THESE days, referring to York as a 'railway city' seems a little hollow.

Yes, we have the National Railway Museum, and a railway station that is in its way still perhaps one of the most beautiful in the world. There is even a smattering of maintenance workshops and sheds.

But the days when York was a major centre for the manufacture of railway wagons and carriages are long gone.

According to an overview of the former carriageworks site written by a team of archaeologists from Durham University in 2005, the first tangle of engine sheds, workshops and stores opened in the 1840s on the southern side of Queen Street, in the days when York's railway station was still inside the city walls.

York's growing fame as a railway city was cemented in 1849, when Queen Victoria stopped at the 'old' railway station for a meal on her way north to open a new bridge at Newcastle. But it was already by then obvious that York needed a new station outside the city walls.

That 'new' station opened on June 25, 1877. A new coal depot was also built just to the west of the station, and various other goods yards and sidings grew up.

Then, in the 1880s, the North Eastern Railway decided to concentrate carriage construction in York. A new carriageworks was planned to the north and west of the station, with a fan of lines leading out to construction sheds. The new factory opened in 1884 - and the 'teardrop'-shaped site that we are all familiar with now was born.

For well over a hundred years, the carriageworks provided employment for hundreds, then thousands, of York men at a time. The carriageworks passed through many different hands - NER, LNER, British Rail from 1948, then from 1970 British Rail Engineering Ltd (BREL).

Eventually privatised, like the railways themselves, the carriageworks were acquired by ABB in 1989.

Despite some successes - including a £120 million contract to build 200 aluminium coaches for Network South East in 1989 - the carriageworks struggled. They closed in 1996 with 750 redundancies.

The plant was re-opened in 1997 by wagon manufacturer Thrall, which had won a £200 million order for 2,500 wagons, raising hopes that York could once again become a major rail manufacturer. But by 2002 the orders had dried up, and the factory was closed by Thrall's successor Trinity Industries, this time with 260 redundancies.

It is easy to be nostalgic about the great days of rail manufacturing in York. And yes, the industry did provide secure employment for generations of York people. But it had its dark side, too. In the twentieth century, asbestos was widely used in rolling stock manufacture to provide insulation. Following the British Rail Modernisation Plan in the 1950s, blue asbestos was increasingly used, until the health risks associated with it were belatedly realised.

In 1975, an inquest into the death of former railway worker Frank Summers reported in a national newspaper recorded that he had died from an industrrial disease; he had previously been employed in asbestos spraying at York carriageworks.

Pressurised asbestos suits were introduced for certain workers. But we now know that many scores of former York Carriageworks employees ultimately died from asbestos-related diseases - often two or three decades after they had been exposed to asbestos dust at the carriageworks from the 1950s onwards.

The tragedy of their deaths has to be balanced against the benefits of secure employment that the carriageworks offered to so many for so long.

But the fact remains that the rail manufacturing industry helped make York the city it is today. It's an important part of our history and heritage - one that we hope is reflected in the selection of photographs from our archives which we reproduce on thee pages today.

Now the huge site which once employed generations of rail workers has been given outline planning permission for up to 2,500 homes and 86,600 square metres of office space.

The way York Central develops over the next couple of decades could well shape York for generations more to come. York's railway legacy is still being played out...

Stephen Lewis