Spotlight on the Class 502

Listed amongst the exhibits of Steamport Southport was a two-car Class 502 EMU. The unit is now in the hands of The Friends of the 502 Group and is being restored undercover at nearby Burscough….

The British Rail Class 502 was a type of electric multiple unit originally built by the London Midland and Scottish Railway at their Derby Works. Introduced in 1940 and withdrawn by 1980, they spent the whole of their working lives on the electrified railway lines of north Liverpool.
The trains were designed to replace older electric trains built by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway on the lines from Liverpool Exchange station to Southport and Ormskirk. These lines were electrified with a Direct Current (DC) third rail. The Class 502s entered service between 1940 and 1943. They were DC-only and operated as both 3-car and 2-car sets, which could be coupled together to form 5-car or 6-car sets for use on the busier services.

A very modern design for the time, they were equipped with air-operated sliding doors. They were similar to (but somewhat larger than) the Class 503s operating on the Wirral, being both longer and wider, the latter allowing 3+2 seating on the Southport 502s compared to 2+2 seating on the Wirral 503s. In addition the 502s had distinctive large resistance cooling grids mounted on top of the cab roof of the motor units. Virtually all electric suburban passenger trains in Great Britain now follow the basic layout pioneered by the Class 502s and 503s, with two sets of double-leaf air operated sliding doors on each side of each carriage. Unlike the Wirral Class 503s, which were built by contractors familiar with this type of layout on London Underground trains, the 502s which followed shortly afterwards were built by the LMS’s own workshops in Derby. The 502s had conventional railway buffers at the end of each set, as they did a considerable amount of interworking with steam and later diesel services, whereas the 503s in the Wirral had automatic Buckeye couplers and no buffers, as they did very little inter-running with services from outside.

Apart from the construction differences, both types of train were given heavy overhauls at Horwich works, and the common red/black/grey seat moquette, and grey paint used on the interiors, plus other common details, gave them a considerable air of similarity.
The principal depot was in Southport, on the Preston / Manchester lines at Meols Cop. In the olden days there was a triangle, and the Works were situated in the middle. The Preston line closed in the mid-sixties, and the electrified lines from Southport to Meols Cop remained for a further six years, to enable the Merseyrail 502 stock to reach the Depot under their own power. Meols Cop closed in 1970. Hall Road also had a Maintenance Depot, and sidings to the north of station; and at the side of the Depot. Stabling points were also situated outside Southport Chapel Street station and at Bank Hall, to the west of the four live running tracks. The Bank Hall stabling point fell into disuse prior to the Loop and Link extensions of the seventies.

British Railways numbers were:
Motor Open Brake Second, M28311M-M28369M
Trailer Open Second, M29545M-M29594M
Trailer Open Second (built as composite), M29812M-M29820M
Driving Trailer Open Composite, M29866M-M29899M
These formed, notionally, 34 3-car units Motor-Trailer-Driving Trailer, and 25 2-car units Motor-Trailer. The 2-car units only had a driving cab at one end and could not be operated on their own, only coupled to one of the 3-car units, which was an unusual feature of this stock. It was normal to form the main 5-car sets with the motor cars at the outer ends of the formation, and the trailer coupled to the driving trailer in the centre. The 6-car sets were formed with motor cars at the outer ends of the formation with the driving trailers coupled together in the centre.

There were a number of different formations used, but 5-car sets were usual on the main Southport and Ormskirk routes, with a couple of the busiest peak trains being 6-car, formed of two three-car units coupled together. The Crossens shuttle was a 3-car unit, or a specially formed Motor-Driving Trailer 2-car unit.

As initially built there was considerable overprovision of first class accommodation, which usually ran virtually empty on these routes. This is an issue seen on some other suburban routes as well. The composite trailers were eventually converted to all-second, and the driving trailers followed in the 1970s when first class provision was finally withdrawn on these routes.

The units were painted various colours over the years. When initially built in 1939 they were the standard LMS maroon red.
After railway nationalisation in the late 1940s they were all repainted the standard BR dark green for EMUs. When BR changed their liveries in the mid-1960s the units were repainted plain Rail Blue. Towards the end of their life, in the late 1970s, they were repainted again in their first two-tone livery, the standard blue and grey, in which scheme they were withdrawn.

Find out more about the restoration programme at