In 1938 electric services between New Brighton,West
Kirby, Rock Ferry and Liverpool via the Mersey rail tunnel were commenced by the London Midland And
Scottish Railway. To operate these services new three coach units were built
that could only be described as 'State Of The Art' as they had many features
that had never been seen on a British suburban railway before, and were a generation
removed from the steam hauled coaches they replaced. Air operated sliding
doors, roomy well lit interiors, solid all steel construction and swift
acceleration made these trains, which became known under British Rail as the class 503s, a landmark
in British suburban electric train design. Their influence can still be seen
in the new electric units built for the 1990s. Motor third and the intermediate trailer composite coaches were
built by Metropolitan Cammel at their Wednesbury works whilst the driving trailer third vehicles were constructed
at the Smethwick works of the Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Company.
The units worked faithfully on these services and
were deemed by the railway managers to be so eminently suited to the job
that when extra stock was required for the Wirral lines in 1956 a second
batch of the same design was ordered, despite the fact that the design was
by then 19 years old.The builders were the same as the initial batch and there were
only minor differences between the two build batches.
All units of both batches were required to be modified
in the mid seventies to permit them to work in the, then, new deep level
loop line tunnel under Liverpool city centre. The most visible modification
was the cutting of doors in each end of all cars which were required to permit
an emergency evacuation of passengers in a single bore tunnel should the
necessity ever arise. Other less noticeable modifications were made to the
units electrical arrangement. By this time all the units had had their first
class accommodation downgraded to second and had been painted in the corporate
BR blue livery, this in itself gave way to the less bland blue and grey colour
scheme in the early eighties. The units worked up until 1985 when the fleet was
replaced by new class 507 and 508 EMUs.
LEFT - a Motor coach in the workshop at Birkenhead North depot in the early
1950s. The vehicle is painted in early BR green and is in original condition.
Photo: Jim Peden
RIGHT - An all over BR blue livery 503 unit departs from Birkenhead Park
in the late 1970s. This is a unit from the second 1956 built batch and it has
been modified for tunnel working.
Photo: Brian Morrison
LEFT - An a wet and miserable 14th March 1988 the preserved unit made its last run in
BR service. The train is pictured here at Birkenhead North station.
Photo: R. J. Cassleden