road, Washwood Heath

Alstom (Metropolitan-Cammell Ltd) - Leigh Road, Washwood Heath

Opened under the Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, the works at Washwood Heath operated hand in hand with, and eventually absorbed the work of, Joseph Wright & Sons works at Saltley.

Developing stock for the railways of the Empire and the flourishing rail industry at home, the company enjoyed great susccess and in 1929 was bought by Vickers Ltd and Cammell Laird and Co (shipbuilders) and became Metropolitan-Cammell Ltd. Further success ensued with the giant backing of the two parent companies leading to the landing of successive lucrative contracts and, in 1962, the works absorbing the manufacturing work from the Saltley works which had closed.

However, as with any industrial success story – including making trains for railways in the UK and overseas, including the London Underground, Hong Kong Metro, the Channel Tunnel and locomotives for Malaysia’s Keretapi Tanah Melayu – eventually a period of decline ensued, due in part to cheaper competition from abroad and later the restructuring of British Rail into privatised franchises.

In 1989 the company was sold to GEC Alsthom (who later dropped the ‘h’, becoming Alstom) and in 1998 the Alstom Group emerged as owners.  The now French-owned company initially continued working the plant and landed contracts to build the Pendolino fleet for Virgin Trains – a contract which proved to be the company’s last UK production. A £100m contract was won for London Underground’s Jubilee Line which was swiftly followed by an announcement from Alstom that the contract could be fulfilled more cheaply abroad which was itself followed by the seemingly overnight withdrawal of Alstom from train production across the UK with, of course, the swift asset stripping of machinery from the plant.

By the close of 2004, the last Pendolino had rolled off the production line and, despite admirable attempts by the trade union Amicus, along with the workers, to pressurise Alstom to reconsider, the works closed after 158 years of production with the loss of 1900 jobs.

Discussion

2 comments for “Alstom (Metropolitan-Cammell Ltd) – Washwood Heath”

  1. I’ve found the brief history…via the web, good-as far as it goes. Which for me is not far. The deep background is fascinating though.
    What about the workers? Hundreds of them. I became famous (or was it notorious) as the man in the wrong Union! As a member of the closed-shop-members only Birmingham & midland Sheet Metal Workers Society,
    I got a job by application as a ‘straightener’-of well anything Steel/Iron that was bent or distorted really. I was not told that the Train assembly section in F1/2/3/4 bays were a closed shop with the T&G union! Some knew, no-one seemed to mind. well for 6 years!
    There came a change of Convener (who-it was roumered- was cast down at a car factory by the dreaded Sheeties! Revenge! He uncovered my status and stirred the revolt! Well he told the crew to down tools if I continued working amongst them!
    I was SACKED! I won unfair dismistle, bought a brand new car with the proceeds, drove the car into the Directors Parking Spot -much to the security staffs vexation, refused to move it and proceeded into the personnell Dept (was it Mr Fish)? and served my constructive dismistle papers, won and got Redundancy Payout.
    Oh what a sad departure!

    My Mate and friend was Bill Jones, who had been after the war the heaviest prisoner to be liberated at 6 stone! What a sence of humour!
    He was one of many Black Country workers from various Towns and Villages in that area who worked for the (was it)? Wednesbury Carriage works. What a terrific bunch of men! Tony Powell was Foreman. Don ????? Manager. Scruffy drove the 3 wheeled truck. So many names and faces. Were You There At That Time?
    Like to hear from you. Pete

    Posted by Peter Bennett. | August 12, 2009, 8:18 pm
  2. I am compiling a book for Ian Allan Publishing detailing current emu/dmu and locomotive depots and I understand that Hanson Traction has just opened a depot within the works complex. Does anyone have any information on this?
    Please get in touch with me, Paul Smith, on 0121 444 8896 or 07786 361 063

    Posted by Paul Smith | November 13, 2009, 9:29 am

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