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Commuting by Electricity

Class 503 Wirral EMU

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This three coach train was built in late 1937 and was introduced in 1938. It was a huge departure for the local services when they replaced steam and must have looked like a spacecraft compared to the tired and outdated coaches they replaced.

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They were introduced to services between Liverpool and the Wirral lines of Rock Ferry, New Brighton and West Kirby.

 

The latter two destinations had been converted to electricity to allow for the introduction of these new trains; previously passengers

on these lines had to change trains at Birkenhead to continue through the Mersey Railway tunnel to Liverpool but that practice ceased for good with the advent of electricity.

The trains were made entirely from steel with electric lights and heating. The passengers boarded and alighted via two pairs of air operated sliding doors on each side of the carriage.

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Electrically controlled brakes and powerful motors gave these trains a level of performance that had never been seen on a mainline commuter railway outside of London before.

So successful was the design that when British Railways needed a new batch of trains to supplement the service in 1956 they simply asked the original builders to provide more of the same.

The class 503s remained in regular service until retired in 1985. One complete set of the original batch was retained for three years by BR and used on special trains but that life extension came to an end and the plan was to have it preserved in a museum in Birkenhead.

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Plans fell through for this and the unit was saved from being scrapped by a private preservation group and moved to the site of the Electric Railway Museum in Coventry. Sadly, that museum closed in 2017 when the local authority sold the land for redevelopment.

The unit then passed to the Heritage Electric Trains Trust who intend to carry out a full restoration back to operational condition.