Trafford Park Works

In 1900 the British Westinghouse Electrical & Manufacturing Co Ltd bought land in Trafford Park and built a factory which went into production in 1902 for the manufacture of mechanical and electrical equipment for the generation, transmission and use of electricity. In 1919, Trafford Park Works became owned by British Westinghouse’s successor, Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company (MV). The main shops, in common with factory construction throughout Trafford Park, were single floor type, with bays 1,000 feet in length, and had direct railway communication with the docks and trunk systems of the country. The main office block was a copy of the Westinghouse building in Pittsburgh, USA and the factory was to the American design and used imported steelwork for construction. Products manufactured at the Works included gas engines, stationary steam engines, electric generators, transformers, switchgear, meters, motors, control gear, and arc lamps. During the First World War, British Westinghouse built some small petrol-electric locomotives for the War Department Light Railways.

In 1928 the Works were taken over by Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), which merged Metropolitan-Vickers and British Thomson-Houston, though these two companies continued their own trading names. Traction design and manufacture was always a minority of the workload at Trafford Park with the largest operations generally turbine manufacture. Very few vehicles were built there, and traction machines (i.e. motors, inductors and generators) were largely built in other places – notably at Sheffield or Rugby. Trafford Park traction manufacture was largely that of assembling control gear – contactors, switches, drivers’ controllers, camshaft controllers, relays etc. and building these into frames or equipment boxes for installation in vehicles made elsewhere. An important part of the Trafford Park Works site was the general switchgear operation, mainly for generation or distribution installations. The on-site Switchgear Testing Company was a “testing house” for these products and contributed to testing and development of traction circuit breakers and switchgear.

During the Second World War MV acting for the Ministry of Aircraft Production produced more than a thousand Lancaster Bombers in the adjacent Mosley Road building. The company also manufactured war munitions and in the laboratories developed what became known as Radar. In 1959 the newly formed AEI Traction Division established its headquarters at Trafford Park, with a product range that included electric and diesel-electric locomotives; electrical equipment for tram-cars, trolley buses and trolley mining locomotives and traction motors. AEI was taken over by the General Electric Company (GEC) in 1967 whose Witton Works closed in 1969, with the design office and traction manufacture transferred to Trafford Park, as a result of the GEC reorganisation and mergers. GEC Traction Ltd took over the Works in 1972. In 1990 the former Low Voltage Switchgear site at Trafford Park (West Works) was renovated to be the new manufacturing facility for GEC Alsthom Traction, with an electronics workshop, machine shop and plating baths, and an assembly shop for switchgear, equipment cases and power modules. This building was vacated in 1998 when power modules and switchgear was moved to Tarbes in south west France.

The Works housed the administrative, commercial and accounting functions, the majority of the design departments and the development section with its associated workshops and laboratories. The manufacturing area was devoted primarily to the production of components of traction control and railway signalling equipment. In 1993, as part of the rationalisation of the equipment group, it was announced that the headquarters of GEC Alsthom Traction would move to Preston, leaving only Power Module design and manufacture at Manchester, with the eventual closing of all activities at Trafford Park in 1998. The iconic original Westinghouse building was demolished and the site is now (2015) largely devoted to container handling and logistics operations.