British Rail Class 508

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British Rail Class 508
Class 508 at Liverpool Lime Street
Class 508 interior 1.jpg
Class 508 interior
In service 1979 - Current
Manufacturer BREL
Order number 30979 (DMSO)
30980 (TSO)
30981 (BDMSO)[1]
Built at BREL York
Family name BREL 1972 "PEP"
Replaced British Rail Class 503
Constructed 1979-80
Entered service 17 December 1979
Refurbishment 27 Merseyrail sets 2002 - 2004
Alstom Eastleigh Works
Number built 43 trainsets
Number scrapped 12 trainsets fully scrapped, 3 trainsets partly scrapped
Formation 3 cars per trainset (originally 4 cars)
Diagram EA208 (DMSO)
EH218 (TSO)
EI203 (BDMSO)[1][2]
Design code 508
Fleet numbers 508001-043 (as built)
508101-143 (Merseyrail)
64649-64691 (DMSO)
71483-71525 (TSO)
71526-71568 (TSO, as built)
64692-64734 (BDMSO)[3]
Capacity 320 seats (as built)
234 seats (508/1)
222 seats (508/1 modified, 508/3)
219 seats (508/2), 192 seats (Merseyrail refurbished)
Operator(s) Merseyrail
Depot(s) Birkenhead North
Hall Road[1]
Line(s) served Northern Line
Wirral Line
Car body construction Steel underframe and body frame, aluminium body and roof[2]
Train length 264ft 10in (as built)[3]
199ft 7in
Car length 19.8 m (65 ft) (over body)[2]
Width 2.82 m (9.3 ft) (over body)[2]
Height 3.58 m (11.7 ft)[2]
Entry 1.146 m (3.76 ft)[2]
Doors 4 × Twin electro-pneumatic sliding doors per car
2 × electro-pneumatic sliding doors per driving car
2 × gangway end doors per car
Articulated sections 4 (as built)
3 (Merseyrail)
Wheelbase 14.170 m (46.49 ft) (bogie centres, per car)[2]
Maximum speed 75 mph (121 km/h)[1]
Weight 104.5 tonnes (102.8 long tons)
36.15 t (35.58 long tons; 39.85 short tons) (DMSO)
26.72 t (26.30 long tons; 29.45 short tons) (TSO)
36.61 t (36.03 long tons; 40.36 short tons) (BDMSO)[1]
Traction motors GEC G310AZ or Brush TM61-53[2]
Power output 656 kW (880 hp) from 8 x GEC G310AZ electric motor (82.125kW each)[3]
Train heating Electric-ducted warm air[2]
Electric system(s) 750/850 V DC Third rail[1][2]
Current collection method Contact shoe
UIC classification Bo'Bo'+2'2'+Bo'Bo'
Bogies BX1[1][2]
Braking system(s) Disc and rheostatic[1][3]
Safety system(s) Emergency end doors
Coupling system Automatic tightlock (outer)
Bar (inner)
Multiple working Within class and Class 507
Headlight type Fluorescent and tungsten[2]
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) Standard gauge
One TSO removed to Class 455/7[1]

British Rail Class 508 electric multiple units (EMUs) were built by BREL York works in 1979-80. They were the fourth variant of BR's standard 1972 design for suburban EMUs, eventually encompassing 755 vehicles and five classes (313/314/315/507/508). They have mostly worked on the Merseyrail network since 1983, and continue to do so, now refurbished by Alstom's Eastleigh Works. The fleet is ageing, and Southeastern and London Overground have completely replaced them. The Class 508 unit is now 37 years old, making them among the oldest units still in service on the UK mainland rail network, after the Class 313 and Class 507.


The class was developed for Merseyside following extensive trials and testing of the 4Pep/2Pep stock built in the early 1970s. Testing of Class 313 took place on the Northern Line on Merseyside, using 313003/005/013/063 loaned from the Great Northern Line of the Eastern Region to Hall Road depot. Original plans were drawn up for 58 508s to be constructed, although costing issues limited the eventual number to 43. However, following planning and building, British Rail decided to divert the 508s to work alongside much older first-generation 4Sub EMUs in the London Waterloo area. Based at Wimbledon Park depot, they soon became very unpopular due to their being non-standard.[citation needed] Once a new build of Class 455 EMUs were complete, the 508s were slowly sent to their originally intended home on the Merseyrail network. The 508 fleet then began to work alongside the already well-established fleet of Class 507 EMUs, which had been working on Merseyside since 1978.

Delivered to the Southern Region as four-car sets numbered 508 001–043, all of the sets were reduced to three cars for Merseyside operation by the removal of one trailer and renumbered as 508/1. The individual passenger door controls were plated over before they were sent north. The spare trailer car from each set was incorporated into class 455/7 EMUs. Carriage numbering is as follows:

  • 64649-64691 - DMSO
  • 71483-71525 - TSO
  • 71526–71568 – TSO (removed before transfer to Merseyside)
  • 64692-64734 - BDMSO

Current operations[edit]


Merseyrail operates 27 508s, which are used interchangeably between the Northern Line and the Wirral Line. They commonly work the following services:

A Class 508 unit enters the stabling point at Rock Ferry.

Merseyrail's fleet of Class 508 units are primarily maintained at Birkenhead North TMD, with minor maintenance being undertaken at Kirkdale TMD. The units, which are out of service, have stabling points at various sidings around the Merseyrail network. These can be found at the station termini and the depots, as well as at Rock Ferry station and Birkenhead North station.

Past operations[edit]


Connex South Eastern leased 12 Class 508s freed up by capacity reductions on Merseyrail services in 1996 (508101/105/106/107/109/113/116/119/121/129/132/133), for operation on specific Kent services. Their main duties included London Bridge to Tunbridge Wells, Paddock Wood to Strood, Maidstone West to Three Bridges and Sittingbourne to Sheerness-on-Sea, as well as Grove Park to Bromley North for a short period. Units were based at Gillingham Depot.[4]

In September 2006 new operator Southeastern announced that a cascade of rolling stock would see Class 466 units replace the 508s on the Sheerness and Medway Valley lines in the December 2006 timetable.[5] Following this timetable change the fleet was reduced to six serviceable units. There were five sets in 'warm store' at Ashford Chart Leacon, and one unit, 508212, was cannibalised to keep the surviving service units in operation, including the swap of its TSO coach with one from a unit that ran into a tree on the Redhill to Tonbridge Line. With the transfer of the Tonbridge to London via Redhill services to Southern, Southeastern placed its remaining 508s in store in December 2008.


Silverlink leased three 508s from Angel Trains in 2003 for operation on the Watford DC Line to assist its fleet of Class 313 EMUs. These were withdrawn following the delivery of Class 378 Capitalstar units. These three Class 508/3 units were modified by Alstom Eastleigh to designs provided by Interfleet Technology to make them inter-operable with Class 313 units.

Fleet information[edit]

A Class 508 at Hampton Court in 1984, with its original number and livery.
  • They were originally numbered 508001–508043. When they transferred to Merseyside they were renumbered to 508101–508143 and designated as Class 508/1 to avoid confusion with the similarly numbered Class 507s.
  • The Merseyrail 508s were refurbished in 2003/04, the first unit to re-enter service being 508110. The final unit to leave for the works for refurbishment was formerly black-striped 508137.
  • Southeastern units were renumbered 508/2 when they were refurbished in 1996. 508203, 205, 207, 208, 210 and 211 were further overhauled at Wabtec, Doncaster in 2007.
  • Silverlink units were renumbered 508/3 when they were refurbished in 2003, modified to make them compatible with Class 313s for operation on Euston to Watford Junction services.
  • Both Southeastern and London Overground have withdrawn their fleets for replacement - Southeastern has been able to cascade existing rolling stock to the Sheerness and Medway lines, while the London Bridge to Tonbridge via Redhill service has been transferred to Southern; London Overground has fully introduced its new Class 378 units.
  • 508/2 units 508201-508206, 508209, 508211 and 508212 as well as parts of 508207, 508208 and 508210 were scrapped at Eastleigh in 2013.
  • 508/2 BDMSO carriages 64710 (508208) and 64720 (508210) survive.
  • DMSO carriage 64664 and BDMSO carriage 64707 (ex. 508207) are in use as translator vehicles[6]
  • All of the 508/3 units were scrapped at Eastleigh in 2013.
Class Operator No. in service Year Built Cars per Set Unit nos. Notes
Class 508/1 Merseyrail 27 1979–80 3 508103–508104, 508108, 508110–508112, 508114–508115, 508117, 508120,
508122–508128, 508130–508131, 508134, 508136–508141, 508143
Converted from 508/0
Class 508/2 -- 0 508201–508206, 508208–508212
GBRf[7] 1 2 508207 (departmental use)
Class 508/3 -- 0 3 508301–508303
Class 508/1 diagram

Network Rail's Route Utilisation Strategy for Merseyside has called for an expansion to Merseyrail's current fleet to allow for both additional services and lengthening of trains to six cars. In December 2009 it was reported by various sources that the former Southeastern and London Overground units would be transferred to Merseyrail.[8][9] Two ex-London-Overground units were moved to Warrington Arpley Yard in November 2009, but returned south soon after. Meanwhile, the ex Southeastern 508s were moved to Telford Railfreight Terminal for storage between May 2010 and February 2011 [10] before they moved to Eastleigh for further storage in late 2011. On 14 August 2012, 508212 was moved to the Fire Training College at Moreton-in-Marsh.[11]


Southeastern unit 508210 at London Bridge
London Overground unit 508301 stands at London Euston in Silverlink Metro livery.

Class 508s have appeared in many colours over their lifetimes, more so than any EMU of similar type.

  • BR Blue and Grey (1979–1997): the initial livery lasted until well into their careers on Merseyside. The units also carried the MPTE 69 logo and Merseyrail branding on the driver's side of the outer ends of the driving vehicles after transfer to Merseyside.
  • Merseyrail Original (1992–2001; repaints 2002–2004): yellow with white around the windows and black and grey stripes, exclusive to Merseyside EMUs.
  • Merseyrail Revised (2000–2004): a lighter yellow, and no black stripe.
  • Merseyrail Refurbished (2003–2015): silver, with vertical curved yellow stripes receding from the cab ends. The passenger doors were all yellow, introduced as a safety measure by Merseyrail. 'M' branding on the front ends and on the sides, and a Merseyrail vinyl. The vinyl was purchased without graffiti protection, and so it does not wear well if vandalised. Several sets are ran with their 'M' logos missing or worn away.
  • Connex Yellow and White (1996–2006): white with yellow effects down the sides.
  • South Eastern Trains (2005–2006): white with yellow and black side stripes. Unit 508208 was one of the first to receive this, in May 2005.
  • Southeastern (April 2006 – December 2008): white, black and grey as carried by the 465/466 fleet, with the doors in corporate lilac.
  • Silverlink Metro (2004–): purple, green and silver, applied when they were modified in 2003.
  • Merseyrail Capital of Culture (2008–2009): based around the Merseyrail Refurbished livery, with overlain graphics. One of the four sets in the promotional Capital of Culture liveries is 508134, with the theme of creativity with a purple background. Photographs depicted focus on some of the weird and wonderful innovations from Liverpool, such as the SuperLambBanana. The colourful liveries met with mixed reactions from travellers. It was most often on the Southport – Hunts Cross line. Passenger doors carry diagonal safety stripes.[12][13]
The train in The Beatles Story livery at Hillside railway station.
508108 at Moreton displaying one of the Merseyrail Good Communications liveries.
  • Merseyrail The Beatles Story (October 2011 –): blue background, with mainly-white text and graphics, advertising The Beatles Story exhibition at the Albert Dock in Liverpool. The passenger doors are all yellow, as a safety measure which was introduced, previously, by Merseyrail. The livery is applied as a vinyl skin.[14] This livery is unique to unit number 508111.
  • Merseyrail Good Communications (February 2014 –): six different designs, half with a yellow background, and half with a brushed metal background.[15] Both sides have lifestyle text, in a rounded font, and graphics along a lower railway map-type stubbed stripe. The passenger doors are white, on the yellow coaches,[16] and yellow on the brushed metal coaches. There is Merseyrail 'M' branding on each of the passenger doors, as well as on the cab fronts. The livery is applied as a vinyl skin.[17]


Named units are as follows:[18][19]


Birkenhead Fire[edit]

508118 was gutted by fire during 2001 at Birkenhead.

Crowhurst derailment[edit]

On 6 March 2007 508210, forming the 0500 Tonbridge to Gatwick Airport, derailed near Crowhurst, Surrey, after hitting a fallen tree on the line. None of the eight people on board were hurt.[21]

Liverpool Central derailment[edit]

On 26 October 2005 508124, forming 2W43 1706 West Kirby return via Liverpool Lime Street, derailed 200m short of Liverpool Central, caused by track gauge widening due to poor track condition. There were no serious injuries. The RAIB report[22] cited incompatibility between Class 508 (and 507) EMUs and the Liverpool Loop track as a causal factor, along with maintenance and other track design concerns.

Plans for replacement[edit]

On 14 May 2012, Merseytravel announced that it was beginning a project for replacement of the 508s and 507s, with new trains to be expected by 2017.[23]

Merseytravel is considering several options to modernise the Merseyrail rolling stock by the end of the decade. This includes new stock or an extensive re-working of the existing Class 507s and 508s.[24] The lease on the Class 507s and 508s has been extended to 2018. As part of the agreement with Angel Trains, the fleet will receive a refresh package including external re-livery, internal enhancements and engineering work.[25]

On 11 January 2016 Merseytravel announced the short list of companies bidding to build new trains which will replace the Class 507 and Class 508s on the Merseyrail network.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Fox, Peter (1994). Electric Multiple Units. British Railways Pocket Book No.4 (7th ed.). Platform 5. p. 86. ISBN 9781872524603. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "BRB Documents - Diagram Book 210" (PDF). Barrowmore MRG. Retrieved 31 January 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Class 508". The Railway Centre. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 31 January 2016. 
  4. ^ "Class 508". Kent Rail. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  5. ^ "New Southeastern timetable begins in December". 5 September 2006. Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  6. ^ "EMU Formations". AbRail Rail Databases. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  7. ^ "EMU Formations". AbRail. Retrieved 28 November 2015. 
  8. ^ Broadbent, Steve (December 2008). "Merseyside RUS addresses serious growth issues". Rail (Peterborough) (607): 10–11. ISSN 0953-4563. 
  9. ^ "North Wales Coast Railway Noticeboard". Charlie Hulme. 4 December 2009. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  10. ^ "South-Eastern & Connex South-Eastern Class 508/2s at Donnington Railfreight Terminal, Telford". Flickr. 
  11. ^ "508212 goes to Moreton Aug 12". Flickr. 
  12. ^ Matty P's Railway Pics Accessed 2014-06-05
  13. ^ Stewart Signs - Step on the Culture train! Accessed 2014-06-05
  14. ^ Stewart Signs - Stewart Signs wrap The Beatles Story train for Merseytravel's ultimate Ticket to Ride! Accessed 2014-06-05
  15. ^ Merseyrail - New Look Trains Accessed 2014-06-05
  16. ^ RMWeb - 507017 breaks cover in the new Merseyrail livery Accessed 2014-06-05
  17. ^ Prolific North - Good Communications designs new-look Merseyrail trains Accessed 2014-06-05
  18. ^ "The Encyclopaedia of Modern Traction Names". Retrieved 15 December 2010. 
  19. ^ "AbRail Rail Databases - Electric Multiple Units". 
  20. ^ "T7 001". Flickr.  508207 - nameplate in unit
  21. ^ "Train derails after hitting tree". BBC News. 6 March 2007. Retrieved 3 March 2008. 
  22. ^ "Derailment near Liverpool Central underground station 26 October 2005". RAIB. 11 August 2006. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  23. ^ "Merseytravel signals go ahead for new trains". Merseytravel. 14 May 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  24. ^ "Burges Salmon advises Merseyrail Electrics on rolling stock arrangements". 
  25. ^ "Best Merseyrail service for two years". 
  26. ^ "Merseyrail trains bidder shortlist announced".