British Rail Class 309

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British Rail Class 309
Clacton Express
21.03.81 London Liverpool Street 309.625 (5958456051).jpg
In service 1962-2000
Manufacturer BR York
Constructed 1962-1963
Number built 76 cars
Formation 2/3/4 cars per trainset
Operator British Rail
Maximum speed 100 mph (161 km/h)
Weight Total - 99 long tons (101 t; 111 short tons) (309/1)
Total - 168 long tons (171 t; 188 short tons) (309/2)
Total - 167 long tons (170 t; 187 short tons) (309/3)
Braking system(s) Air (EP/Auto)
Multiple working Class 303-312
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
The front of a Class 309 train in blue/grey InterCity livery with original 'wrap around' cab windows at London Liverpool Street station
The front of a Class 309 train in blue/grey InterCity livery with modified front windows at London Liverpool Street station

The British Rail Class 309 "Clacton Express" electric multiple units (EMUs) were built by British Rail (BR) York Works from 1962-1963. They were initially classified as Class AM9 before the introduction of TOPS. These units were the first express 25 kV alternating current (AC) units to be built by British Rail, and British Rail's first EMUs to be capable of 100 mph.


Twenty-three units were built in three different batches.

  • 601-608 - Two-car units
  • 611-618 - Four-car units containing a griddle car
  • 621-627 - Four-car units

Each unit had identical electrical equipment. The original concept called for increasing the power-to-weight ratio when strengthening trains from eight to ten cars in peak periods using the 2-car units, in order to make the peak timetable more resilient.


When built, units were used exclusively on Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) express services from London Liverpool Street to Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze (also marketed as the Sunshine Coast Line)[citation needed]. Trains would be formed of three units in a ten-car formation (i.e. one two car unit, and two four car units). The train would divide at Thorpe-le-Soken, with one of the 4-cars units used on the Walton section, and the remaining six cars continuing to Clacton. The Clacton portion usually included the griddle car unit, and was always the second to leave Thorpe-le-Soken, being the rear (London end) portion of the coastbound train.

This continued until the late 1970s, when many of the units were reformed. The two-car units were augmented to four-car units between 1977 and 1980, with the addition of converted former locomotive-hauled coaching stock. In 1980, the griddle cars were taken out of use, reducing units 611-618 to 3-car units. They were later augmented to 4-car units during the refurbishment work.

The entire fleet was refurbished in the period 1985-1987. The first units outshopped were painted in the bold new London and SouthEastern "Jaffa Cake" livery. However, this was soon superseded by the equally bold Network SouthEast livery, which was introduced in 1986. Coinciding with the refurbishment work, in 1985 electrification spread north from Colchester to Ipswich, and later to Harwich and Norwich. This meant the Class 309 units were soon introduced on fast trains to Ipswich and Harwich.

In 1989, new Class 321/3 units were introduced onto GEML services partially replacing both class 309 and Class 312 diagrams. The "Clacton Express" units however continued until May 1992 in main service and then a reduced fleet operated a few rush hour services until January 1994. The last units were withdrawn on 22 January 1994, despite their recent and expensive refurbishment. After working a final railtour (15 January 1994) and the week of normal services a final Saturday diagram was run with 309626/613/616 ending on the 1800 Liverpool Street - Clacton.[1] However, not all units were immediately scrapped, and seven were retained for possible reuse around Manchester on suburban trains. These units were stored at Blackpool.

In 1994, Regional Railways North West (RRNW) acquired the seven redundant units stored at Blackpool. The units, nos. 309613/616/617/624/626/627, were quickly put to use on suburban passenger services from Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe and Stoke-on-Trent. Six of the units were repainted in RRNW blue livery with a green stripe. The seventh, no. 309624, was repainted in a special blue livery to commemorate the opening a new railway line to Manchester International Airport in 1996. Upon privatisation, the units passed to the North Western Trains (NWT) franchise. This was later renamed First North Western (FNW) following First Group's take-over of the franchise.

By the late 1990s, the seven units saw continued use around Manchester. They also saw some use on longer distance services, with one booked daily Manchester Piccadilly-Birmingham International service and return. On occasion, units were used on NWT's Manchester-London Euston service, deputising for a non-available Class 322 unit. At one point, it was planned to use the units on a new Crewe-Carlisle stopping service, but this did not happen. However, the end was in sight, because as part of their franchise commitment, FNW had to replace their slam-door rolling stock, including the Class 309 units. New Class 175 diesel multiple units were introduced in 1999-2000, and FNW discontinued its Manchester-Euston service. This meant that the "Clacton Express" units were surplus to requirements. As a farewell gesture, three units were used on a final railtour from Manchester to their old haunt of Clacton-on-Sea via London Liverpool Street. Following this tour, all seven units were withdrawn in late 2000, and sent for storage at MoD Pig's Bay near Shoeburyness. Two of the units later saw further use in departmental service, whilst the remaining five were scrapped in 2004.

Further use[edit]

Following withdrawal from normal service, two units were convered to Class 960 departmental units in 2001 for further use as cab-signalling test units. The two units concerned were reduced in length to 3-car units, and were based at the test track at Old Dalby in Leicestershire. Both units were painted in a blue and white livery.

  • 960101 (ex-309616) - named "West Coast Flyer"
  • 960102 (ex-309624) - named "New Dalby"

They were withdrawn in 2004 following completion of the tests. both were stored at MoD Pig's Bay, near Shoeburyness, Essex, until early 2009 when they finally entered preservation.



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