British Rail Class 503

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British Rail Class 503
A British Rail Class 503 train in the Liverpool Loop tunnel.
A British Rail Class 503 train in the Liverpool Loop tunnel. This train was one of the original batch built by the LMS in 1938.
The interior of DMBS car 28690 at the Electric Railway Museum, Coventry.
The interior of DMBS car 28690 at the Electric Railway Museum, Coventry.
In service 1938–1985
Manufacturer Metro Cammell, Birmingham RC&W
Replaced Mersey Railway electric units
Constructed 1938 and 1956
Refurbishment 1971 (First class accommodation removed)[1]
1972 (End doors fitted)[1]
Scrapped 1985
Number built 17 full sets (1938)[1]
24 full sets (1956)
2 TS+DTS (1956)[1]
Number preserved 1[2]
Number scrapped 44
Formation Driving Motor Brake Second (DMBS) +
Trailer Second (TS) +
Driving Trailer Second (DTS)[1]
Diagram BR EB203 or LMS 344A (DMBS)[3]
BR EH214 or LMS 368A (TS)[3]
BR EE202 or LMS 392A (DTS)[3]
Fleet numbers 28672-28690 (DMBS 1938)
28371-28394 (DMBS 1956)
29702-29720 (TS 1938)
29821-29846 (TS 1956)
29271-29289 (DTS 1938)
29131-29156 (DTS 1956)
Capacity 40 (First class)
141 (Third Class)[4]
Operator LMS and British Railways
Depot(s) Birkenhead Central[5][6]
Birkenhead North[6][7]
Line(s) served Wirral Line (1938–1985)
Northern Line (circa. 1980–1985)
Train length 176 ft 11 in (53.92 m)[1]
Car length 58 ft 0 in (17.68 m) (DMBS and DTS)[4]
56 ft 0 in (17.07 m) (TS)[4]
Width 9 ft 11 in (3.02 m) (less over body, greatest width over footsteps)
Height 11 ft 5 in (3.48 m)[4]
Doors 4 × Twin 3 ft 9 in (1.14 m) electro-pneumatic sliding doors per car[4]
Articulated sections 3
Wheelbase 41 ft 0 in (12.50 m) (Centres of bogies)
7 ft 6 in (2.29 m) (Bogie)[4]
Maximum speed 65 mph (105 km/h)[8][3]
Weight Total - 77 long tons (78 t)[4]
Traction system BTH[1][4]
Power output 4 × 135 hp (101 kW) traction motors[4]
total 540 hp (400 kW)
Tractive effort 4 × 93 hp (69 kW) continuous[4]
total 372 hp (277 kW) continuous
Train heating Electric heating, self-ventilated[4]
Electric system(s) 650V dc third rail or fourth rail[4]
Current collection method Contact shoe
UIC classification Bo'Bo'+2'2'+2'2'
Bogies Single bolster[1]
Braking system(s) Westinghouse electro-pneumatic and straight air brakes
Safety system(s) Emergency end doors[1]
Coupling system Buckeye (between sets)[4]
Screw (individual cars)[4]
Multiple working Within class only
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) Standard gauge

British Rail Class 503 trains were 65 mph (105 km/h) electric multiple units. They were introduced in two batches. The first were in 1938, by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) with a further batch (built to a similar design) in 1956 by the then nationalised British Railways (BR). They were designed for, and operated on, the Wirral & Mersey lines from Liverpool to West Kirby, New Brighton, and Rock Ferry. There were few places on their network of closely spaced stations to attain their maximum speed, except for the open section between Moreton and Meols.


A 1938 unit stands at the platform, next to two later 1956 units in the sidings, at West Kirby, in 1982.

The two batches were almost identical, a difference being that the 1938 stock had passenger door-open buttons mounted on the doorleaf itself, whereas on the 1956 the buttons were on the bodyside next to the door.[6] Motor units could be identified from the driving trailers by the ventilation louvres in the bodyside[6] near the car ends which led to ducting down to the motors. Originally, these trains featured a flat front. Emergency end doors were added, in 1972,[1] as part of a Department of Transport directive for when working in a tunnel.[6]

The trains were fitted with position marker lights on the front corners, which were used throughout their life as indicators to signalmen - both top lights for Rock Ferry, both right-hand lights for West Kirby, and one top light for New Brighton.[citation needed]

When first introduced they were seen to be of a very advanced design for a mainline railway's suburban passenger trains, featuring things such as air-operated sliding doors which were opened and closed by the guard[4] (hitherto trains either had "slam doors" or hand-operated sliding doors). Class 503 were the first group of electric trains on the main British railway system with air-operated power doors,[citation needed] located at the quarter points of each coach under the control of the guard, which became a later general standard.


They were not built in the LMS's own workshops, but by contractors in Birmingham, Metro Cammell of Saltley[9] who built the motor coaches, and Birmingham RC&W of Smethwick,[9] which built the underframes.[4] Both of whom had prior experience with building this type of train for the London Underground. Significant points of similarity can be seen between the Class 503 and the London Underground O and P stock, produced shortly beforehand by Birmingham RC&W. The traction motors were supplied by British Thomson-Houston.[1]


Between 1936 and 1938, the Wirral lines were modified and electrified using a 650v DC third rail system.[10] The new stock was used on the West Kirby line on weekdays, and the New Brighton and Rock Ferry lines on Sundays.[11] including inter-running onto the Mersey Railway through to Liverpool, while the older Mersey Railway electric units were now used on the New Brighton route, during the week.[11]

After the 1956 stock was built, it was normal for the West Kirby route to be operated by the newer stock, and the New Brighton/Rock Ferry routes to be operated mostly by 1938 stock. When the Liverpool loop lines were opened, the stock became fully mixed on all routes.[citation needed]

The units spent most of their working lives on the commuter routes between Liverpool and the Wirral; routes which latterly became known as the Wirral Line of Merseyrail. In the early 1980s some units were transferred to the Northern Line for a short period, where they mainly worked the Kirkby to Garston service.[6]

Wartime destruction and replacements[edit]

On the night of 12-13 March 1941[12] four of the 1938 cars, two trailers and two driving trailers,[12] were destroyed by wartime bombing while standing at Birkenhead North in the same air raid that destroyed many Birkenhead Corporation buses at the nearby Laird Street bus garage.[citation needed] The two associated motor cars remained spare until the 1956 batch was built, when four replacement cars were added to the production. This accounts for the unbalanced number of cars produced in 1956. A known feature of the Ian Allan ABC rolling stock books for many years was that the destroyed cars continued to be listed, incorrectly, until well into the 1960s and after the replacements had been built.[citation needed]


Loading gauge restrictions meant the class did not have the width, or length, which was possible with the Class 502 Liverpool to Southport sets introduced shortly afterwards, to a somewhat similar design. Seats in second class were 2+2, and in first class 2+1,[citation needed] and all seats aligned properly with the windows, which were generous arrangements for such short journeys. The Class 508 units introduced as their successors in 1985 were notably less attractive in these respects. The first class seats, which occupied most of the length of the trailer car, were retained unaltered when first class accommodation was discontinued, and from having been little used for much of the trains' lifetime became the most popular accommodation.[citation needed]


The main maintenance depot was at Birkenhead North, dedicated to the units.[13] Careful attention allowed them to remain in good condition right up to their final withdrawal in 1985, unlike some other units elsewhere in the country at this time.[citation needed] Heavy overhauls, including full repaints, were conducted at Horwich Works,[citation needed] near Bolton. Along with other North-West EMUs, a set would be formed up at Birkenhead North with a guard's van at each end and hauled by locomotive via the Birkenhead dock lines, Hooton and Warrington to Horwich.[citation needed]


A six-car set at Rock Ferry, in 1983.

It was normal for the trains to operate as 6-car sets at peak times,[6] reduced to 3-car sets off-peak. As all routes doubled their frequency at peak times as well, much of the stock spent a considerable amount of time out of service. There was no major stabling point on the system, various sidings dispersed around the network being used.[citation needed] For much of the trains' life, effort was put into deciding whether to leave the off-peak formations as 6-car on any day. For instance, during Christmas shopping weeks, or fine Summer Sundays, when the network used to handle much additional traffic from Liverpool and Birkenhead, to the seaside town termini of New Brighton and West Kirby.


British Railways numbers were:

  • Driving Motor Brake Second (DMBS)
    • M28672M-M28690M (19 cars 1938, Metro Cammell).
    • M28371M-M28394M (24 cars 1956, Metro Cammell).
  • Trailer Second (TS) (Trailer Composite (TC) prior to mid-1970s)
    • M29702M-M29720M (19 cars 1938, 29702-12 by Metro Cammell, 29713-20 by BRCW). 29708/17 destroyed 1941.[12]
    • M29821M-M29846M (26 cars 1956, 29821-30 by BRCW, 29833-46 by Metro Cammell). 29831-2 by BRCW as war replacements.[12]
  • Driving Trailer Second (DTS)
    • M29271M-M29289M (19 cars 1938, BRCW). 29277/86 destroyed 1941.[12]
    • M29131M-M29156M (26 cars 1956, 29131-54 by BRCW). 29155-6 by BRCW as war replacements.[12]

Withdrawal and preservation[edit]

The preserved LMS Wirral and Mersey unit at the Electric Railway Museum, Coventry.


The class was replaced by Class 508 units transferred from the Southern Region of British Railways. The 503s were progressively withdrawn from June 1984, the final service train running on 29 March 1985.[14] This was followed by a farewell tour on 13 April 1985.[15][6] Some were scrapped at Cavendish sidings[6][16] on the Birkenhead Dock Branch line, whilst others were scrapped at the nearby Mollington Street depot.[17][18]


A single set, formed of vehicles 28690, 29720 and 29289, was earmarked for preservation. Though never carried on the unit, the set was numbered under the BR TOPS code as 503 019.[citation needed] This was the last of the units built in 1938 to have been brought into service.[citation needed] The unit is also one of the only two pre-war main line EMUs in existence, which are still in original formation. The other being the 2-BIL belonging to the National Railway Museum.[19]

The set was kept in serviceable condition and operated occasional special trains on the Merseyrail network until 1988. The unit, named Ivor T. Davies G.M. on 14 March 1988,[7] was purchased by Wirral Borough Council in 1991 and stored at Kirkdale until 1996.[20] Two parts of the set were then sold and kept at Steamport, Southport.[20] Meanwhile, the Driving Trailer coach (DTS) was kept at the Wirral Transport Museum.[21] The two parts of the unit, which were sold, have been owned by the Suburban Electric Railway Association since purchase by its forerunner, the Mersey and Tyneside Electric Preservationists[22] in 1996, and are stored at the Electric Railway Museum on the outskirts of Coventry. After transport of the Driving Trailer coach from Birkenhead, the entire unit was correctly reformed at the Coventry museum in October 2010, for the first time in over 20 years.[23] The Driving Motor coach (DMBS) interior is open to the public during museum open days.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k The Railway Centre - Class 503 recognition data Accessed 2014-06-04
  2. ^ Suburban Electric Railway Association - Fleet list Accessed 2014-06-04
  3. ^ a b c d Vehicle Diagram Book No. 210 for Electric Multiple Units (Including A.P.T.). Derby: British Railways Board. 1981. p. EB203, EE202, EH214. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Maund, T.B. (2009). The Wirral Railway and its Predecessors. Gloucestershire: Lightmoor Press. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-899-88938-9. 
  5. ^ Gahan, John W. (1983). The Line Beneath The Liners: A hundred years of Mersey Railway sights and sounds. Birkenhead: Countryvise. p. 51. ISBN 9780907768401. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i John Laker, Tony Ballantyne (Photography) (2013). Merseyrail Classes 502 and 503 Remembered (DVD). Middlesex: J & K Video. 
  7. ^ a b Maund, T.B. (2009). The Wirral Railway and its Predecessors. Gloucestershire: Lightmoor Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-1-899-88938-9. 
  8. ^ Barrowmore MRG - BRB Documents - Diagram Book 210 Accessed 2014-06-04
  9. ^ a b Gahan, John W. (1983). Steel Wheels to Deeside - The Wirral Railway past and present. Birkenhead: Countryvise. p. 66. ISBN 0-907768-70-9. 
  10. ^ Maund, T.B. (2009). The Wirral Railway and its Predecessors. Gloucestershire: Lightmoor Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-899-88938-9. 
  11. ^ a b Maund, T.B. (2009). The Wirral Railway and its Predecessors. Gloucestershire: Lightmoor Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-899-88938-9. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f Maund, T.B. (2009). The Wirral Railway and its Predecessors. Gloucestershire: Lightmoor Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-899-88938-9. 
  13. ^ Maund, T.B. (2009). The Wirral Railway and its Predecessors. Gloucestershire: Lightmoor Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-899-88938-9. 
  14. ^ Maund, T.B. (2009). The Wirral Railway and its Predecessors. Gloucestershire: Lightmoor Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-1-899-88938-9. 
  15. ^ Flickr - Merseyrail 503 Farewell Accessed 2014-06-05
  16. ^ Penmorfa - Trains in the Mersey Docks Accessed 2014-06-04
  17. ^ Martyn Hilbert's Railway Photography - Class 503s at Birkenhead Mollington Street Depot. Accessed 2014-06-04
  18. ^ Flickr - Birkenhead Mollington Street Accessed 2014-06-04
  19. ^ Suburban Electric Railway Association - Class 503 Units - Principle Data Accessed 2014-06-05
  20. ^ a b Vintage Carriage Trust Accessed 2014-06-04
  21. ^ Southern Electric Group - Other Third Rail Electric Multiple Units and Locomotives Accessed 2014-06-05
  22. ^ Suburban Electric Railway Association - About Us Accessed 2014-06-04
  23. ^ LMS Class 503 unit - Back together at last ! Accessed 2014-06-05

External links[edit]