British Rail Class 323

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British Rail Class 323
Birmingham New Street railway station MMB 22 323220.jpg
London Midland Class 323 No. 323220 at Birmingham New Street
Lichfield Trent Valley railway station MMB 18 323242.jpg
Onboard London Midland EMU 323242 at Lichfield Trent Valley.
In service 1992 - present
Manufacturer Hunslet TPL
Number built 43 trainsets
Formation 3 cars per trainset
Capacity End Units: 98 seats
Central Unit: 88 seats
Total capacity: 284 seats[1]
Operator(s) Northern Rail
London Midland
Car length End Units: 23.37 m (76 ft 8 in)
Central Unit: 23.44 m (76 ft 11 in)
Width 2.80 m (9 ft 2 in)
Height 3.78 m (12 ft 5 in)
Maximum speed 90 mph (145 km/h)
Weight 119.8 t (117.9 long tons; 132.1 short tons)
Power output 1.168 MW (1,566 hp)
Electric system(s) 25 kV AC Overhead
Braking system(s) Regenerative, Air Brake
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

The British Rail Class 323 electric multiple units were built by Hunslet Transportation Projects Limited at their manufacturing site off Jack Lane, Hunslet, Leeds. They were built from January 1992 through to September 1995 although mock ups and prototypes were built and tested in 1990 and 1991.

Forty-three 3-car units were built for inner-suburban services in and around Birmingham and Manchester. These trains were the last vehicles to be built by the struggling train/locomotive manufacturer.


In the early 1990s the Regional Railways sector of British Rail placed an order for new EMUs both to replace older units and to work services on the newly electrified Birmingham Cross-City Line. The contract was awarded to Hunslet Transportation Projects Limited of Birmingham, a new company set up by a team of engineers and managers who had left Metro Cammell. Metro Cammell was also at the time a Birmingham-based renowned train builder. During the course of the project the company was acquired by Jenbacher Transport Systems Ltd., who supported the company in the hope of further orders for new trains but these units proved to be the last trains built by the company for the UK market. The trains were also some of the last constructed in the UK pre rail privatisation as Class 323 was in production just before the infamous 1,064 day gap in train orders. Hunslet TPL went on to deliver designs for Keretapi Tanah Melayu Class 81 EMU, which was built under the company's control, and Glasgow Underground trailers, which were assembled by sister company Hunslet Barclay. Presently the company continues in Birmingham as Transys Projects Limited; they remain active in the rail industry, providing consultancy, refurbishment and enhancements to rail vehicles both in the UK and internationally.[2]

During the early 2000s (decade), all Class 323 units were fitted with extra passenger door control panels in the saloon, the set of passenger doors below the pantograph (PTSO). This made it easier for guards to carry out customer service and revenue duties. Previously the only passenger door controls were in the driving cabs, therefore there was only one location on the train from which a guard could operate the passenger doors.

In December 2007 the Class 323 Units operated by Northern received a coveted Modern Railways "Silver Spanner" industry award because a team of engineers maintaining Northern Rail's 17 Class 323 trains had increased the service's reliability by over 100%.

In total, 43 three-car units were built, numbered in the range 323201-243. Each unit is formed of two outer driving motor vehicles (each equipped with four Holec DMKT 52/24 asynchronous traction motors), and a central intermediate trailer with a Brecknell Willis High Speed pantograph for collecting the overhead current of 25 kV AC. The technical description of the unit formation is DMSO+PTSO+DMSO. Individual vehicles are numbered as follows:

  • 64001–64043: DMSO
  • 72201–72239 and 72340–72343: PTSO
  • 65001–65043: DMSO

In general, the last two digits of the vehicle number correspond to the last two digits of the set number, such that unit 323227 is formed of 64027+72227+65027. The last four PTSO vehicles are numbered in a separate range to avoid clashing with Class 365 vehicles.

When the electrification of the Leeds/Bradford - Skipton/Ilkley Airedale/Wharfedale Lines was confirmed in the early 1990s, Regional Railways and West Yorkshire PTE applied to the government for 14 units to add to the 43 units already on order. At the time government spending on the railways was restricted due to the looming privatisation and eventually, when funding was not forthcoming, the order was cancelled and 21 second-hand 308s from Network SouthEast were used in the interim before the 333s were delivered in 2000.

The class 323s are known for making a distinctive sound from their three phase traction motors which is heard when powering up and down. This noise is particularly interesting during times of poor adhesion and wheel slip. This noise, the interior and the design of the cab (which significantly resembles that of the Networker family of trains) has led to the trains being nicknamed "Hyper-networkers" by rail enthusiasts.[3]

Current operations[edit]

London Midland[edit]

London Midland Class 323, no. 323217 waiting at Dudley Port.
A picture of a Network West Midlands British Rail Class 323 EMU interior in the early 2000s (decade).

The former Central Trains inherited a fleet of 26 units from British Rail: sets 323201-222 and 323240-243. In November 2007, these were passed on to London Midland.

The units were delivered in 1993/94 painted in Centro green and white livery with a blue stripe. They were originally allocated to Bletchley Depot, but have since been reallocated to Soho when the elderly class 304s retired. Since the 323s moved there, a workshop has been built for maintenance and repairs.

It was intended for the units to be introduced on the newly electrified Cross-City Line from Redditch to Lichfield (via Birmingham New Street). However, all did not go according to plan, and initially the units suffered from reliability problems. This meant that the ageing fleets of Class 115, 116, 117, 118 and 119 diesel multiple units, which the Class 323 units were meant to replace, continued in service longer than planned. They were finally withdrawn in 1995 once the Class 323 units had become more reliable.

The units were also used on various other routes, including Coventry to Wolverhampton, and Birmingham to Walsall (Chase Line) suburban services, as well as longer distance Birmingham to Liverpool Lime Street services. On these services, they were used alongside the existing fleets of Class 310/1 and Class 312 slam-door units. The introduction of the new trains also allowed the withdrawal of the elderly Class 304 units, and the cascading of Class 308 units to operate suburban services around Leeds.

Since being introduced, the units have undergone works attention, which included the fitting of CCTV surveillance equipment. The Centro livery was also modified, with the addition of yellow doors to aid the visually impaired and the internal door controls replaced with DDA-compliant raised buttons with differing colours for open and closed.

During 2008 the London Midland fleet received London Midland livery. During this refurbishment the seats have been re-trimmed with the new London Midland trim, new labels have been applied inside the carriages and handrails on the seats are now yellow.

323205 has been fitted with a new experimental, prototype interior saloon lighting diffuser, called 'BASIL' (short for Bright Ambient Sensing Interior Lighting) which is slimmer, more modern looking and makes the interior look brighter. The lights are actually LED and automatically light up brighter whenever the train is in a tunnel or at night. The system does this quicker than the human eye can blink, so passengers cannot notice the sudden change in brightness.

They have all undergone a further internal refurbishment which has seen them receive new flooring, new harder seating (though keeping the London Midland trim), vestibule handrails painted yellow and luggage rack handrails & window frames painted dark grey. All units are also now receiving new external door controls.

Currently London Midland are suffering a shortage of units, as 8 trains are awaiting wheelset and motor replacement and 1 unit is having an overhaul (which will also include the aforementioned repairs).[4]

Damage to London Midland Units[edit]

323209 hit a tree which had fallen onto the line between Sutton Coldfield and Four Oaks due to high winds on 5 January 2012. The train has stood up well to the impact with only the front end sustaining light damage. It returned to traffic quite quickly, though is easily recognisable by the patch that it wears to cover up the damage.

Northern Rail[edit]

At the time of the privatisation of British Rail in 1997, the Regional Railways North West franchise was re-branded North Western Trains (NWT), and it inherited 17 of these units (323223-323239). North Western Trains became First North Western and its operations were taken over by Northern Rail in 2004.

They were used to replace older stock of Classes 304 and 305, although some of the latter were retained in reserve until 2000. The units are used on the Manchester electrified network, primarily to the south of the city. However, The 323s are to move to London Midland in April 2016. Services include:

Route Usage Notes/Other Units Used
Manchester Piccadilly to Glossop/Hadfield Monday to Sunday None
Manchester Piccadilly to Alderley Edge Monday to Sunday Some weekday peak journeys via Manchester Airport

No Monday - Saturday evening service except for the SO 2338 Manchester Piccadilly - Alderley Edge

Sunday service routed at alternate hours via Manchester Airport and Stockport

Manchester Oxford Road to Wilmslow Monday to Saturday Evenings only via Manchester Airport
Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe via Stockport Monday to Sunday

Hourly service Monday - Saturday, with additional peak services.

The 07.22 Monday to Friday Crewe-Manchester service is formed of 2 × Class 142 units.

2-hourly service on Sundays.

Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe via Manchester Airport Monday to Saturday No evening or Sunday service
Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport Monday to Sunday Hourly service
Manchester Piccadilly to Hazel Grove Monday to Saturday 1922 Manchester Piccadilly - Hazel Grove is the only booked Class-323-operated service.
Manchester Piccadilly to Stoke-on-Trent Monday to Sunday Limited Sunday service

2 × Class 142 DMU trains booked to operate the 07.15 SX Macclesfield - Manchester Piccadilly service

Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester United Football Ground Matchdays only Mixture of 3- or 6-car services
New livery on a Northern Rail unit.
Northern Rail operated 323225 at Manchester Piccadilly station. This unit is painted in obsolete First North Western livery.
323 at Godley railway station in Northern Rail livery

323223-323225 were originally dedicated to Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport services and have additional luggage racks, but this was rarely achieved due to diagramming difficulties.

The fleet is maintained on behalf of Northern Rail by West Coast Traincare Ltd at its Manchester Traincare Centre Longsight, a few miles south of Manchester Piccadilly, with units stabled at Stockport Edgeley carriage sidings where they receive overnight cleaning.

The trains were originally painted in the Greater Manchester PTE livery.[5]

Two units, Nos. 323224 and 323233, were re-liveried (with vinyls due to the original paint still under warranty) into NWT dark blue livery with gold stars. The first was 323233, complete with 'North Western Trains' branding. However, due to a minor collision at Longsight depot with 323224, while the two damaged vehicles were sent off for repair, a reformed set was put together with 323224s undamaged DTSO fitted with NWT vinyls to match the remainder of 323233. When the repaired vehicles were returned to Longsight, the units were returned to their proper formations, and the GMPTE-liveried vehicles from 323224 were given matching vinyls (but without NWT branding).

The franchise was later acquired by First Group and renamed First North Western (FNW). In 2003-2004 the entire fleet was refurbished, including a repaint into FNW blue and magenta "Barbie" livery.

In December 2004, the Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western franchises were combined into a new Northern Rail franchise. Northern Rail is operated by Serco-Abellio. The Class 323 units retained FNW blue livery, awaiting Northern Rail to finalise their corporate image.

In June 2007, the Northern Class 323s began a refurbishment programme that included the introduction of over 20 reliability improvement modifications, replacement of cab desk panels and new LED lighting for the front of the trains. No. 323239 was the first unit to receive this upgrade and was released back into passenger traffic on 18 August 2007.

On 6 January 2008, No. 323223 was repainted in Northern livery - the first Class 323 in the Northern fleet to be branded. This unit returned to service on 15 February 2008 in full livery. All of Northern's 323 fleet carry the Northern Rail livery.

On 7 March 2011 a C4+C6 overhaul on the fleet began at the fleet's "home" depot - Manchester Traincare Centre. The overhaul includes attention to underframe equipment - including brake equipment and bogies - passenger doors, couplers, and roof equipment as well as an internal refresh which includes the replacement of the saloon floor boards and floor covering.

Damage to Northern Rail Units[edit]

323235 spent six months out of action after derailing at Alderley Edge on 13 September 2008 when, shortly after operating the 23:31 Deansgate to Alderley Edge service, it ran ECS into the up siding and was returning to Stockport for overnight stabling. The driver passed a signal at danger, resulting in the train derailing on the points, causing wheel damage to one of the bogies and damaging the traction motor. The unit was travelling at about 10 mph (16 km/h) when the incident occurred. During the time it was out of service receiving repairs, it was also put through the fleet modification programme and was repainted in Northern Rail livery. It re-entered service on 24 January 2009.

323231 spent 16 months out of service after derailing at Congleton on 18 December 2008, after hitting a Land Rover which had rolled down Mow Cop on to the track close to the crossing below.[6] It suffered a lot of underbody damage as well as losing its pantograph. The unit was repaired at Wolverton, and returned to Manchester on 14 April 2010. It returned to service shortly afterwards. The return to service of 323231 saw a diagram on Manchester Piccadilly to Alderley Edge and Crewe services revert to class 323 operation, although the trains involved continue to run in Pacer timings.[citation needed]

Fleet details[edit]

Class Operator No. Built Year Built Cars per Set Unit nos.
Class 323 London Midland 43 1992–1993 3 323201 - 323222
323240 - 323243
Northern Rail 323223 - 323239


  1. ^ This number excludes 323223-323225 as these three trains, leased by Northern Rail, have 40 seats removed and replaced with luggage racks for passengers travelling to and from Manchester Airport.
  2. ^ Transys Projects LTD
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^
  5. ^ 323229 at Crewe - Flickr. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
  6. ^ "Train hits 'runaway' car on line". BBC News. 19 December 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2012.