British Rail Class 321

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British Rail Class 321
321344 at Colchester.jpg
Greater Anglia 321344 at Colchester in 2018
Greater Anglia 321 Standard Class Interior.jpg
Standard Class interior of a Greater Anglia Class 321 unit
In service15 September 1988 – present
ManufacturerBritish Rail Engineering Limited
Family nameBR Second Generation (Mark 3)
Number built117 units
Number in service73 units[1]
(12 converted to Class 320)
Number scrapped26 sets
Formation4 cars per unit
  • 321/3 and 321/4: DTCO+TSO+PMSO+DTSO
  • 321/9: DTSO(A)+TSO+PMSO+DTSO(B)
Capacity321/9: 309 seats per unit
Car length19.95 m (65 ft 5 in)
Width2.82 m (9 ft 3 in)
Height3.78 m (12 ft 5 in)
Maximum speed100 mph (161 km/h)
WeightTotal – 137.9 t (135.7 long tons)
Power output1,438 hp (1,072 kW)
Electric system(s)25 kV 50 Hz AC overhead
Current collection methodPantograph
Coupling system
Multiple workingClasses 317–322; Class 323 (rescuing a Class 323 only)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge

The British Rail Class 321 alternating current (AC) electric multiple units (EMU) were built by British Rail Engineering Limited's York Works in three batches between 1988 and 1991.[2][3] The design was successful and led to the development of the similar Class 320 and Class 322.

Today the class is operated by Greater Anglia. Some have been converted to Class 320 and are operated by Abellio ScotRail.


Three sub-classes were built. The first two were built for the Network SouthEast sector for operation on services from London Liverpool Street and London Euston, while the third was built for Regional Railways for use on West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive services from Leeds. As part of the privatisation of British Rail, ownership of the class passed from British Rail to the Eversholt Rail Group in April 1994.[4]

Each unit consists of four carriages: two outer driving trailers, one of which contains first class seating; an intermediate motor coach with standard class seating only, roof mounted Brecknell Willis high speed pantograph and four Brush Traction TM2141C traction motors (two per bogie); and an intermediate trailer with standard class seating.[citation needed] All have a maximum speed of 100 mph (161 km/h).

They have been modified by the different rail companies which use them. The modifications include new seats, paintwork, lighting and passenger information systems.

Class 321/3[edit]

In September 1987, Network SouthEast ordered 46 321/3s for use on services from London Liverpool Street to Cambridge and Southend Victoria. The first was unveiled on 15 September 1988.[5] A further 20 were ordered later.[2][6] Units were numbered 321301-366.

These units replaced slam-door Class 305, Class 307, Class 308 and Class 309 units on trains to Clacton and Southend-on-Sea, and worked services on the newly electrified routes to Ipswich and Harwich. They also displaced many Class 312 slam-door units, which moved over to the London, Tilbury and Southend line. Some of the Class 309s were retained until 1994, and 24 of the newer Class 312 units were retained long-term to work services to Walton-on-the-Naze and peak services to Clacton, Ipswich and Witham. Units carried Network SouthEast livery from new.

In March 2008, 321361 was named Phoenix at Ilford depot after it was rebuilt at the disused Colchester shed to repair damage caused by an arson attack at Southend Victoria on 10 July 2007.[7]

The first of 30 321/3s to be refurbished at Doncaster Works, as part of the Renatus project – which modernised the stock with features such as new air conditioning and heating, seating and Wi-Fi – was completed in December 2016.[8][9][10]

Class 321/4[edit]

321401 in Network SouthEast livery at Rugby

In October 1988 a second batch of 30 was ordered. It was intended that 25 be used on Great Eastern Main Line services and five on West Coast Main Line services, but in the event all were delivered to Bletchley TMD for use on the latter. A further 18 followed.[6] Units were numbered 321401–321448. The first was delivered in July 1989.[11]

These were built for outer-suburban services on the West Coast Main Line, from London Euston to Northampton, Rugby and Birmingham New Street. They displaced the then-recently cascaded Class 317s dating from 1981 which had themselves only just been introduced to the route to replace Class 310 units.[6]

Eleven 321/4s were transferred for Great Eastern Main Line services. Following this their First Class area was reduced in size to standardise with the 321/3 units in useon that route. This involved removal of the centre partition and double doors and re-upholstering the First Class style 2+2 seats (which were retained at that time) in the de-classified area into the same fabric as the Standard Class seats. Later the First Class 2+2 seats in this de-classified area were replaced with the standard style 2+3 seating. These 11 units were also fitted with a facility to lock out the power door operation within the unit (a basic kind of Selective Operation) to permit operation of 12-car trains on the Braintree and Southminster branch lines, where some platforms were only long enough for 8-car trains.

The 11 Great Eastern sets passed to First Great Eastern in January 1997, passing with the franchise to National Express East Anglia in April 2004 and Abellio Greater Anglia in February 2012. The 37 West Coast sets passed to Silverlink in January 1997, passing with the franchise to London Midland in November 2007. In 2006 unit 321423 was loaned to Northern Rail while the 321/9s were being overhauled.

Following the delivery of the Class 350/2 fleet, 13 Class 321/4s (401–410, 418–420) were transferred from London Midland to First Capital Connect and overhauled by Wabtec's Doncaster Works.[12][13] These passed with the franchise to Great Northern in September 2014. London Midland also released 17 (421–437) for transfer to National Express East Anglia. The remaining seven (411–417) passed to Abellio ScotRail in 2015, after being converted to three-car Class 320/4 at Doncaster Works.[14]

In 2017 ten units (402, 405–410, 418–420) were transferred from Great Northern to Abellio Greater Anglia.[15] As at May 2018 the remaining three (401, 403, 404) are to be converted by Wabtec at Kilmarnock to Class 320/4 for use with Abellio ScotRail. Another two were to follow.[16][17]

Class 321/9[edit]

The final batch of three Class 321 were classified 321/9 and were constructed in 1991,[2] as an add-on to the main batches. These units have a similar formation to the earlier units except that there is no first class seating. They were ordered by Regional Railways for use on West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive services on the newly electrified Doncaster to Leeds route, entering service in 1993. From 1995 they also worked on Wharfedale line services from Leeds to Ilkley.[18] In March 1997 they passed with the Regional Railways North East franchise to Northern Spirit, which became Arriva Trains Northern in April 2001. In June 1998 they were loaned to GNER to operate Leeds to London King's Cross services while its InterCity 225 fleet was grounded with mechanical issues.[19] All three passed with the franchise to Northern Rail in December 2004.

The Class 321/9 units were refurbished at Hunslet-Barclay, Kilmarnock from late 2006 to early 2007.[20] The refurbishment included a new livery, refurbished interiors and reliability improvements, similar to the Class 322 EMUs, which were also refurbished at Kilmarnock.[20]

The units transferred to Arriva Rail North in April 2016, and then Northern Trains on 1 March 2020. With the Class 331s now in service, the Class 321/9s were transferred to Greater Anglia. They were leased to allow Greater Anglia's Class 360s to move to East Midlands Railway. All are scheduled to be replaced by Class 720s in 2021.[21][22]

Current operations[edit]

Greater Anglia[edit]

First Great Eastern inherited all 66 Class 321/3s and 11 Class 321/4s. The East Anglia franchise was subsequently taken over by National Express East Anglia, initially branded 'one', and then subsequently by Greater Anglia. A further 16 were added, upon release from London Midland. In 2016, 10 of the sets formerly operated by Great Northern also transferred to Greater Anglia.

These trains are primarily used for London Liverpool Street to Braintree, Southend Victoria, Southminster, Ipswich (extending to Norwich during peak time), Walton-on-the-Naze, Clacton-on-Sea and Colchester Town but can be seen running on any electrified route if other trains fail. These operate as 4, 8 or 12 carriage sets.

They have also received three Class 321/9s from Northern Trains until the Class 720s enter service. The first two entered service in July 2020 with the third currently being prepared. In May 2020 321448 was the first unit to leave Greater Anglia.

Former operations[edit]

Silverlink / London Midland / London Overground[edit]

Silverlink liveried 321425 at Watford Junction

Silverlink inherited 37 of the 48 Class 321/4 units. In September 2003, Silverlink's class 321 units were temporarily withdrawn following the discovery of loose bolts on brake discs in some units.[23]

In September 2004, London Euston to Birmingham local services were divided into two separate services: Silverlink retained London to Northampton services, while fellow National Express subsidiary Central Trains taking over all local services between Northampton and Birmingham. Initially, Central Trains hired Class 321 units from Silverlink to work their new services, but the arrival of Class 350/1s meant that very few Class 321 units were then required.

To accommodate this sub-lease, three Class 321/3 units were transferred from National Express East Anglia to Silverlink. These were not permitted north of Rugby due to lack of the National Radio Network system (Eastern Region units only had the Cab Secure Radio System used for Driver Only Operated Passenger services) and therefore could not be used on Central Trains services (although they occasionally appeared on services to Rugby at weekends due to the line being closed between Rugby and Birmingham New Street). This ceased in late 2005 with the introduction of Class 350 trains on the Birmingham to Liverpool route. One of these sub-leased units was involved in a low-speed derailment at Watford Yard.[24]

In May 2007, Central Trains began using Class 321 units on some morning services from Birmingham New Street to Walsall.

In November 2007, London Midland took over operation of the Class 321 fleet previously used by Silverlink and Central Trains. An order was placed by London Midland for 37 Class 350/2s to replace the Class 321s.[25]

London Midland withdrew most, retaining seven units (411–417).[26][27] They were used for peak hour workings between London Euston and Northampton and on the Abbey line.[28][29] In 2015 all seven were withdrawn for transfer to Abellio ScotRail to operate on Glasgow suburban lines, with the last withdrawn on 20 September 2015.[14][30] They were replaced by Class 319s.[31][30] Two (413/414) briefly operated for London Overground Rail Operations in late 2015, being revinyled in London Overground livery.[32] The cascaded Class 321s were reformed to three-car units, by removing the TSO vehicle and reclassified as Class 320/4s.[33][14][34][35]

First Capital Connect / Great Northern[edit]

First Capital Connect received thirteen units (401–410, 418–420) from London Midland, following deliveries of the new Class 350/2s. The units worked on the Great Northern services from London King's Cross to Peterborough and Cambridge from December 2010 until May 2017. They passed with the franchise to Great Northern in September 2014.

All were replaced in 2016 by Class 387s, cascaded from the Thameslink route.[36] Ten (402, 405–410 and 418–420) moved to Ilford depot for use by Greater Anglia[37] with the remaining three (401, 403, 404) converted to Class 320/4s for Abellio ScotRail.[38]

Arriva Trains Northern / Northern Rail / Arriva Rail North / Northern Trains[edit]

Arriva Trains Northern 321901 at Doncaster in June 2004

Arriva Trains Northern inherited three Class 321/9 units. These units operate on the Leeds to Doncaster Wakefield line service and occasionally on the Wharfedale and Airedale lines alongside Class 322 and Class 333s. All passed on to Northern Rail in 2004 and were refurbished in 2006/07. Having passed with the franchise to Arriva Rail North and Northern Trains, all were replaced by Class 331s with the last withdrawn in 2020. These have transferred to Greater Anglia for temporary use until Class 720s arrive.

Renatus project[edit]

Refurbished Class 321 Renatus No. 321304 at Ipswich in December 2016
The interior of Standard Class aboard a Renatus refurbished Class 321

In December 2013 Eversholt Rail Group rebuilt 321448 as a demonstrator at Doncaster Works for a proposed upgrade.[39] It featured a new livery, completely refitted interior including two examples of sitting arrangements including 2+2 and 2+3, and a new First Class area. The demonstrator also featured air conditioning, not previously seen on Class 321 trains, along with fixed panel windows to replace opening windows and a new Vossloh Kiepe traction package.[40][41][42]

The production run covered 30 units. The Vossloh Kiepe traction package was installed at Wolverton Works with the rest of the work performed at Doncaster. The first was completed in December 2016.[43] In 2017 the prototype returned to Doncaster to be modified to the same specifications as the production units, including being refitted with hopper windows.[44]


After being awarded the new East Anglia franchise in August 2016, Greater Anglia placed an order for Class 720s which will replace the 321s despite the Renatus project.[45] The first of the new trains entered service in November 2020.[46]

The first two units were sent for scrap on 26 January 2021.[47]

In March 2021, Eversholt unveiled a swift express freight train from 321334.[48]

Hydrogen conversion[edit]

In May 2018 plans were announced to convert some units with Alstom hydrogen cells, giving the acronym HMU (hydrogen multiple unit).[49] A number of this class of train will be converted to hydrogen power and operational by 2024.[50][51] The first concept of this conversion, dubbed "Breeze", was revealed by Alstom and Eversholt Rail in January 2019.[52] These units will be designated Class 600.[51]

Fleet details[edit]

Class Operator No. Built Year Built Unit nos.
321/3 Greater Anglia 42 1988–90 321301–333, 321335–343
Stored 1 321365[53]
To be converted for freight use with Swift Express 1 321334[54]
Scrapped 20 321344-359[55][56][57][58][59] [1][60][61][62] 321360-364[1][57][63][62] 321366[57]
321/4 Greater Anglia 30 1989–90 321402, 321405–407, 321409-410, 321419, 321421, 321422-425, 321426-430, 321432, 321434, 321436, 440–441, 321443, 321445, 447
Converted to 320/4 12 321401, 321403–404, 321411–418, 420
Stored pending conversion to Class 600 2 321437, 448[64][65]
Scrapped 6 321422[1] 321425[63] 321435,[56] 321438[59] 321442,[59] 321446[66]
Stored 5 321408, 321431, 321433, 321439, 321444[53]
321/9 Greater Anglia 3 1991 321901–903
Greater Anglia Class 321
Greater Anglia (ex-NXEA) Class 321
Greater Anglia (Renatus) Class 321
Greater Anglia (ex Northern Trains) Class 321


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External links[edit]

Media related to British Rail Class 321 at Wikimedia Commons