Suburban Electric Railway Association      
Located at the COVENTRY ELECTRIC RAILWAY CENTRE, Rowley Road, Baginton, Warwickshire           

Established 1996

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  Class 503 Units - Principle Data

Number Of Coaches in Unit Three
Formation of unit Driving Motor Brake - Trailer Composite - Driving Trailer
Motor Equipment Four 135hp motors one each DMB coach (540hp per 3 car unit)
Vehicle Weights DMB = 36 tonnes : TC = 20 tonnes : DT = 21 tonnes
Vehicle Lengths (excluding buffers) Driving Cars - 58 feet : Trailer Composite - 56 feet

So Why Preserve One Of These ?

The deco styling lines and fittings on this unit that screams '1930s' makes the 503 unit very much of its era. The equipment for train control and fittings such as the air operated doors, automatic couplings and electro pnuematic brakes were cutting edge at the time of build, without being too experimental. The unit is a thoroughbred Merseyside electric having worked the same routes from build to the end of its service life. It is an example of the build work of two of Britains major locomotive and carriage construction companies from the 20th Century.

LMS Wirral Class 503 Unit History

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

Did You Know.........

This unit has survived attacks by the Luftwaffe, Dr. Beeching and Town Planners. The Luftwaffe bombed Liverpool during WWII of course and some of these units were destroyed by enemy action when Birkenhead carriage shed took a direct hit. Dr Beeching's report - The Future of Britains Railways - initially proposed the cutting back of electric services on Merseyside and replacement by diesel units. The plan for the unit when originally purchased for the transport museum in Birkenhead involved removing the interior and fitting it out as a cafe.

This unit is one of only two pre-war main line EMUs in existance still in original formation; the other being the NRM's 2-BIL