British Rail Class 503
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (August 2010)|
|British Rail Class 503|
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.
|Manufacturer||Metro Cammell, Birmingham RC&W|
|Formation||power car + trailer + driving trailer|
|Operator||LMS and British Railways|
|Car length||58 ft 0 in (17.68 m)|
|Width||9 ft 11 in (3.02 m) (less over body, greatest width over footsteps)|
|Height||11 ft 10 1⁄4 in (3.613 m)|
|Maximum speed||70mph (110 km/h)|
|Weight||Total - 77 long tons (78 t)|
|Power output||4 × 135 hp (101 kW) traction motors
total 540 hp (400 kW)
|Electric system(s)||650V dc third rail|
|Track gauge||standard gauge|
British Rail Class 503 trains were 70 mph (110 km/h) electric multiple units. They were introduced in two batches — 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.
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. Motor units could be identified visually from the driving trailers by the ventilation louvres in the bodyside near the car ends which led to ducting down to the motors. 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. Originally these trains featured a flat front — the doors were added in 1972 as part of a Department of Transport directive for when working in tunnel.
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 (hitherto trains either had "slam doors" or hand-operated sliding doors). Class 503 were the first group of electric trains on the main British rail system with air-operated power doors, 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, and Birmingham RC&W, 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.
From 1938, when the LMS electrified from Birkenhead Park to New Brighton and West Kirby, extending the Mersey Railway electrification from Liverpool, this new stock was principally used on the West Kirby route, including inter-running onto the Mersey Railway through to Liverpool, while the older Mersey Railway stock now was used on the New Brighton route. After the 1956 stock was built it was normal for the West Kirby route to be operated by this 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.
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.
Wartime destruction and replacements
On 12 March 1941 four of the 1938 cars, two trailers and two driving trailers, were destroyed by wartime bombing while standing at Birkenhead North (the same air raid that destroyed many Birkenhead Corporation buses at the nearby Laird Street bus garage). 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.
Loading gauge restrictions meant the class did not have the width, or length, which was possible with the Class 502 Liverpool-Southport sets introduced shortly afterwards, to a somewhat similar design. Seats in second class were 2+2, and in first class 2+1, 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.
The main maintenance depot was at Birkenhead North, dedicated to the units, where 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. Heavy overhauls, including full repaints, were conducted at Horwich works, 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.
It was normal for the trains to operate as 6-car sets at peak times, 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. For much of the trains' life effort was put into deciding whether to leave the off-peak formations as 6-car on any day, such as 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:
- Motor Open Brake Second
- M28672M-M28690M (19 cars 1938, Metro Cammell)
- M28371M-M28394M (24 cars 1956, Metro Cammell)
- Trailer Open Composite (Second class only after mid-1970s)
- M29702M-M29720M (19 cars 1938, 29702-12 by Metro Cammell, 29713-20 by BRCW). 29708/17 destroyed 1941.
- M29821M-M29846M (26 cars 1956, 29821-30 by BRCW, 29831-2 by BRCW as war replacements, 29833-46 by Metro Cammell)
- Driving Trailer Open Second
- M29271M-M29289M (19 cars 1938, BRCW). 29277/86 destroyed 1941.
- M29131M-M29156M (26 cars 1956, 29131-54 by BRCW, 29155-6 by BRCW as war replacements)
Withdrawal and preservation
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. This was followed by a farewell tour on 13 April 1985.
A single set, formed of vehicles 28690, 29720 and 29289, was earmarked for preservation. It was kept in serviceable condition and operated occasional special trains on the Merseyrail network until 1988. The unit is now owned by the Suburban Electric Railway Association and is stored at Electric Railway Museum, Warwickshire on the outskirts of Coventry. The Driving Motor Coach interior is open to the public during museum open days.
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