Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company Ltd

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The Westinghouse Brake & Signal Company Ltd was created in 1935 when the Westinghouse Brake & Saxby Signal Company Ltd, dropped the 'Saxby' from their title. For most of the 20th century, it manufactured railway air braking, signalling, mining & colliery equipment, industrial automation and power rectifier equipment in the engineering works in Chippenham, Wiltshire, England and Melbourne, Australia. There were associate companies in South Africa (Saxby & Farmer Private) and India. The company's main factory of around 35 acres was located immediately north-east of Chippenham railway station on the Great Western Railway.[1]

There were also factories in Kingswood, Bristol (Douglas Ltd – formerly Douglas Motorcycles then Douglas Vespa and vehicle air brake equipment), Hobbs Automatic Transmissions (epicyclic gearbox), Westcode Semiconductors (now IXYS Corporation) The main factory was east of Foundry Lane, Signal & Automation design offices as well as Brake Engineering, drawing offices and design/test laboratories on island site shared with Hugh Baird & Sons, Maltsters and the Wiltshire Bacon Company. The Rectifier Design Department was at Derriads House, some design offices opposite the main factory site, other test & development laboratories beyond the semiconductor site at Avon House, north of the main factory site.

On-site manufacturing capability covered every part of the engineering spectrum other than electron beam welding. There were acres of machine shops containing almost every variety of machine tool, extensive press shops, iron and non-ferrous foundries together with pattern shop and core shop, extensive drop-stamp forge, die-casting shops and tool room, tin-smiths' shop, copper oxide and selenium rectifier shops, electro-plating shop. The assembly and erection shops included wiring shops for signalling equipment, rectifier equipment, colliery equipment, railway signaling relays. The list is almost endless. Support activities included a well-equipped and staffed medical centre and apprentice training school and hostel. Apprentices fell into Trade, Craft, Student and Graduate categories.

The company had a works restaurant (overalls allowed), a staff restaurant (smartish dress), and a directors' restaurant, all of which were supplied from the company allotments outside the north gate (now a housing estate).

There was an immense amount of innovative work done. To name a few things, railway vacuum brakes, numerous mechanical, electrical and electronic signalling innovations. The company pioneered the use of S.G. Iron (spheroidal graphite) for crank shafts and other items (followed in this by Ford U.K.) and was the first to produce an all-electronic control & monitoring system (Westronic, in various "styles") initially for the railway market but then extending into oil, water, gas, electricity and sewage.

Predecessors and background[edit]

The railway air brake was patented in the United States of America by George Westinghouse in 1869 (straight air brake) and 1872 (automatic air brake), see Westinghouse Air Brake Company.

Predecessors of the British company included Evans O'Donnell Limited and Saxby and Farmer.[1] Saxby and Farmer was started by John Saxby and John Stinson Farmer in the mid-19th century as pioneers in the manufacture of railway signalling equipment.[1] In 1875 Saxby and Farmer had developed a mechanical linked braking system, which connected vehicles to brake simultaneously.

In 1920, Saxby, Farmer and Evans O'Donnell formed the Westinghouse Brake & Saxby Signal Company Ltd.[1]


Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company Ltd formed part of BTR plc who acquired it from the Hawker Siddeley group in 1992. In 1999, BTR merged with Siebe plc to form BTR Siebe plc, later renamed Invensys.

The detailed history of the company from 1881 to 1981 was recorded in O.S. Nock's final book, 'A Hundred Years of Speed with Safety', not published until 2006 – many years after Nock's death. Nock, a prolific writer of railway books and magazine articles for many years, was the chief mechanical engineer for Westinghouse until his retirement in 1970. A second book, Westinghouse Brake & Signal in Photographs 1894 to 1981, was published by polunnio.co.uk in 2010, this not-for-profit project raising funds for the Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre which holds a significant collection of documents and artefacts about the company. Other documentation is held at the Swindon & Wiltshire History Centre in the town.


Invensys quickly split the company into Westinghouse Signals Ltd and Westinghouse Brakes Ltd, selling Westinghouse Brakes to Munich-based competitor Knorr-Bremse.[2]

Also formerly a part of The Westinghouse Brake & Signal Company is Westcode, a high-power semiconductor manufacturer, now part of the IXYS Corporation.

On 2 May 2013, the acquisition of Invensys Rail by Siemens was successfully completed. On 1 July 2013, the new company name for Invensys Rail Limited became Siemens Rail Automation Limited, with Westinghouse Brake & Signal Holdings becoming Siemens Rail Automation Holdings Limited. With this, the Westinghouse name disappeared from the railway signalling industry. Several years later, Siemens announced that it planned to merge its rail assets, including the former Westinghouse Signal business, with Alstom.


  1. ^ a b c d A Hundred Years of Speed with Safety: The Inception and Progress of the Westinghouse Brake & Signal Co. Ltd., 1881-1981, Publisher: Polunnio 2014, ISBN 978-0956736215.
  2. ^ Invensys investor relations news release, 25 April 2000 Invensys Sells Westinghouse Brakes to Knorr-Bremse. Retrieved from the Internet Archive on 30 March 2008.

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