Suburban Electric Railway Association      
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The History Zone

The Southern Suburban Electric Network

Part 4 - Southern Railway Suburban EMUs

The Southern Railway built most of their EMU cars in their own workshops, very few were supplied by outside contractors. The construction style of their electric units closely followed that of the steam hauled stock of the period and allowed jigs and tools to be re-used for both types of vehicle, cutting both pre and actual production costs. The Southern were also renowned for their desire to get the maximum possible use out of their rolling stock and this policy was applied in EMU construction as much, if not more than on loco hauled coaches as not only were underframes, bogies and body components re-used in subsequent builds but much of the electrical equipment was passed onto subsequent generations of EMU types.

The following is an overview of the different types of Suburban and Outer Suburban EMUs that were produced during the Southern Railway years:


The Southern Railway adapted the design of the original LSWR EMUs as the basis for its own standard suburban sets, which like the LSWR were formed of three cars - two driving motors and a trailer composite in between. The first batch was of 55 units built in 1925 by two companies - The Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co Ltd. and the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance company. 26 of the units were for the western section with the remainder for the eastern section. The later having 62 foot 6 inch underframes as opposed to the 57 foot ones of the western section units. All electrical equipment was provided by Metropolitan Vickers.

As electrification spread so new units were needed for the services and they were converted from steam hauled stock of SECR, LSWR and LBSC origin - it is worth noting that the resultant units did not necessarily work exclusively on the section from which the coaches originally came. The conversion work was carried out at the Southern Railway works at Ashford, Brighton and later Eastleigh, with units being turned out from 1928 until 1937. Later in their lives the bulk of the 3-SUB fleet was augmented to 4-SUBs by the addition of an extra coach into the formation. These were either converted from steam hauled coaches or were newly built all steel trailers. The last units of this type ran in the 1950s.

2-WIM & 2-SL

The 2-WIM fleet comprised of four sets converted at Peckham Rye depot shops in 1929 from trailer cars originally built for the LBSC overhead electric units in 1908. One vehicle was a driving motor with seven third class compartments whilst the other was a driving trailer with a mix of first and third class accommodation. The 2-SL fleet was slightly larger in number with eight units in total. They were converted from the driving coaches of the LBSC AC electric units built in 1908 for the South London line. As with the WIMs one car of a SL unit was the driving motor with seven third class compartments whilst the other was a driving trailer with composite seating. The electrical equipment on both types was provided by Metropolitan Vickers. These units were used on the South London and Wimbledon - West Croydon lines.


These two car units were built between1935 and 1938 for use on outer suburban workings and stopping services on the Portsmouth lines.


78 units of this type were converted from former LSWR steam stock at the Southern's Eastleigh carriage workshops in 1934. They were formed of a driving motor brake third and a driving trailer composite.Once again the tried and trusted Metropolitan Vickers electrical equipment was employed in these units. They worked on both the Central and Western sections during a career that lasted until the mid 1950s when they were withdrawn. The frames of these units were reclaimed for use on later builds of 2-EPB units.


A total of 76 2-HAL units were produced by Eastleigh works in 1939 for the start of electric services on the Maidstone and Gillingham sections of the eastern sections. The formation was as per the 2-NOL units with the exception of a toilet being provided in the driving trailer composite. These units employed English Electric equipment, thus setting the trend for future SR units. Another 16 units identical to the first batch were produced at Eastleigh in 1940.

A third batch of 6 2-HAL units were ordered by the Southern Railway to replace stock damaged during WWII but these were built after nationalisation in 1948. They differed from the earlier units in having the all steel body style of the 4-SUB units also in production at that time.

The units remained on the services they were built for until the late 50's when they were spread out on other duties all over the southern region. The last examples of the fleet were withdrawn in 1971.


The last mass order of suburban EMUs for the Southern Railway was the replacement of earlier types by the new all steel 4-SUB suburban units. They were introduced en masse from 1946 and the order was completed by 1951 after nationalisation. A full appraisal of the type is featured in the SERA stocklist section of this site.


Without doubt the most adventurous design of EMU ever to grace British metals were the two experimental four coach DD units designed by the Southern Railway CME - Oliver Bulleid. The units were built after nationalisation and appeared from Eastleigh Works in late 1949. The design was a novel approach to tackling the problem of overcrowding on many suburban routes. This it did by having passenger compartments at two levels, offset from one another so not a 'double decker' in the true sense of the term.

The units were much taller than the regular loading gauge and therefore were restricted to operation on only the suburban lines between Dartford and Charing Cross. They featured some new embellishments for traditional SR EMUs such as strip lighting and pressure ventilation, the later being necessary as the upper deck compartments had only fixed windows. Roller blind headcodes and EP brakes were also provided both these features went on to become standard on subsequent SR EMU builds.

Each four car unit could seat 552 passengers, but this was to be nothing more than an experiment. The two tier layout proved unpopular with passengers and staff alike and the SR opted to lengthen platforms to take 10 instead of 8 car trains as a means of reducing overcrowding. Both the 4-DD units stayed on in service until withdrawn in October 1971.

Continue To British Railways Southern Region Suburban EMUs