The Trains that brought you home
Two iconic suburban electric units, built either side of World War II, operated on their respective networks, hundreds of miles apart but both responsible for millions of passenger journeys – and now the last survivors of their type!
The Southern 4-SUB and Class 503 Wirral units are now united under a single project to conserve, restore and ultimately operate them for what they are, examples of the everyday train from the 1940s through to the mid 1980s.
These were the trains that brought you home from days work, a shopping trip, a football match and a night out. They were there for you for decades, unnoticed, unrecognised and taken for granted. They were an everyday part of your life that has now passed into history.
The Class 503 units were built in two batches. The first in 1938 by Met-Cam and the BRC&W Co. for use on newly electrified third rail services between Liverpool Central and the Wirral peninsular destinations or Rock Ferry, West Kirby and New Brighton via the Mersey Railway but run by the London Midland & Scottish Railway.
The second batch was built in 1956 to replace the original Mersey Railway stock and was almost identical to those built 18 years earlier. The preserved unit is from the earlier LMS batch. All were withdrawn from traffic in 1985.
Both units were retained by British Rail beyond the scrapping of all their class mates. The 503 ran until 1988 on special trains, including the inaugural first electric trains from Rock Ferry to Hooton, whilst 4732 gained notoriety for being saved by British Rail to operate special charter services with the ‘Southern’ livery that was applied units built before nationalisation (which 4732 wasn’t). It often worked alongside the 2-BIL unit now in the National Collection and was retired immediately prior to privatisation in 1996.
The 4-SUB units were produced from 1941 through until 1951 with an incredible 185 of these trains constructed, with a large amount of them built in Lancing using both new and recycled underframes.
The curved body sides and steel bodies, new to the Southern Region, enabled the move from ten to twelve seats per compartment thanks to the additional width.
As such, the 4-SUB units would find themselves working out of all of London’s southern termini including Holborn Viaduct, Waterloo, Charing Cross, Cannon Street, Victoria and London Bridge to destinations across the Southern suburban network.
The final working of a 4-SUB was in September 1983 from Victoria to East Croydon which would coincide with the introduction of the fleet of Class 455s on the ‘South Central’.
In 2019 we became
Established in 2019, the Heritage Electric Trains Trust (HETT) was set up to ensure the survival of these two unique icons of 20th Century suburban rail travel.
HETT became a registered charity in 2019 with a mission to fully restore these trains from their current state and eventually have them displayed and operated so they can once again tell their story to visitors of heritage railways in the UK.
Operation of third rail electric units is difficult to achieve as there are no electrified heritage railways and neither unit will ever be suitable for operation on the main line so we will not be pursuing that option.
Our intention is to equip both units to be self-propelled by installing bi-mode technology to enable them to be run under their own power from an on board power supply.
Both units had to be recovered from the closure of the Electric Railway Museum in Coventry and moved to secure under cover accommodation.
> Objective completed June 2018
The HETT organisation had to be set up with a strong and capable management team before being registered as a Charity.
> Objective completed June 2019
Enlist supporters to fund the ongoing safe storage of the vehicles.
> Objective ongoing with ‘750 Supply’
Commence the cosmetic restoration of the first driving car of the 4-SUB unit 4732 to act as an ambassador for the project.
Commencement of the restoration of the remaining three vehicles of the 4-SUB unit 4732.
Design and installation of bi-mode technology to make the 4-SUB unit 4732 self propelled.
Repeat the process for the Class 503
‘Wirral’ three-car units.