3 Car Suburban Units

The London and South Western Railway had developed a substantial suburban network to the south west of London, in Surrey and Middlesex and along the Thames valley. This was based on a series of loop lines from Waterloo and along the South Western main line with branches to Hampton Court, Dorking and Guildford. However in the early years of the 20th century a critical situation regarding competition had developed not only with electric trams but the District Railway had been electrified and the Piccadilly and Central London tubes had newly been built.

By 1907 the London and North Western Railway had got parliamentary approval to electrify their suburban services north-west of London and work had begun in 1909. At the same time they took over the management of the North London Railway and as a result of this the NLR route from Broad Street to Richmond was added to the system



The first of the "Nutcrackers" originally numbered E01 by the LSWR and seen here in Southern days carrying the number 1201

photograph: UKTrainsSim

From the LSWR's point of view the last straw came in 1912 when a group of officials from Local Authorities from the South West of London made it known that they would support the Central London Railway in its proposal to also extend its line to Richmond and thence into the Thames valley and possibly in the direction of Chertsey. This resulted in the immediate announcement that the LSWR would electrify their innermost suburban lines from Waterloo.

The District and North London lines used systems where the outer conductor rail carried the 600 volts DC supply and the centre conductor rail was the return. The District was already running services over the LSWR's Putney to Wimbledon line and the decision was made that the LSWR should not copy the LBSCR, which had main line aspirations, but use the tried and tested system for suburban use. The side conductor rail with top contact by pick-up shoe would be the most suitable. The supply was to be 600 volts DC with negative return by way of the running rails. The only alteration that then needed to be made for the three systems to be compatible and services of the LSWR to run over the same track as the District and the NLR was for the centre conductor rail to be bonded to the running rails.

A pair of "Nutcrackers" leaving Hounslow on a loop line service from Waterloo in the early twenties.

photograph:R C Riley

Eighty-four three-car electric multiple units were provided for this scheme.They set the trend for much of the electric stock built by the Southern Railway from then on in that they were rebuilt from existing ten-year-old steam hauled coaching stock. The accommodation was generally in compartment form but seating was a bit idiosyncratic resulting from the arrangement that four three car electric units were made up from three four-car steam hauled sets. Not only that but the original steam hauled sets catered for first, second and third class passengers whilst the new electric units only catered for first and third.

These units were promptly nicknamed "Nutcrackers" presumably because of the pronounced torpedo shaped driving end to the motor coaches. The cars were close coupled together within the unit and the electrical equipment was mounted in a small compartment behind the cab with a guard and luggage compartment at each end. The power bogies were mounted under the luggage compartment and had one 275hp motor for each axle giving a total of 1100hp for each three-car unit.

Link to Southern Railway Films on YouTube showing early "Nutcrackers" at work.

Southern Electric - vintage units at Teddington and Queenstown Road.


During 1934 the original Nutcrackers were lengthened and rebuilt onto standard steel under frames. Like all the 3 car suburban units they were increased in capacity in the late 1940s by the addition of an augmentation trailer, re-classified as 4Sub and renumbered in the 4xxx series.

Nutcracker3 Renumbered as Nº4134 with what seems to be a matching augmentation trailer seen here at Clapham Junction on a Waterloo - Twickenham via Teddington special.

photograph by A J Wills.


Although efforts were made to match the augmentation trailer with the rest of the unit this didn't always work out in practice and a lot of making-do and mending was done after the war when the backlog of maintenance and war damage repairs often became critical.

Nº4537 seen here leaving Clapham Junction in January 1956 - not only with a new wide bodied Bulleid trailer but the second trailer doesn't seem to match either!

photograph by A J Wills.

Nutcracker5 Nº4227 formerly Nº1278 thankfully augmented with a matching trailer. Having been re-classified as a 4Sub Nº 4227 it remained in service until 1954

photograph British Railways.

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This page was last updated 2 April 2013

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