Alstom Transport – Preston

Alstom Transport (formally GEC Alsthom) is a French company and at this Preston site, traction control systems are designed and manufactured for trains systems throughout the world. Also is site is the UK’s base for Customers Service operations world wide.

The history of this factory goes back over 100 years.
In 1898 the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Ltd. (a subsidiary of a partnership of two Glasgow merchants, W. B. Dick and John Kerr, formed in 1875) took over premises formerly occupied by the North of England Carriage and Iron Co. (1867-78) on the east of Strand Road. The works grew developing a world market for electric urban tramway systems.

Drive machinery for the vehicles had to be imported from the United States, and shortly after the move to Preston a second company was established along the west side of Strand Road (this is the factory shown above). The English Electric Manufacturing Co., also had close links with Dick Kerr’s and in 1905 changed its name to the United Electric Car Co. In 1918 the English Electric Company was formed through the merger of Dick Kerr’s with a number of related interests, to form a company with a capital of f5m. For a short time in the late 1960’s it was owned by an AEI, English Electric Company and GEC amalgamation and in 1969 GEC Power Engineering Limited was established.In the late 1980’s it became GEC Alsthom and now Alstom.

Already considerable by 1914, the Preston works expanded enormously during the First World War, and by 1918 employed eight thousand people. In addition to munitions the firm with its experience of producing light wooden tramway bodies, began the manufacture of aircraft with the Felixstowe F3 flying boat. With the formation of English Electric. the Preston works reverted to the manufacture of traction and ancillary equipment, but in 1922 aircraft production was resumed: the Wren made its first night from Ashton Park on 5th April 1923. The firm supplied Blackpool’s famous trams between 1933 and 1939 and the last trams produced at Preston were despatched to Aberdeen in 1940. Dick Kerr’s benefited enormously from re-armament in the late 1930s. providing a tremendous boost to the Preston economy. Manufacturing at the east works thus evolved from tramcars to flying boats and ultimately to jet aircraft. In 1964 it was taken over by BAC. Similarly the west works was to progress to the manufacture of heavy electric locomotives.

Preston Corporation tram 1925. This tram is on Tulketh Rd. at the corner of Powis Rd. The first electric tramcar in Preston was manufactured by Dick Kerr and ran on a system which eventually included 38 double deck and 10 single deck cars.

This photo (circa 1925) shows men working in the foundry manufacturing castings using sand box casting techniques. This photo is of particular interest to me as this shed later became the machine shop in which I worked from 1977 to 1990. I remember that when ever any digging for foundation work was being carried out in this shed the remains of the cast iron sand boxes were sometimes found and below these pebbles and sand were often found which may of been from the river bed, the river Ribble was diverted when the docks was built.
I also recall the smell of cutting oils which were used in the machining processes, and after a days work the odour of this oil was in your clothes.

This photo (circa 1994) is of the same shed viewed from the opposite end. Today this shed is part of the Machines manufacturing business unit and has been totally reorganised with only a few newer computer controlled machine tools. Due to the technological advances in A.C. motor drive systems there is not the same demand for large D.C. traction motors and therefore the smaller less complex A.C. traction motors are now manufactured and assembled in this one shed therefore requiring less floor area. Preston site also manufactures traction control equipment, auxiliary converters, and is the base of the UK’s Customers Service operation.


1830 to 1840 Privately owned carriage building business in ‘East’ Works

1863 North of England Railway Carriage and Iron Company Incorporated.

1878 Liquidation – Premises remained empty.

1896 New occupant – The Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Limited.
(developed five acres of the site – West Works) with a capacity of 800 vehicles per annum

1898 to 1903 Equipment Syndicate Limited of Manchester built a factory which occupied both sides of Strand Road.
(The Dick & Kerr families were part of this syndicate)

1903 Dick Kerr and Company.

1905 Changed name to ‘United Electric Car Company’

1914 to 1918 During the war years, both the Preston factories were engaged in defence work.

1918 Changed name to ‘English Electric Company’.

1964 Aircraft building side was separated off to the British Aircraft Corporation – British Aerospace, They closed their Strand Road site in the early 1990’s.

1967 to 1968 AEI, English Electric Company and GEC amalgamated and GEC Power Engineering Limited was established.

1989 GEC Power Systems merged with Alsthom of France from which GEC ALSTHOM Traction Limited emerged.

1998 A new company formed called Alstom, which is floated on the stock markets in June 1998, with both GEC and Alsthom reducing their share of the company. Preston site is part of the Alstom Transport division.