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.