Holgate Road carriage works, York

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Coordinates: 53°57′25″N 1°06′17″W / 53.9569°N 1.1046°W / 53.9569; -1.1046 (Holgate Road carriage works)

West end of carriage works' 1900 extension, and 1930s traverser (2014)

The Holgate Road carriage works was a railway carriage manufacturing factory in the Holgate area of York, England.

The factory began production in 1884 as a planned expansion and replacement of the North Eastern Railway's Queen Street site; the works was substantially expanded in 1897–1900, and saw further modernisations through the 20th century.

The works passed to the ownership of the London and North Eastern Railway (1923); British Railways (1948); British Rail Engineering Limited, known as BREL York (1970); and privatised and acquired by ABB in 1989 (ABB York).

The works closed in 1996, due to lack of orders caused by uncertainty in the post-privatisation of British Rail period. Thrall Car Manufacturing Company used the works to manufacture freight wagons for English Welsh and Scottish Railway from 1998 to 2002, after which the factory closed again.

As of 2009, the site is in maintenance related rail use by Network Rail as their Rail Fleet Engineering Centre (RFEC). The site is used by Network Rail, and various rail sub-contractors to maintain Network Rails own fleet of maintenance rail vehicles.

As a consequence of manufacturing work using asbestos during the 20th century more than a hundred people associated from the works have died from illness caused by exposure to the material, with asbestos related illnesses still occurring and causing death into the 21st century.


NER (1884–1923)[edit]

After the transfer of wagon building from York Queen Street in 1867, in 1880 the North Eastern Railway took the decision to move carriage building to a new site, and the first contracts let for its construction in 1880.[1] The works was designed as an integrated carriage building factory, with separate buildings for each process. The main buildings were of brick construction, with stone and coloured brick detailing. The internal construction was of cast iron columns with wrought iron beams.[2] Carriage building started in 1884.[1]

By the late 1890s capacity had been reached, exacerbated by the increase in length of carriages, and from 1897 contracts were let for the construction of expansion of the works, primarily west, plus a large lifting shop adjacent south of the main works building. Electric and gas shops were also added and additional stores, plus servicing and washing sheds to the west. The expansion of buildings was mostly complete by 1900, excluding a wagon (rulley) shop built 1904.[3][4] A large wood drying store allowed a ready supply of seasoned woods for carriage manufacture.[5]

In 1903 two 53.5 feet (16.3 m), 35 long tons (36 t) Petrol Electric Autocars were built, numbers 3170 and 3171, early examples of electric transmission in rail vehicles;[6] the works produced rolling stock for the North Tyneside electrification in the same period.[7]

During the First World War, the York works produced material for the war effort, mostly logistics equipment – existing carriage rolling stock was converted into an ambulance train and a complete train with was produced for the Director General of Transportation.[8]

In 1920 the carriage works had 13.5 acres (5.5 ha) of buildings on a site of 45 acres (18 ha). The works built all of the coaching stock of the NER, plus much of the East Coast Joint Stock and Great Northern and North-Eastern Joint Stock, as well as undertaking most of the NER's carriage repairs. The site consisted of two main buildings on the east end of the site; the northernmost one was used for building and painting vehicles, the southern one included the sawmill, frame and cabinet building, machine and brake shops. There were also offices, a smithy and cat shop, and gas and electric shops. West of the main works was a large timber drying building, and carriage washing facilities. The 0.6 acres (0.24 ha) 1871 building was still in use as, mainly as a glass store and paintshop. Overall the carriage works employed 1,500 persons.[9]

LNER period (1923–1948)[edit]

The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) added traversers (c. 1930s) at the west and east end of the main works building on the south side; to accommodate the east traverser the buildings were shortened.[10][11]

During the Second World War the carriages works produced parts for Horsa Gliders.[8] In 1944 part of the north building (building shop) which had been manufacturing launches for the Royal Navy was destroyed by an accidental fire. The building was rebuilt with a new roof with clerestory lighting.[12] During the war period time many of the workers were women, who worked shifts up to 69 hours in a week.[8]

BR period (1948–1989)[edit]

At nationalisation (see Transport Act 1947) the works employed around 5,000 people.[13]

During the 1950s there were over 3,000 staff employed by the works and early Diesel Multiple Units were maintained on the site. Some early Electric Multiple Unit trains were built at York, such as British Rail Class 305/1.[14]

In the 1960s the BR workshops were re-organised : regional workshops were abolished and control centralised with excess works closing. York, together with Derby was retained and assigned to carriage production, and £976,000 authorised for investment at the site.[15]

In 1970 the rolling stock workshops division of British Rail (excluding repair works) became British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL).[16][17]

From the 1970s to 1989 the works manufactured much of British Rail's electric multiple unit passenger stock, including: Class 313 (64 three car trains, 1976/7);[18] Class 314 (16 three car trains, 1979);[19] Class 315 (61 four car, 1980/1);[20] Class 317 (72 four car, 1981-2 & 1985–7);[21] Class 319 (86 four car, 1987–1990);[22] Class 318 (21 three car, 1984–1986);,[23] Class 321 (117 four car, 1988–1991).[24] and Class 455 (137 four car, 1982–4).[25] The works continued producing vehicles for British Rail after privatisation. Also Class 150 DMU was made.

BREL introduced some modern manufacturing methods at the works, installations included: five sheet metal machining centres, one with an automatic tool change, used to manufacture body shells and bolster parts for EMUs; test facilities for air-conditioning units; and clean rooms for electronics repair. The works also had a short test track electrified at 750 V DC or 25 kV AC. Experiments were carried out into robotic welding machines in the early 1980s, but the technique was not used for production at that time.[26]

Post-privatisation (1989–)[edit]

BREL was privatised in 1987, as BREL (1988) Ltd., and acquired by a consortium including management, Trafalgar House and ABB acquired the company including the York works in 1989.[27] Procurement contracts on British Rail began being put to public tender in the 1980s; the fate of the works was linked primarily to the number of orders for Network SouthEast for electric passenger stock – failure to win the contract for electric multiple units for the Heathrow Express service (awarded to Siemens/CAF, see Class 332) resulted in the loss of 289 jobs.[13]

The works obtained contracts to build: Class 320 (22 three car, 1990);[28] Class 322 (5 four car, 1990);[29] Class 365 (41 four car, 1994/5);[30] Class 456 (24 two car. 1991–92)[31] and Class 465 (97 four car, 1991–1994).[32] Additionally Eurotrams were built for the Strasbourg tramways at the site, and at ABB's Derby Litchurch Lane works c. 1994–95.[33]

In 1995 ABB announced that the factory would close due to lack of orders; the cause was widely recognised as being due to a gap in train orders caused by uncertainties following the privatisation of British Rail: Union officials, ABB management, and Conservative and Labour members of parliament all expressed similar views on the cause of the closure.[34][35][36] The carriage works closed in 1996 with 750 redundancies; ABB blamed the closure on the privatisation of British Rail, stating that the privatisation had delayed orders, causing a gap in the company's order books.[36] It also made Class 165 and Class 166 diesel trains.

Wagon manufacturer Thrall (USA) reopened the plant as wagon works in 1997, having obtained about a £200 million order from EWS for 2,500 wagons.[37][38] First production was the BYA type covered steel coil carriers. The first wagon was formally presented in July 1998.[39][40] Nearly half of the order was for 1145 HTA coal hoppers. Other wagon types produced included 300 MBA 'monster box', 260 BYA (covered steel coil), 100+400+300 FAA; FCA and FKA container flat wagons, and 60 BRA steel wagons.[38] Prototype MRA ballast wagons were also manufactured for Railtrack at the site c. 2000.[41]

No further orders were received, and in 2002 the factory was closed by Thrall successor Trinity Industries with 260 redundancies.[38]

Network Rail acquired the main building in 2009 for storage and maintenance of Rail Head Treatment Train wagons.[42][43]


Asbestos contamination[edit]

Asbestos was used in rolling stock manufacture as thermal, and sound insulation; in carriages asbestos would be applied between inner and outer bodywork layers as well as in flooring and radiator insulation. After the beginning of the British Rail Modernisation Plan in the 1950s blue asbestos came into increasing use, until its health dangers were recognised.[44]

In 1975 an inquest into the death of former railway worker Frank Summers recorded that he had died from an industrial disease; he had previously been employed in asbestos spraying at York Carriage works.[45] At the inquest it was claimed that the use of asbestos at the works ended in 1964;[45] initially the dangers of asbestos were not known and employees worked without facemasks or other protection;[46] workers continued to be exposed to asbestos into the 1970s,[47] relatives of workers also developed asbestos related diseases through contact with dust on workers' clothing.[48]

Many scores of former York Carriageworks employees have died over the last two or three decades from exposure to deadly asbestos dust at the Holgate Road factory in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and even 80s.

— The Press, May 2008.[49]

The Holgate Road site was still contaminated with asbestos in some areas in the 1990s.[50] By 2012 it was estimated that over 140 workers had died as a result of exposure to asbestos.[51]


Most of the buildings auxiliary to the main works have been demolished post closure. West of the main works the area was cleared and partially developed for housing, and the gas and electric shops were demolished; the stores building in the northeast corner was reused as a small business premises.[12][52]


  1. ^ a b Fawcett 2005, p. 126.
  2. ^ Burman, Peter; Stratton, Michael, eds. (1997). Conserving the Railway Heritage. pp. 103–104.
  3. ^ Fawcett 2005, pp. 126–7.
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey 1:2500 1892, 1909
  5. ^ Lambert, Anthony (2010). Lambert's Railway Miscellany. pp. 109–110.
  6. ^ "North Eastern Railway Petrol-Electric Autocar No.3170". Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway. Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  7. ^ Foster, Jonathan (12 January 1995). "Death knell imminent for York train works As the railway industry prepares for privatisation, historians and innovators reflect on the past and argue the way of the future". The Independent. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  8. ^ a b c Hoole 1976, p. 50.
  9. ^ "Visit to the North-Eastern Railway Carriage and Wagon Works at York, 13th July, 1920". Journal of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers. 10 (44): 308–310. 1920. doi:10.1243/JILE_PROC_1920_010_049_02.
  10. ^ Fawcett 2005, p. 127.
  11. ^ Ordnance Survey 1:2500 1931, 1937
  12. ^ a b Fawcett 2005, p. 128.
  13. ^ a b The York Press & 21 November 2013.
  14. ^ Railway Magazine January 1961 p. 11
  15. ^ "The Reorganisation of British Railways Workshops". Journal of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers. 57 (315): 91–146. 1967. doi:10.1243/JILE_PROC_1967_057_019_02.
  16. ^ "British Rail Workshops". Railway Britain. Archived from the original on 12 April 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  17. ^ Larkin, Edgar (2009) [1998]. An Illustrated History of British Railways' Workshops. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-906974-02-2.
  18. ^ "Class 313". The Railway Centre. TRC. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  19. ^ "Class 314". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  20. ^ "Class 315". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  21. ^ "Class 317". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  22. ^ "Class 319". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  23. ^ "Class 318". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  24. ^ "Class 321". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  25. ^ "Class 455 – The Railway Centre". Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  26. ^ "Use of Modern Technology in Brel Workshops". Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 194 (1): 321–330. 1980. doi:10.1243/PIME_PROC_1980_194_038_02.
  27. ^ Parker, David (2012). The Official History of Privatisation. Vol. 2. pp. 443–444.
  28. ^ "Class 320". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  29. ^ "Class 322". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  30. ^ "Class 365". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  31. ^ "Class 456 – The Railway Centre". Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  32. ^ "Class 465". The Railway Centre. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  33. ^ Wansbeek, C.J. (March 2003). "Strasbourg: Interurban tram strategy strengthens city system". Tramways and Urban Transit. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  34. ^ Smithers, Rebecca (11 May 1995). "Unions fear that train builder ABB is to close York works". The Guardian. p. 17.
  35. ^ Wainwright, Martin (11 January 1995). "York to lose train carriage works at cost of 750 jobs as orders dry up". The Guardian. p. 2.
  36. ^ a b Tieman, Ross (12 May 1995). "ABB blames York plant closure on rail sell-off". The Times. No. 65265. p. 24.
  37. ^ Halsall, Martyn (17 July 1997). "York back on the track". The Guardian. p. 20.
  38. ^ a b c "UK wagon works to close". Railway Gazette. 1 August 2002. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  39. ^ "Thrall Europa rolls out first EWS wagon". Railway Gazette. 1 September 1998. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  40. ^ "BRA/BYA Covered Steel Wagons". London Transport Service Vehicles. 2 July 2007. History. Retrieved 20 July 2014. The first design to appear was a bogie covered steel wagon, given TOPS code BYA.
  41. ^ "MRA Side-Tipping Ballast Wagons". London Transport Service Vehicles. 2 July 2007. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  42. ^ "Leaves on the Line". www.rail.co.uk. 2012. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  43. ^ "Scan2BIM – Holgate Depot". Severn Partnership. Archived from the original on 30 July 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014. Network Rail bought the facility in April 2009 and has used its 12 railway bays for maintenance and overhaul of various rail fleets focusing on the extensive Seasonal Treatment and Rail Delivery Fleet. The facility covers 344,000 sq.ft of covered space and sits on 18 acres of land.
  44. ^ Simmons, Jack; Biddle, Gordon, eds. (1997). The Oxford Companion to British Railway History. Asbestos.
  45. ^ a b "Lawsuit after asbestos death". The Guardian. 10 October 1975. p. 6.
  46. ^ "Asbestos timebomb claims lives of Alf Sturdy and Dennis Healy". The York Press. 13 May 2009. Retrieved 20 July 2014. in a statement written after he was diagnosed: "We were not provided with face masks and undoubtedly breathed in the dust. I didn’t know that asbestos was dangerous at that time."
  47. ^ "Asbestos caused death of former carriageworks employee". The York Press. 12 June 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2014. A retired electrical technician has died as a result of inhaling asbestos during 15 years' working at York Carriageworks, an inquest has heard. [..] A post mortem revealed he had asbestos fibres in his body and had died from malignant mesothelioma .. coroner Donald Coverdale concluded he had died from an industrial disease .. caused by inhaling asbestos dust during his work at the carriageworks.
  48. ^ Laycock, Mike (22 November 2008). "Asbestos claims another victim". The York Press. Retrieved 20 July 2014. Scores of York people have been killed by mesothelioma over recent decades, many of whom worked at the former carriageworks in Holgate Road, where there was widespread exposure to asbestos dust. There have also been cases in which the wives of former carriageworks employees have contracted the disease years later, because of asbestos dust which they breathed in when washing their husband’s discarded overalls.
  49. ^ "New victims of asbestos time bomb". The York Press. 17 May 2008. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  50. ^ "Asbestos outrage". The York Press. 5 June 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2014. as the sheds were being refurbished for occupation by the wagon-makers Thrall, dust which had been found on all level surfaces was sent for analysis [..] this analysis revealed that the dust was contaminated with a cocktail of contaminants, including asbestos, although greater concerns were raised by the presence of heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.
  51. ^ Laycock, Mike (2 March 2012). "York carriageworks' asbestos death toll now at 141". The York Press. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  52. ^ Ordnance Survey 1:10000 1992 1:25000 2006


Further reading[edit]

  • The Life and Times of York Carriage Works: 1884–1995. ABB Rail Vehicles Ltd. 1995.
  • Harris, Nigel (30 July – 12 August 1997). "USA's Thrall reopens York Works to build up to 5,000 EWS wagons". RAIL. No. 310. EMAP Apex Publications. pp. 6–7. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.
  • Harris, Nigel (25 March – 7 April 1998). "York's new £5m Wagon Works is on-time and on-budget, says Thrall Europa". RAIL. No. 327. EMAP Apex Publications. pp. 48–49. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.

External links[edit]