Fears for the future of historic Wolverton rail works

More than 100 jobs have been lost at Railcare in Wolverton, leading to fears that 175 years of rail repairs in the city could be coming to an end.

The Government had been implored by city political figures, including MP for Milton Keynes North, Mark Lancaster, Labour candidate for MK South, Andrew Pakes and Labour leader councillor Peter Marland, to find a solution that would not result in job losses.

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Now it seems with heavy redundancies, the death knell could soon be sounded after 175 years serving as an industrial giant in Milton Keynes.

But how has this railway works run out of steam?

History shows it has been running since 1833 when the building of the London to Birmingham railway was authorised. As it was considered unsafe for engines to run for more than 50 miles without being examined, a depot was required halfway.

Wolverton was ideally placed with the Grand Union Canal nearby, offering wharfing facilities. By September 1838 the whole line was opened and it was then that Wolverton Works was said to have been born.

It soon expanded to accommodate, service and repair the higher volume of trains and a large engine shed was built. This enabled the Works to produce their first two locomotives in 1854.

Wolverton had a hand in the first Australian railways as in the same year four locomotives were sub contracted to be built, which were copies of the Wolverton goods engines.

Five years later 34 engines were transferred from Crewe to Wolverton and the Works was expanded, as it was again in 1864 when Wolverton became the Carriage Works for the London and North West Railway.

In 1869 two Royal Saloons for Queen Victoria were built but three years later the locomotive shop closed, leaving Wolverton exclusively as a carriage works. By 1877 it was the largest in Britain.

During the First World War, 1914 to 1918, the Works altered carriages to be used as ambulance trains both home and abroad. This war work included working for the Ministry of Munitions.

During the Second World War ambulance trains were again in demand together with armoured vehicles, mobile kitchens, wings for Horsa gliders and assault boats.

In 1962 it was relegated to a repair shop only with the last new vehicle being completed in 1963. Within a year the workforce had dropped from 4000 to 2000.

By 1964 the Works were repairing Electrical Multiple Units but in February 1986, when British Rail Engineering Ltd split into two sections, Wolverton became part of the company’s Maintenance Group working exclusive for British Rail which resulted in the loss of further jobs which left a workforce of approximately 850.

In 1987 it was reduced to depot status and since then a large part of the site was sold off for redevelopment as a supermarket and car showrooms.

Railcare took over the running of Wolverton Works in 2007, operating sites in Springburn, Glasgow, as well as the one in Wolverton.