British Rail Class 221

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"Virgin Voyager" redirects here. For the Virgin Galactic ship, see VSS Voyager.
British Rail Class 221 Super Voyager
Virgin trains 221113 glasgow.jpg
The interior of Standard Class aboard a Virgin Trains Class 221 Super Voyager
In service 12 April 2002–
Manufacturer Bombardier Transportation
Family name Voyager
Constructed 2001–2002
Number built 44 sets
Number in service 43 sets
Formation 4 or 5 cars per set
Fleet numbers 221101–221144
Capacity 26 first class, 162 or 224 standard class per trainset
Operator(s) CrossCountry
Virgin Trains (West Coast)
Car body construction Steel
Car length 23.85 m (78 ft 3 in) driving end cars
22.82 m (74 ft 10 in) other cars
Width 2.73 m (8 ft 11 in)
Doors Swing plug at vehicle ends
Articulated sections Flexible diaphragm within unit only
Maximum speed 125 mph (200 km/h)
Weight 227 t (223 long tons; 250 short tons) or 282.8 t (278.3 long tons; 311.7 short tons) per trainset
Traction system DEMU
Prime mover(s) Cummins QSK19 of 560 kW (750 hp) at 1800rpm[1]
Power output 560 kW (750 hp) per car
UIC classification 1A'A1'+1A'A1'+...+1A'A1'[2][3]
Braking system(s) Rheostatic and electro-pneumatic
Safety system(s) AWS, TPWS, TASS,
Coupling system Dellner[4]

The Class 221 Super Voyager is a class of diesel-electric multiple-unit express trains built in Bruges, Belgium, by Bombardier Transportation in 2001/02.

The Class 221 are similar to the Class 220 Voyager units, but were built with a tilting mechanism enabling up to six degrees of tilt to allow higher speeds on curved tracks, most have five coaches, and they have a different bogie design. They have a maximum speed of 125 mph (200 km/h).

Currently these trains are divided between two operators, Virgin Trains (West Coast) (20 sets) and CrossCountry (23 sets). The sets operated by CrossCountry have now had their tilt function disabled to improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs.[5]


Classes 220' (left) and 221 (right) showing the differing bogie designs

The Class 221s were produced as 5- or 4-coach sets. Each coach is equipped with a Cummins QSK19 diesel engine producing 560 kW (750 hp) at 1,800 rpm,[6] driving an electrical generator which powers two motors, each driving one (inner) axle per bogie via a cardan shaft and final drive.[3] 1,200 miles (1,900 km) can be travelled between refuellings. The coach bodies, the engines and most of the equipment of the Class 221s are the same as the Class 220s, but the bogies are very different: the Class 220 Voyager B5000 bogies have inside-frames which expose the whole of the wheel faces, while the Class 221 SuperVoyager Y36 bogies have a more traditional outside-framed bogie. Unlike the Class 220s, the Class 221s were built with a hydraulic-actuated tilting system to run at high speed around bends, though this has now been removed from the 23 sets operated by CrossCountry.[5]

Each coach weighs between 55 and 57 tonnes, with a total train weight of 281.9 tonnes for a 5-car set (227 tonnes for a 4-car set). The trains have air-operated (pneumatic) and rheostatic brakes, with an emergency stopping distance of 350m at 60 mph (97 km/h).[6]

Class 221 units do not have automatic sanding equipment, and instead have "one-shot" sanders which activate when all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The emergency stop button has been pressed;
  2. Wheel slip has been detected;
  3. Train speed is over 8 miles per hour (13 km/h).

As it was necessary to take the train out of service for refill following the deployment of sand, Bombardier fitted a second sand bottle, allowing two uses before the train would need to be withdrawn from service. The Virgin Trains fleet was modified between December 2008 and March 2009; the CrossCountry fleet between February and June 2011.[7]

All Class 221 units are maintained at the dedicated Central Rivers TMD near Burton-on-Trent.

Formation and passenger facilities[edit]

Dellner coupling on a Class 221
First Class interior
Compartment for 3 bicycles on board CrossCountry 221140
The electronic information display board on Virgin Trains (West Coast) 221109. Here this board shows that the train is bound for Holyhead
Virgin West Coast unit 221144 was reduced to two cars, allowing the removed carriages to be used to lengthen four-car units to five car. 221144 is now stored at Central Rivers Depot, and is used as a training vehicle.

As part of a franchise commitment to replace all of the Mark 2 and High Speed Train sets, Virgin CrossCountry ordered 40 five-carriage sets. In addition four four-carriage sets were ordered to replace High Speed Trains on Virgin Trains' North Wales Coast Line services to Holyhead. However all entered service with Virgin CrossCountry.

In November 2010, Virgin Trains reformed its three four-car sets into two five-car sets and a residual spare two-car set by inserting the two intermediate (non-driving) cars from 221144 into 221142 and 221143, giving 20 five-car sets (and two spare driving cars). This was aimed at providing more flexibility and consistency in operating Birmingham-Scotland and London-North Wales services.[8]

All vehicles are air-conditioned and fitted with Wifi provided by T-Mobile. Hot spots the at-seat audio entertainment system is still present however it has now been disabled since the WiFi hot spots were introduced. Power sockets are also available for laptop computers and mobile-phone charging. First-class accommodation has 2+1 seating, standard class 2+2 seating. Virgin Trains' units are fitted with CCTV. These trains, unlike the older trains they replaced, have electronic information display boards in the exterior walls showing the train number, the time, the coach, the train's destination and the next station. This is also a feature of the Class 220 and Class 222 high speed DEMUs (The Class 390 trains also have such electronic information display boards, but in the doors).

The trains have been criticised for providing insufficient space for luggage and bicycles.[9] Also, because the units are designed to tilt, the carriages have a tapered profile that narrows towards roof level, resulting in a less spacious interior than the conventional carriages they replaced.

The formation and capacity of each unit depends on the operator.

Operator Cars per set First Class Seats Standard Class Seats Bicycle storage Formation
Virgin Trains (West Coast) 5 26 236 4 Coach A Quiet Zone, Coach D Shop, Coach E First Class.[10]
CrossCountry 26 252 3 Coach A First Class, at seat catering service.[11]
CrossCountry 4 26 182 3 Coach A First Class, at seat catering service.[11]


A typical 1st class table layout on a Virgin Trains Super Voyager

All units are owned by Voyager Leasing, a consortium of Lloyds Banking Group and Angel Trains.[12] They are leased to the train operating companies.

On their introduction in 2002, Virgin Trains was the operator of all Class 221s, which it used on CrossCountry and West Coast Main Line services as well as on the North Wales Coast line.

With the decision to transfer those CrossCountry services that operated via the West Coast Main Line to the InterCity West Coast franchise at the same time as the former franchise was relet, on 11 November 2007 the fleet was split. Virgin West Coast were allocated 221101-221118 and 221142-221144 while CrossCountry gained 221119-221141. However while CrossCountry overhauled five High Speed Train sets, 221114-221118 were subleased for a 12-month period.


CrossCountry's Class 221s operate alongside 220s on the routes inherited from Virgin CrossCountry. Since these routes are not cleared for tilting operation (with the exception of Wolverhampton to Stockport), in 2008 the tilting equipment was locked out of use and shortly afterwards was isolated altogether, replacing the hydraulic rams with fixed tie-bars. This change was made to improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs.[5]

Virgin Trains (West Coast)[edit]

Virgin Trains (West Coast) uses the Class 221 units on services between London and Holyhead (pictured at Rhyl).

Virgin Trains (West Coast) uses the Class 221 units primarily from London Euston to Scotland via Birmingham New Street (despite the route being electrified throughout) and from London Euston to Chester and North Wales. They are also used by a few London Euston to West Midland services.

The trains to and from Scotland often operate as double units and alternate between Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley (in turn alternating with TransPennine Express trains to and from Manchester Airport). When longer trains are needed for some of the busier services, a Pendolino will run through from and to London Euston, and the Super Voyager then fills in for it on the London to West Midlands route.

The trains on the North Wales route sometimes work in pairs between London Euston and Chester and terminate variously at Chester, Holyhead, Bangor or Wrexham.

Technical problems and incidents[edit]

Units have been stopped due to waves breaking over the sea wall at Dawlish in storm conditions, inundating the resistor banks and causing the control software to shut down the whole train.[13] This problem was fixed by a software upgrade to the control software.[14]

On 8 December 2005, 221125 suffered an exhaust fire at Starcross. Other members of the Voyager class suffered similar fires in the 2005-2006 period due to an incorrectly performed engine overhaul.[15]

On 25 September 2006, 221136 collided with a car on the track at Moor Lane, Copmanthorpe, North Yorkshire. The 14:25 Plymouth to Edinburgh was decelerating on its approach to York station at 9pm when it collided with the car, which had crashed through a fence on to the line. Despite being derailed in the 100 mph crash, the train remained upright. Nobody on board was injured.[16]

On 4 July 2009, 221112 was involved in a collision between with a set of freight train container doors, Eden Valley Loop, Penrith. At 16:27, Virgin Trains (1M86) service from Edinburgh to Birmingham New Street passed service 4M16, a container freight train which was in the Eden Valley Loop. The train struck one or both open doors of wagons 12 and or 13 of the container train. The crew of the service, heard the impacts and stopped to report the damage to their control at 16:28. The train suffered damage to all cars consisting of scratching to bodywork, in particular doors, as well as severe damage to one door step. The Super Voyager was one of three trains to be damaged by the container doors,also involved was a Class 390 and a Class 185.[17]

CrossCountry 221131 derailed between Arbroath and Montrose on 4 November 2012 blocking another line. The police and various operators set up a £25,000 reward after it was believed that the train hit something deliberately placed on the track.

On 20 November 2013 a Virgin Super Voyager overran the platform and ran into the buffers at Chester. One passenger was taken to hospital.[18][19] The RAIB report concluded that this was due to exceptionally low adhesion between wheels and rails, combined with train's sanding system being inadequate. The report recommended that the sanding equipment on the class be upgraded.[20]


CrossCountry 221129 calls at Durham, with a southbound service

Some of the Virgin-operated Class 221 SuperVoyagers were named after famous voyagers, some fictional and some real, as follows:

221101 Louis Blériot 221123† Henry Hudson (de-named)
221102 John Cabot 221124† Charles Lindbergh (de-named)
221103 Christopher Columbus 221125† Henry the Navigator (de-named)
221104 Sir John Franklin 221126† Captain Robert Scott (de-named)
221105 William Baffin 221127† Wright Brothers (de-named)
221106 Willem Barents 221128† Captain John Smith (de-named)
221107 Sir Martin Frobisher 221129† George Vancouver (de-named)
221108 Sir Ernest Shackleton 221130† Michael Palin (de-named)
221109 Marco Polo 221131† Edgar Evans (de-named)
221110 James Cook 221132† William Speirs Bruce (de-named)
221111 Roald Amundsen 221133† Alexander Selkirk (de-named)
221112 Ferdinand Magellan 221134† Mary Kingsley (de-named)
221113 Sir Walter Raleigh 221135† Donald Campbell (de-named)
221114 Sir Francis Drake (de-named) 221136† Yuri Gagarin (de-named)
221115 Polmadie Depot - formerly Sir
Francis Chichester
221137† Mayflower Pilgrims (de-named)
221116 David Livingstone (de-named) 221138† Thor Heyerdahl (de-named)
221117 The Wrekin Giant - formerly Sir Henry
Morton Stanley
221139† Leif Eriksson (de-named)
221118 Mungo Park (de-named) 221140† Vasco Da Gama (de-named)
221119† Amelia Earhart (de-named) 221141^† Amerigo Vespucci (de-named)
221120† Amy Johnson (de-named) 221142‡ Bombardier Voyager - formerly Matthew Flinders
221121† Charles Darwin (de-named) 221143‡ Auguste Picard
221122† Doctor Who (de-named) 221144§ 2 coaches stored - formerly Bombardier Voyager
and Prince Madoc

† - Refers to CrossCountry units.
^ - Refers to 4 coach units.
‡ - Refers to 4 coach units converted to 5 cars.
§ - Refers to stored & disbanded units.

Fleet details[edit]

Class Operator Number of Trains Built Cars per Set Unit numbers
Class 221 Virgin Trains (West Coast) 20 2001–2002 5 221101 - 221118, 221142 - 221143
CrossCountry 23 5 221119 - 221140
4 221141
Stored 1 2 221144

In 2014, CrossCountry set 220007 suffered a fire seriously damaging coach C. As a quick fix, CrossCountry decided to remove a coach from unit 221135, and place this vehicle within 220007. There is a noticeable difference between the vehicles due to the different sort of bogies used on Class 220 and Class 221 units. In February 2015 both 220007 and 221135 were returned to their original formations.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Desiro UK DMU Class 185 fact sheet
  2. ^ "Cutting noise and smoothing the ride". Railway Gazette International. 1 August 2000. Retrieved 2010-12-20. 216 SuperVoyager cars capable of tilting 6° ... will use the well-proven Y36 bogie with hydraulic tilt actuation. 
  3. ^ a b "High-speed multiple units Virgin Voyager and Super Voyager with SK-450 final drives and cardan shafts" (PDF). Voith. May 2008. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 2008-03-13. Drive configuration [diagram] 
  4. ^ "Mechanical And Electrical Coupling Index". Rail Safety and Standards Board. Retrieved 2010-12-20. 
  5. ^ a b c Miles, Tony (August 2008). "CrossCountry stops tilting". Modern Railways. London. p. 71. 
  6. ^ a b "Class 221 data". The Railway Centre. 2 June 2008. 
  7. ^ "Buffer stop collision at Chester station 20 November 2013" (PDF). Rail Accident Investigation Branch. November 2014. pp. 5, 9, 29–30. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "Virgin eliminate four car Voyagers". RailNews. Stevenage. 3 December 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-20. Virgin Trains is no longer operating any Class 221 Super Voyager trains as four-car units. 
  9. ^ Clement, Barrie (12 January 2004). "GNER boss calls Virgin trains 'cheap and nasty'". The Independent. London. 
  10. ^ "VT Pendolino VHF Seating Plan" (PDF). Virgin Trains. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 March 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Page 8 of Rail Management 175 confirms this
  12. ^ Pritchard, Robert; Hall, Peter (2013). British Railways Locomotives & Coaching Stock 2013. Sheffield: Platform 5 Publishing. pp. 246–7, 373. ISBN 978-1-909431-02-7. 
  13. ^ "Virgin Trains chaos 'over by Christmas'". BBC News. 20 November 2002. 
  14. ^ "Voyager Train fleet "think smart" to operate past Devon sea storms" (Press release). Virgin Trains. 2 December 2002. 
  15. ^ Virgin Trains Cross Country news. April 2006. Page 4 section 14.
  16. ^ "Car driver killed in rail crash". The Guardian. London. 26 September 2006. 
  17. ^ Rail Accident Report. November 2009.
  18. ^ "Passenger taken to hospital after Chester collision". RailNews. 20 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  19. ^ "Train crashes into Chester Station barrier". BBC News. BBC. 20 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  20. ^ Buffer stop collision at Chester station (Report). RAIB. 24 November 2014. 

External links[edit]