British Rail Class 221

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British Rail Class 221 Super Voyager
221-127 Cross Country Leamington 18-06-15 (18747695939).jpg
A CrossCountry Class 221 at Leamington Spa, 2015
AWC 221 Standard Class Interior.jpg
Standard Class interior on an Avanti West Coast unit
In service12 April 2002–present
ManufacturerBombardier Transportation
Family nameVoyager
Number built44 sets
Formation4 or 5 cars per set
Fleet numbers221101–221144
Capacity26 first class, 162 or 224 standard class per unit
Operator(s)Avanti West Coast
Car body constructionSteel
Car length23.85 m (78 ft 3 in) driving end cars
22.82 m (74 ft 10 in) other cars
Width2.73 m (8 ft 11 in)
DoorsSwing plug at vehicle ends
Articulated sectionsFlexible diaphragm within unit only
Maximum speed125 mph (200 km/h)
Weight227 t (223 long tons; 250 short tons) per 4 car unit or 282.8 t (278.3 long tons; 311.7 short tons) per 5 car unit
Traction systemOne per car, Alstom alternator, 750v asynchronous ONIX IGBT drive with AGATE traction control, asynchronous traction motors (2 per car)
Prime mover(s)One per car, Cummins QSK19 19-litre 6-cylinder turbo-Diesel
Power output560 kW (750 hp) per car at 1800rpm[1]
UIC classification1A'A1'+1A'A1'+...+1A'A1'[2][3]
Braking system(s)Rheostatic and electro-pneumatic
Safety system(s)AWS, TPWS, TASS
Coupling systemDellner[4]

The British Rail Class 221 Super Voyager is a class of tilting diesel-electric multiple-unit express passenger 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, Avanti West Coast (20 sets) and CrossCountry (24 sets). The sets operated by CrossCountry had their tilt function disabled in 2008 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 disabled 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 are fitted with automatic sanding systems. The Avanti West Coast operated units are fitted with a Vossloh fixed rate sander and the Arriva Cross Country operated units are fitted with AB Hoses and fittings variable rate sanding system.

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

Formation and passenger facilities[edit]

The first class interior on a CrossCountry Class 221
Bicycle compartments on a CrossCountry Class 221
The electronic information display board on Virgin Trains West Coast 221109. Here this board shows that the train is bound for Holyhead

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.[7] In 2017 a further reformation took place, allowing 221144 to be returned to traffic with CrossCountry, now operated by Arriva, involving the exchange of some vehicles between Virgin and CrossCountry and the reduction of two CrossCountry sets to four car formations.

All vehicles are air-conditioned and fitted with Wifi provided by T-Mobile. On some units, 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.[8] 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 Wheelchair spaces Bicycle storage Formation
Avanti West Coast 5 26 230 2 4 Coach A Quiet Zone, Coach D Shop, Coach E First Class.[9][10]
CrossCountry 236 3 Coach A First Class, Coach D bicycle rack and luggage storage, at seat catering service.[11]
CrossCountry 4 174


All units are owned by Beacon Rail, after they were purchased from Voyager Rail Leasing,[12] a consortium of Lloyds Banking Group and Angel Trains.[13] 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]

Avanti West Coast[edit]

Avanti West Coast 221108 at London Euston in 2020, having been debranded from Virgin Trains

Avanti 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 Shrewsbury and, London Euston to Chester and North Wales. They are also used by a few London Euston to West Midlands 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 operate as double units. They run from London Euston and Chester and terminate at any of 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.[14] This problem was fixed by a software upgrade to the control software.[15]

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.[16]

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-mile-per-hour (160 km/h) crash, the train remained upright. Nobody on board was injured.[17]

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; a Class 390 and a Class 185 were also involved.[18]

On 20 November 2013 a Virgin Super Voyager (221105) overran the platform and ran into the buffers at Chester. One passenger was taken to hospital.[19][20] 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.[21]

Voyager names[edit]

Arriva CrossCountry 221121 at Bristol Temple Meads in May 2008 with Virgin Trains livery

The Virgin-operated Class 221 Super Voyagers were originally referred to by Bombardier as the Virgin Explorer class[22] as they were to be named after famous explorers, some fictional, mostly real, as follows:

Virgin Trains 221101 at Birmingham New Street in the 'flowing silk' livery in 2019
Number Name Operator Notes
221101 101 Squadron Avanti West Coast formerly Louis Blériot
221102 formerly John Cabot
221103 formerly Christopher Columbus
221104 formerly Sir John Franklin
221105 formerly William Baffin
221106 formerly Willem Barents. Wore a branded livery to promote Festival No. 6 music event in Portmeirion, North Wales
221107 formerly Sir Martin Frobisher
221108 formerly Sir Ernest Shackleton
221109 formerly Marco Polo
221110 formerly James Cook
221111 formerly Roald Amundsen
221112 formerly Ferdinand Magellan
221113 formerly Sir Walter Raleigh
221114 formerly Royal Air Force Centenary 1918-2018 and Sir Francis Drake
221115 formerly Polmadie Depot and Sir Francis Chichester. Wore a unique co-branded livery in partnership with Bombardier and Virgin Trains from September 2010 until January 2021. First set to gain the hybrid Avanti West Coast livery.
221116 City of Bangor / Dinas Bangor Formerly David Livingstone. Wears a different nameplate on each side, one in English and the other in Welsh.
221117 formerly The Wrekin Giant and Sir Henry Morton Stanley
221118 formerly Mungo Park
221119 CrossCountry formerly Amelia Earhart
221120 formerly Amy Johnson
221121 formerly Charles Darwin
221122 formerly Doctor Who
221123 formerly Henry Hudson
221124 formerly Charles Lindbergh
221125 formerly Henry the Navigator
221126 formerly Captain Robert Scott
221127 formerly Wright Brothers
221128 formerly Captain John Smith
221129 formerly George Vancouver
221130 formerly Michael Palin
221131 formerly Edgar Evans
221132 formerly William Speirs Bruce
221133 formerly Alexander Selkirk
221134 formerly Mary Kingsley
221135 formerly Donald Campbell
221136 formerly Yuri Gagarin. This was originally a 5 coach unit, but was converted to 4 coaches.
221137 formerly Mayflower Pilgrims
221138 formerly Thor Heyerdahl
221139 formerly Leif Eriksson
221140 formerly Vasco Da Gama. This was originally a 5 coach unit, but was converted to 4 coaches.
221141 formerly Amerigo Vespucci. This is a 4 coach unit.
221142 Stored formerly Bombardier Voyager[23] and Matthew Flinders. This was originally a 4 coach unit, but was converted to 5 coaches.
221143 formerly Auguste Picard. This was originally a 4 coach unit, but was converted to 5 coaches.
221144 CrossCountry formerly Prince Madoc. This is a 4 coach unit.


In December 2019, Avanti West Coast placed an order for 10 seven-car electric units which will replace its Class 221 fleet, along with 13 Class 805 bi-mode units as part of £350 million contract with Hitachi.[24] All are scheduled to be in service by 2023.

Fleet details[edit]

Class Operator Number Built Cars per Set Unit numbers
Class 221 Avanti West Coast 18 2001–02 5 221101–118
Stored 2 221142–143
CrossCountry 24 221119–135, 221137–139
4 221136, 221140–141, 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.
  • In June 2022 both 221142 & 221143 were the first 221's to be returned to their owners after their leases to Avanti West Coast ended. The class are set to be replaced by new British Rail Class 805 & British Rail Class 807 from 2023 onwards.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Desiro UK DMU Class 185 fact sheet Archived 7 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Cutting noise and smoothing the ride". Railway Gazette International. 1 August 2000. Archived from the original on 4 June 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2010. 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 13 March 2008. Drive configuration [diagram][permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "Mechanical And Electrical Coupling Index". Rail Safety and Standards Board. Archived from the original on 21 December 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  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. Archived from the original on 27 October 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ "Virgin eliminate four car Voyagers". RailNews. Stevenage. 3 December 2010. Archived from the original on 22 March 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2010. Virgin Trains is no longer operating any Class 221 Super Voyager trains as four-car units.
  8. ^ Clement, Barrie (12 January 2004). "GNER boss calls Virgin trains 'cheap and nasty'". The Independent. London.
  9. ^ "About Our Trains - Experience". Virgin Trains.
  10. ^ "Intercity West Coast Franchise Agreement (Interim)" (PDF). Department for Transport.
  11. ^ CrossCountry trains seating plan
  12. ^ "Beacon Rail buys Voyager DEMU fleet".
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Virgin Trains chaos 'over by Christmas'". BBC News. 20 November 2002.
  15. ^ "Voyager Train fleet "think smart" to operate past Devon sea storms" (Press release). Virgin Trains. 2 December 2002. Archived from the original on 16 October 2006.
  16. ^ Virgin Trains Cross Country news Archived 26 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine. April 2006. Page 4 section 14.
  17. ^ "Car driver killed in rail crash". The Guardian. London. 26 September 2006.
  18. ^ Rail Accident Report. November 2009.
  19. ^ "Passenger taken to hospital after Chester collision". RailNews. 20 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  20. ^ "Train crashes into Chester Station barrier". BBC News. BBC. 20 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  21. ^ Buffer stop collision at Chester station (Report). RAIB. 24 November 2014.
  22. ^ Weil, Gad (2003). L'Exposition Le Train Capital. Paris: Les Editions de la Vie du Rail. p. 80.
  23. ^ "Railway memorabilia to be auctioned for charity". RailAdvent. 18 October 2021. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
  24. ^ "What's In Store | Avanti West Coast". Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  25. ^ First 221's taken off lease with Avanti West Coast

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]