History in the United Kingdom

Throughout its history, Bombardier has consistently responded to challenges and opportunities with tireless innovation, daring creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit. Our proven ability to absorb, improve and generate new technologies, processes and management philosophies has fuelled our competitiveness and growth.

  • 1914 First World War

    During the First World War, the Litchurch Lane factory was called upon to assist in the war effort and a major contribution was made in the form of eight ambulance trains which were put to use throughout the theatres of conflict. At this time the Midland Railway had some 6,500 carriages and 126,000 wagons, nearly all of which were built at Derby. These were built for every specific purpose, from carrying aeroplanes to prize cattle. Additionally the works also built most of the many road vehicles owned by the company.

  • 1926 Maiden flight of Short Singapore

    The Singapore was Short Brothers’ first long-range flying boat. From November 1927 to June 1928, the Singapore 1 flying boat was used to conduct a survey flight of 23,000 miles around Africa.  The mission was led by the famous long-distance aviator, Sir Alan Cobham.

  • 1923 Midland Railway merges with London, Midland and Scottish Railway

    At the start of 1923 the Midland became part of the new London, Midland and Scottish Railway and Derby found itself in competition with the wagon and locomotive works of the other constituent companies of the group. However Derby and the LNWR’s Wolverton works went on to build most of the LMS’s coaching stock.

    In an unusual assignment at this time, the works completed a train of full-scale replicas of Liverpool and Manchester Railway carriages for that line’s centenary celebrations in 1930.
    Under the LMS, gangway type coaches came into favour and almost 1,500 were built between 1923 and 1939. In 1927 a new design of corridor coach came into service in which there were no outside compartment doors.

    In the 1920s the carriage works also built bodywork on road vehicle chassis, including a batch of single deck buses for the railway’s use on Leyland and Albion chassis during 1929.
    Mass production methods began to be employed from the early 1920s and by the outbreak of World War II the works could produce 200 open wagons, 20 cattle wagons and 47 covered goods wagons in a five and half day working week.

  • 1920 Maiden flight of Silver Streak

    Shorts pioneered the evolution of all-metal aircraft with the Silver Streak biplane.

  • 1909 Short Brothers secures contract to build six Wright Flyers

    The Short brothers secured the first-ever orders from the Wright brothers to build six ‘Wright Flyers’.  That initial contract led the Short brothers to be called ‘the first manufacturers of aircraft in the world’.

  • 1908 Short Brothers company registers in Battersea, London

    The early years saw the company based in the Isle of Sheppey before moving to Rochester, Kent.

  • 1908 Modernisation of Litchurch Lane

    In 1908 a comprehensive modernisation of Litchurch Lane took place with new buildings, a rearrangement of the system of working and the introduction of new machines and machine tools. The works was equipped with electric power in place of steam, and from 1911 had its own power station.
    A new wagon and carriage lifting shop was 579ft long by 200ft wide, with 15t overhead cranes in two of the four bays. By this time production of 10 and 12 ton wagons had reached such a state of organisation that, starting with a kit of parts at 9am, a complete wagon could be assembled by 4pm the same day.

  • 1997 Belfast gets major roles in CRJ700 and Q400 regional aircraft

    Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast was selected to design and manufacture key components for both Bombardier programmes.

  • 1996 ABB and Daimler-Benz rail activities merge to form Adtranz

    Bombardier’s strong presence in new build manufacture in the UK continued with the success of the ELECTROSTAR EMU, which went into service in 1999. The ELECTROSTAR, which shares its bodyshell and basic structure with the TURBOSTAR, has become the most common new EMU in Britain, and today there are more than 2500 ELECTROSTAR trains in service across the UK.

  • 1993 Global Express is launched

    Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast played a major role in this initial programme and now undertakes the detailed design and manufacture of the forward fuselage, engine nacelles, horizontal stabiliser, tail cone, wing to fuselage fairings, wing slats and other  components for the Global 5000 and Global 6000, as well as the horizontal stabiliser and other components for the Global 7000 and Global 8000 business jets .

  • 1992 CRJ200 enters service

    The CRJ regional jet family went on to become the best-selling regional aircraft in history.  Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast designed and manufactured the forward and centre fuselages, wing components and engine nacelles for the CRJ200.

  • 1990 Turbostar success

    When orders resumed Litchurch Lane won significant contracts for the Class 170 TURBOSTAR diesel multiple units. This train featured an aluminium alloy frame and evolved from the earlier Networker turbos. The first batch went into service on the Midland main line; over 120 have been built, making it the most common post-privatisation DMU. Scotrail operates a fleet of 59 units.

  • 1957 Maiden flight of Short SC-1

    One of the most challenging research ventures was the design of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.  Rolls-Royce experimented with a test rig, ‘The Flying Bedstead’, but it was Shorts that developed the concept into a viable aircraft.  The SC-1 had a maximum speed of 246mph, and a range of 150 miles. 

  • 1955 100th Mark 1 carriage

    The 100th Mark I carriage was turned out in 1955. In 1964 the Mark II design appeared with an integral stressed skin steel body structure and coil spring suspension for a better ride. Derby went on to build nearly 1,900 such carriages.

    The Mark III arrived in the 1970s, designed specifically for high speed train formations. This was longer than the Mark II, at 75ft, with space for more passengers within approximately the same overall weight, and its bogies featured disc brakes.

  • 1954 Derby at the forefront of rolling stock manufacture

    In 1954 Derby was at the forefront of building new types of rolling stock when production of lightweight diesel railcars began. The first units, for short cross country routes, consisted of two powered units each with two 125hp Leyland bus engines under the floor. The bodyframe and underframe were of advanced light alloy integral construction, built of extruded aluminium sections riveted together and with aluminium panelling welded edge to edge. The railcar could carry 130 passengers at 62mph. In October 1956 the works produced its first all-steel diesel railcar, comprising one power car and one trailer car. By January 1958 it had produced 500 diesel railcars, and by October the following year the total hit 1,000, of which over 400 were the light alloy type.

    Derby had made wagons to carry shipping containers since the 1930s but in the 1960s containerisation took off, and the works turned out hundreds of the containers themselves, in a new lightweight design and 20, 30 or 40ft long.

    In Crewe from the late 1950s onwards, the focus of production of diesel locomotives, such as the Class 43 (HST) marked the end of production of steam engines.

  • 1950 British Mark 1 carriages appear at Litchurch Lane

    In 1950 the British Rail Mark I carriage design appeared, of which Litchurch Lane would build considerable numbers. The coach appeared in gangway and non-gangway versions and had a steel truss underframe and pressed steel body sides.

    In April 1951, training of apprentices made a leap forward with the opening of the Works Training School under chief instructor Albert Ward. Within a few years 90 apprentices were being trained annually.

  • 1943 Short Brothers is taken over by the UK Government

    During the Second World War, the Short Brothers’ factory in Belfast was badly damaged by an air raid, and in 1943, in an unprecedented move, the UK Government stepped in and took over the company.

  • 1940 Second World War

    Between 1939 and 1943 the Litchurch Lane works built 152 electric vehicles for the Liverpool-Southport electric services, powered by four 180mph English Electric traction motors. They used all-welded steel integral body construction, which accounted for their low weight of 41 tons for the motor cars and 24 tons for the trailer cars. With air-operated sliding doors and 3+2 seating they were the precursor of the modern UK electric suburban train. Known under British Rail as Class 502, they remained in service until 1980.

    During World War II Derby made a major contribution to war production. The works produced 25 special trains, 12 for home and 13 for overseas service; in 1944 Derby provided 32 ambulance trains for the British army and 34 for the American forces. One shop was turned over to the production of aircraft wings, including 1,100 pairs for Hawker Typhoons, and Derby also produced fuselage sections, but not complete aircraft. The works also reconditioned 23 12-inch howitzers, mounted on bogie wagons, dating form World War I.

    The Crewe site spent the initial part of the war producing Covenanter tanks for the British Army before reverting to train production in 1945.

    On 1st January 1948, the LMS, along with the other three big companies, the London & North Eastern, the Great Western and the Southern, were nationalised as British Railways. Derby became a major supplier of rolling stock, particularly of the new standardised carriage stock. New works manager AE Bates, had a strong influence in the further development of the carriage works. In 1948 the first all steel carriage was put into production, based on experience with the 1939 Liverpool-Southport cars. Design and production chiefs collaborated on new techniques, including the use of adjustable jig units, to speed up carriage construction, a technique adopted widely elsewhere.

    At the Crewe site, the focus was on building engines for Britannia, Clan and some for Class 9 trains (one of the most powerful steam locomotives ever built in Great Britain). 

  • 1938 Production gets under way in Belfast

    Initial contracts included 50 Bristol Bombays and 150 Handley Page Herefords, both flown by the RAF during the Second World War.

  • 1937 Maiden flight of Short Sunderland

    Sunderland flying boats played a crucial role during the Battle of the Atlantic combating the submarine menace which threatened to cut off essential US supplies to the UK.  A total number of 749 Sunderlands were built, 133 in Belfast.

  • 1937 Caledonia, a Short C-class Empire flying boat takes off from Foynes, Ireland

    Operated by Imperial Airways, Caledonia took off from Foynes on the Shannon estuary and flew to Botwood in Newfoundland, Canada, in 15 hours 9 minutes.  After refuelling, it flew on to Montreal and New York.  Caledonia was still in service in 1940 when it was handed over to the newly-formed British Overseas Airways Corporation, later British Airways.  

  • 1936 Work begins on a new factory at Queen’s Island, Belfast

    The site in Belfast was more suitable for large-scale production and offered a land airstrip as well as a sheltered lough for seaplanes.  

  • 1930 Sir William Stanier – Chief Mechanical Engineer brings further innovation to Derby

    By 1932 the Litchurch lane works covered 128 acres, 32 covered, and employed 3,400 people.

    In 1932 Sir William Stanier joined the company as chief mechanical engineer.  Bringing with him the design principles used at his previous employer, Stanier set about addressing deficiencies in the LMS’s locomotive stock; this led to the development of the 4-6-2 Princess Royal class in 1933 as a general purpose locomotive. But for West Coast main line express services Stanier designed the streamlined Coronation class, the most powerful steam locomotives to operate on British Railways. These were designed at Derby, though built at Crewe. They entered service in 1937, and on a press run prior to inauguration one of them, number 6220 Coronation, achieved a speed record of 114mph.

    By the early 1930s carriage design had developed, with decorative beading disappearing from coaching stock and flush-sided steel panelled carriages becoming the norm.

    The first all-welded steel underframes and bogies were built in 1934 and steel angle sections began to replace timber for some of the carriage framing members.

    Other innovations were emerging from Derby around this time. In 1938 the works built a Stanier-designed streamlined three-car articulated diesel-engined train, numbered LMS 80000-800002, for passenger service initially on the 77-mile Oxford-Cambridge line. It was powered by six 125bhp Leyland six-cylinder engines. It used low alloy high tensile steel for its underframe and bogies, but remained in service for only a few months before the start of World War II when it was put into storage.

    Meanwhile, in Crewe, experience with heavier locomotive engineering and steel production, meant by the 1930’s it had become the focal point of the production of a new, heavier and more powerful generation of locomotives including The Princesses, Duchesses, Black Fives and Jubilees among others.  By the end of the steam era, Crewe had built over 7,000 locomotives. 

  • 1969 Derby locomotive and carriage works and Crewe works transferred to British Rail Engineering Ltd (BREL)

    In 1969 Derby’s locomotive and wagon works were transferred to new subsidiary British Rail Engineering Ltd, along with sites at Crewe and York. The wagon works were renamed Derby Litchurch Lane Works, and wagon building, repairs and containers ceased.

    At nationalisation much of the railway’s research had been consolidated at Derby, where a new research centre was built on London Road, adjoining Litchurch Lane. In the 1960s and 1970s the British Rail Research Division was a global leader in train development. Its achievements include the Intercity 125, which remains the world’s fastest diesel train. The prototype set was developed at the Railway Technical Centre, Derby, the power cars having been constructed by BREL Crewe Works and the British Rail Mark 3 passenger cars by BREL at Derby Litchurch Lane Works. They also include the Advanced Passenger Train. Though this never went into service, its tilting technology, with more sophisticated electronic control, is employed in today’s Pendolinos.
    The research division was later reorganised as a separate company and privatised

  • 1963 Maiden flight of Short Skyvan

    The Skyvan made its first public appearance at the Farnborough Airshow in September 1964.  More than 150 aircraft had been manufactured when production ceased in 1985.

  • 1962 Central Line Tube trains – first built in BR workshops

    In Derby, 1962 brought another first, when the works built 169 cars for London Underground’s Central Line, the first time Underground stock had been built in BR workshops. In the standard LU practice at the time the cars were finished in unpainted aluminium panelling.

  • 1960 Plymouth signalling operations commence

    1960 saw the start of design and production of signalling equipment at Bombardier’s Plymouth site. The Plymouth site’s 54 year history began in 1960 when it opened for operations by ML Engineering. Sited in Estover, it was originally established to provide services for the ML Engineering’s role in the electrification of the West Coast Lin eML was later acquired by Asea Brown Boveri and ultimately became part of Bombardier Transportation in 2001.

    Today, Bombardier’s signalling manufacturing and engineering centre continues to focus on the rail control products for the UK, as well as wider worldwide markets.

    Its portfolio includes the most advanced EBI Track train detection, EBI* Light signalling, and EBI Gate Level crossings systems. This includes the latest Enhanced User Worked crossings technology, the first of its kind to harness sustainable energy.

    In addition, the team manufactured European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) products, including antennae and balise transmission modules (BTMs) that were used onboard the first and highest speed ERTMS-equipped trains operating in China. 

  • 1974 Maiden flight of Shorts 330

    One of the most successful aircraft in the commuter market, its flexibility and reliability very quickly made it a best seller in the world market.

  • 1989 Short Brothers is acquired by Bombardier

    Since 1989, Bombardier has invested almost £2.5 billion in plant, machinery, facilities, product development and training, helping to ensure that Belfast is at the leading edge of aerospace technology.

  • 1989 Privatisation of British Rail

    In 1989, BREL was privatised and sold to a consortium (ABB Trafalgar House and employees), meaning a 1000-day “hiatus” in rolling stock orders severely affected the UK rolling stock manufacturing industry. As a result the York works closed, leaving manufacturing operations consolidated at Derby.

  • 1988 Fokker 100 enters airline service

    Shorts was responsible for the design and manufacture of the wings for the Fokker 70 and 100 aircraft.

  • 1986 Maiden flight of Shorts Tucano

    A basic pilot training aircraft, which evolved from the original Brazilian design, it was manufactured between 1985 and 1993 to meet orders from the RAF and other customers.

  • 1982 Maiden flight of Shorts Sherpa

    A military turboprop, this aircraft was derived from the Shorts 330. The initial order came from the US Air Force in Europe for 18 Sherpas, designated C-23As. Later, Shorts supplied the US Army’s National Guard with 16 enhanced performance C-23B and 28 C-23B+ Sherpas.  In total, 330 Shorts 330, 360 and Sherpa aircraft were manufactured.

  • 1981 Maiden flight of Shorts 360

    A development of the Shorts 330, the 36-seater proved ideal for the short-haul commuter market. Its cabin design did not require the sophistication of pressurisation, which meant the 6 ft 4 in headroom, seat comfort and air conditioning of the 330 could be retained. More than 160 aircraft were sold to operators around the world.

  • 1800 to 1900 - The Paris Exhibition Gold Medal Award

    1889 – The Paris Exhibition Gold Medal Award

    In 1889 the Midland exhibited a 56ft bogie composite brake carriage and a 4-2-2 express locomotive at the Paris Exhibition where both gained a coveted Gold Medal award.

    A new design of carriage in 1897 introduced a characteristic new style that continued for many years – it was larger, with the width increased to 8ft 6in, with longer compartments and a distinctive clerestory roof. The first trains with corridors emerged in 1899 and from 1904 most main line carriages were of this type.


    Each carriage received between 18 and 20 coats of paint and varnish, and with each coat being allowed a day to dry the full painting process took around three weeks. The primary paint layers were rubbed down until perfectly smooth, leading to a mirror-like finish on carriages of this era, the colour being the Midland’s characteristic “Crimson Lake”.


    By the end of the century the Litchurch Lane carriage works was turning out on average eight passenger coaches and 180 wagons weekly.

    The workshops continued to be extended, and covered 80 acres by 1894. A decade later the works canteens provided seats for 2,000 employees, and in one of them local clergy held a short service at breakfast time on three or four days a week, with around 700 typically attending.

  • 1800 to 1900 - Opening of Derby Carriage & Wagon Works

    1876 – Plans for Derby Carriage and Wagon works take shape

    May 1873 saw the Midland Railway decide to set up a separate carriage and wagon department in Derby. Thomas Gething Clayton was appointed superintendent of the new department with responsibility to supervise construction of the new works.

    Plans for what is today Bombardier’s Litchurch Lane works – with a carriage shop, wagon shop, and paint shop – were approved in 1875. The works were planned on a large scale – the wagon shop was 320 ft x 200ft and the carriage painting and finishing shop 400ft x 300ft and equipped with 17 lines of rails. There was a separate saw mill – carriages at the time being framed in wood – a machine shop, smithy with 92 hearths and foundry capable of producing 2,000 tons of castings in a year. Machinery was powered by steam engines and hydraulic power, which was also used to lift carriage bodies. By 1878 workshops covered 13.5 acres (5.4ha) of the site.

    The works were brought into use from 1877 and by the following year were turning out 40ft bogie carriages. Clayton increased the width of carriage bodies and the size of compartments, and brought in other innovations such as padded seat backs and cushions in third class. The company employed around 100 women in the finishing shops on tasks such as production of upholstery and window blinds and panel polishing.

    The first wagons to emerge from the goods side were a pair of crane match wagons ordered in 1877. Brake vans, cattle wagons, timber trucks and coke wagons followed.

  • 1800 to 1900 - Crewe grows as a centre for locomotive production

    1860 – Crewe grows as a centre for locomotive production

    By 1860, the Industrial Revolution stimulated expansion of the Crewe site, which became a key centre for steam locomotive production in the UK, a bustling centre of heavy industry, producing its own wrought iron and rolling its own rails, as well as becoming the first location in the world to use open-hearth furnaces on an industrial scale. At the height of its productivity, over 20,000 people worked at the site. 

  • 1800 to 1900 - Milestone for Crewe works

    1843 – Milestone for Crewe works

    A parallel success story was taking place in Crewe with the opening of its locomotive work, with its first completed locomotive entering service in 1843.

  • 1800 to 1900 - Birth of the rail industry in Derby

    1839 – Birth of the rail industry in Derby

    Railways came to Derby in 1839, with the opening of the Midlands Counties Railway on 4th June, driven by demand to transport locally mined coal to market.

    In 1844 the Midland Counties, the North Midland, and the Birmingham and Derby Junction merged to form the Midland Railway, headquartered in Derby and the city became a centre for maintenance and manufacture of locomotives and rolling stock – and later for research and development.  The principal workshops were originally located behind Derby station and together these developed into the Midland Railway Locomotive Works, which would maintain and build the majority of the company’s locomotives.

  • 2015 Bombardier History
  • 2014 Crossrail contract award

    The culmination to the company’s ongoing investment in engineering and product development came in early February 2014, with the announcement that Bombardier had secured the £1.3bn Crossrail rolling stock contract to provide AVENTRA trains. A fitting tribute to the 175 years of railway manufacturing in the city, the contract will secure jobs and support the creation of many new ones both at Litchurch Lane and in the wider supply chain. The future of Derby and Bombardier’s LItchurch Lane site at the forefront of railway technology looks set to continue.

  • 2013 UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, officially opens wing facility in Belfast

    Bombardier’s new 600,000 square-foot facility is producing the wings for the C Series aircraft.  The wings are made using an innovative carbon-fibre composite technology developed by Bombardier engineers in Northern Ireland. This technology enables both material and aircraft weight savings, which contribute to reduced manufacturing cycle times and reduced fuel burn.

  • 2013 Wing facility is awarded LEED® Gold certification

    The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is the foremost international programme for buildings designed, constructed, and operated for improved environmental and health performance.  Belfast was the first Bombardier facility to achieve Gold certification.


  • 2012 Bombardier acquires new facility at Newtownabbey

    This acquisition is enabling the Belfast operation to relocate its expanding customer services business, which repairs engine nacelles and other structures, alongside nacelle production, under one roof.

  • 2010 Strengthening the business

    In 2011 Bombardier’s business in the UK received a significant setback when it missed out on the contract to build the new Thameslink fleet, after which 1,400 workers were made redundant and a review of Bombardier’s UK rail operations was undertaken. The business resolved to continue to invest in its engineering and product developments, including its new generation train for the UK market, the AVENTRA.

    The company went on to receive a number of contract awards including a £188m contract in December 2011 to produce 130 ELECTROSTAR trains for Southern. In November 2012, a further 40 vehicles were ordered.

    In May 2013, Bombardier secured an order from TfL for an additional 57 ELECTROSTAR cars for the London Overground network, to allow TfL to operate longer trains and increase capacity by 25%. In July 2013, Southern selected Bombardier to supply a further 116 ELECTROSTAR vehicles, with an option for a further 140 vehicles.

  • 2009 Construction begins on wing facility

    The new Belfast facility houses production of the advanced composite wings for the new C Series commercial aircraft family and the advanced composite wing skin panels and spar components for Bombardier’s Learjet 85 business jet.

  • 2008 Red Arrows salute Bombardier centenary

    An aerial display by the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, was a key highlight in the company’s calendar of events for 2008, marking a century of aircraft innovation.  

  • 2008 Bombardier launches C Series commercial aircraft family

    The C Series, a new five-abreast commercial airliner family, was launched at Farnborough International Airshow. Belfast was selected to design and manufacture the aircraft’s composite wings. The C Series wing programme represents a £520 million investment by Bombardier in its Belfast operation, the largest ever single inward investment in Northern Ireland.

  • 2007 Advanced composite components enter service on CRJ900

    Composite wing components for the Bombardier CRJ700, CRJ900 and CRJ1000 aircraft are produced at Bombardier’s plant in Dunmurry, Belfast, using an innovative Resin Transfer Moulding (RTM) technology.  

  • 2007 Challenger 605 enters airline service

    A major design enhancement of the Challenger 604 business jet, the Challenger 605 provides customers with the widest and one of the quietest cabins in the industry.  Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast designs and manufactures the centre fuselage and engine nacelles for this aircraft.

  • 2006 Bombardier opens new repair station in Belfast

    The £1.5 million repair and maintenance facility was an initial step in Bombardier’s plans to expand and develop its customer support operations in Belfast.

  • 2006 Export order for South Africa Gautrain project

    The ELECTROSTAR was also the train type selected for a contract awarded in 2006 for South Africa’s Gautrain project with Bombardier, as part of the Bombela consortium, providing the 80km new rapid rail link to connect Johannesburg, Tshwane (Pretoria) and the OR Tambo International Airport.

  • 2003 Bombardier receives largest rolling stock order in British history for London Underground

    Beginning in 2003, Bombardier won the contract for the then biggest rolling stock order in British history to replace both the Victoria Line fleet on London Underground and the fleet on the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, District and Circle Lines (the ‘sub-surface lines’). The order comprised 1,738 metro cars to be delivered by 2015.

  • 2001 Bombardier Inc. acquires 100% share of Adtranz making the company a global leader in rail technology

    The Litchurch lane and Crewe sites became part of Bombardier Transportation in 2001 following Bombardier’s acquisition of Adtranz, the multi-national rail transport equipment manufacturer. The early years of the new millennium were challenging for UK train manufacturers, and by 2005 Bombardier’s Derby site was the last passenger rolling stock manufacturer left in Britain.

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