The British Rail Class 321 alternating current (AC) electric multiple units (EMU) were built by BREL York in three batches from 1988 to 1991.[1][2] The design was successful and led to the development of the similar Class 320 and Class 322 units for use by Strathclyde PTE and Stansted Express (now used by Northern) respectively. The British Rail Mark 3 bodyshell design was also used for construction of the Class 456 direct current (DC) units.


Three sub-classes of unit were built. The first two were built for the Network SouthEast sector, whilst the final batch was built for services around Leeds. These trains have been modified by different rail companies who use them, such as Greater Anglia. The modifications include new seats, paintwork, lighting and in carriage announcement boards.

Class 321/3Edit

The first batch of 66 EMU trains, built between 1988 and 1990[1] were classified under TOPS as Class 321/3. Units were numbered in the range 321301-366 and have a maximum speed of Template:Convert. Each EMU consisted of four carriages; two outer driving trailers, one of which contained first class seating; an intermediate motor coach with standard class seating only, roof mounted Brecknell Willis High Speed pantograph and four Brush TM2141C traction motors (two per bogie); and an intermediate trailer with standard class seating. The technical description of the formation is DTCO+PMSO+TSO+DTSO. These units were delivered in two groups, with individual vehicles numbered as follows:

Units 321301-346 Units 321347-366
DTCO 78049-78094 78131-78150
PMSO 62975-63020 63105-63124
TSO 71880-71925 71991-72010
DTSO 77853-77898 78280-78299

These EMU trains were built for outer-suburban trains on the Great Eastern Main Line, primarily from London Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria, Ipswich, Southminster, Clacton, Colchester and Braintree. They replaced the ageing slam-door Class 305, 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 to the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. Some of the Class 309 "Clacton Express" units 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 the distinctive Network SouthEast livery from new. 321361 was named 'Phoenix' in March 2008 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.[3]

Class 321/4Edit

File:321401 - Rugby (8959162488).jpg

The second batch of 48 units, built between 1989–90,[1] were classified as Class 321/4. Units were numbered in the range 321401-448 and again have a maximum speed of Template:Convert. The formation of these units is identical to that of the first batch, each unit being formed DTCO+PMSO+TSO+DTSO. They were delivered in two groups, with individual vehicles numbered as follows:Template:Citation needed

Units 321401-430 Units 321431-442 Units 321443-448
DTCO 78095-78124 78151-78162 78125-78130
PMSO 63063-63092 63125-63136 63099-63104
TSO 71949-71978 72011-72022 71985-71990
DTSO 77943-77972 78300-78311 78274-78279

These units were built for outer-suburban services on the West Coast Main Line, from London Euston to Watford, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Rugby, Coventry and Birmingham New Street.

All Units were delivered in Network SouthEast blue, red and white livery. They displaced the recently cascaded Class 317 units dating from 1981 that had themselves only just been introduced to the route to replace Class 310 units.

In 1996, units 321418 and 321420 were involved in a head-on rush-hour collision at Watford South Junction. Two vehicles of each set were extensively damaged. The remaining, undamaged, vehicles were reformed into a 'new' 321418, whilst the damaged vehicles were scrapped. Replacement vehicles were constructed, using the same vehicle numbers, taking the unit number 321420.

As built, 321/4 units had an enlarged First Class area comprising half of the DTC vehicle, instead of one third in the 321/3 units. An additional partition with folding double doors in the centre of the coach created this additional space. Units 321438 to 321 448 were transferred for Great Eastern Main Line services. Following this, their First Class area was reduced in size to standardise with the existing 321/3 units on that route. This involved removal of the centre partition and double doors and re-upholstering the First Class style 2+2 seats (that 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. In late 2010, First Capital Connect obtained and refurbished some Class 321/4 units from London Midland ranging from 321401 to 321410 and 321418 to 321420.

Class 321/9Edit


The final batch of three Class 321 were classified as Class 321/9 and were constructed in 1991,[1] 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. Therefore, the formation is DTSO+PMSO+TSO+DTSO. Units are numbered in the range 321901-903, and individual vehicles are numbered as follows:Template:Citation needed

  • 77990-77992 - DTSO
  • 63153-63155 - PMSO
  • 72128-72130 - TSO
  • 77993-77995 - DTSO

They were ordered by West Yorkshire PTE for the newly electrified Doncaster-Leeds route, and therefore carried the West Yorkshire Metro maroon livery from new.

Due to a quirk to the units entering traffic, five redundant Class 307 units were introduced on the route as a stop-gap measure in 1991. These elderly units continued in service until 1993, when the Class 321 units finally entered traffic. In 1994, they were joined by several Class 308 units, which were introduced on services around Leeds following electrication of the Airedale Line and Wharfedale Line routes from Leeds to Ilkley, Skipton and Bradford.

The Class 321/9 units were refurbished at Hunslet-Barclay, Kilmarnock from late 2006 to early 2007.[4] The refurbishment included a new livery, refurbished interiors and reliability improvements, similar to the Class 322 EMUs, that were also refurbished at Kilmarnock.[4]



Arriva Trains Northern inherited the three Class 321/9 units 321901, 321902 and 321903.Template:Citation needed These units operate on the Leeds - Doncaster Wakefield Line service and occasionally on the Wharfedale and Airedale lines alongside Class 333 and Class 322 units. These units then passed on to Northern Rail in 2004 and have since been refurbished. The units continue to operate on these routes in the present day. These units passed to Northern in 2016. In early 2016 it was confirmed that Spanish rolling stock manufacturer CAF are to construct the new electric powered trains which are planned to operate in West Yorkshire to replace Class 321 and Class 322 trains and work alongside the current fleet of Class 333 units.Template:Cn

Template:Anchor Abellio Greater AngliaEdit

First Great Eastern inherited all 66 Class 321/3 units and 11 Class 321/4 units. The Great Eastern Main Line franchise was subsequently taken over by National Express East Anglia, initially branded 'one', and then subsequently by Abellio Greater Anglia. These 77 units were fitted with automatic dot matrix and audio passenger information systems during the 'one'/National Express East Anglia franchise.

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 are usually formed from 4, 8 or 12 carriages on any route

Template:Anchor Silverlink/London MidlandEdit

Silverlink inherited 37 of the 48 Class 321/4 units. The remaining 11 units had been transferred to the Great Eastern Main Line region some years previously.Template:Citation needed

In September 2003, Silverlink's class 321 units were temporarily withdrawn following the discovery of loose bolts on brake discs in some units.[5]

In September 2004, London Euston - Birmingham local services were divided into two separate services: Silverlink retained Northampton - London, with Central Trains taking over all local services between Birmingham and Northampton. Initially, Central Trains hired in several Class 321 units from Silverlink to work their new services, but the arrival of the new Class 350 "Desiro" units means that very few Class 321 units are now required.

To accommodate this sub-lease, three Class 321/3 units were transferred from 'one' (since rebranded 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 - Liverpool route. One of these sub-leased units was involved in a low-speed derailment at Watford Yard.[6]

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 with Siemens for 37 Class 350 'Desiro' EMUs; these were intended to replace the Class 321 units.[7]

In mid 2009, London Midland stood down most of the units and reduced their fleet to just 321411 - 321417. These units were to be repainted by London Midland and given a very basic and minor interior refresh, which resulted in the retention of the original Network SouthEast moquette, yellow handrails and yellow paint on the inside of the sliding doors. Only the carpets and general interior markings were replaced during the refresh. They were used for peak hour workings between Northampton/Milton Keynes Central/Tring - London Euston and all day on the 'Abbey Flyer' Watford Junction - St. Albans Abbey branch line.[8][9]

In 2015, it was announced that London Midland's fleet of Class 321/4s are to be transferred to Abellio ScotRail to operate on Glasgow suburban lines. The company will receive a small fleet of Class 319 EMUs in order to cover for the loss of the cascaded 321s and they will operate on the Abbey Flyer service and peak hour services out of London Euston.

Govia Thameslink RailwayEdit

First Capital Connect received thirteen units (321401-10/18-20) from London Midland following deliveries of the new Siemens Desiro Class 350/2. All 13 units have now received a new look, FCC indigo blue and 'city lights' branding, plus a full internal refresh. The units are working on the Great Northern services (London Kings Cross to Peterborough and London Kings Cross to Cambridge). At first, only 321401-6/10 saw regular use, the remainder required bogie overhauls before they could enter traffic. Since the start of the December 2010 timetable, all 13 units are now in use. They have since been transferred to Govia Thameslink Railway after the First Capital Connect franchise ended on 13 September 2014.

Class 321 DemonstratorEdit

In December 2013, Abellio Greater Anglia in conjunction with Eversholt Rail Group refitted a 321/4 as a demonstrator to show what Abellio planned to do with their Class 321 fleet.[10] The unit number is 321448, which features a new paint job, completely re-fitted interior including two examples of sitting arrangements including 2+2 and 2+3 and a new First Class area. The demonstrator also features air conditioning, previously unseen on Class 321 trains along with fixed panel windows to replace opening windows. It was originally envisaged to have a new traction package fitted, but at the time of introduction in 2013, it was not completed. The production refurbished units will have new AC traction motors as standard after refurbishment. By the end of the franchise in October 2016, ten of the trains should have been finished, while the rest will be refurbished by Abellio at a later date.[11]

Class 321/4 fleet CascadeEdit

It was announced on 30 January 2008 that as part of the Department for Transport's rolling stock plan, the London Midland operated EMUs would be split between two other train operating companies (TOCs) after the arrival of the 37 additional Class 350/2 'Desiro' EMUs currently on order.[12]

They were transferred as follows:

First Capital Connect received their first Class 321, No. 321404, on 5 March 2009.[13] All Units transferred to First Capital Connect have been internally refreshed at Hornsey TMD and re-painted into First Capital Connect livery. 321418 - 321420 have since also transferred to First Capital Connect.

321421 - 321437 were fitted with dot-matrix passenger information systems following their transfer to National Express East Anglia. They also had their first class area reduced and were fitted with the facility to lock-out power operated doors within the unit, in the same way that 321438 - 321448 were treated many years before. These changes standardised them operationally with the rest of the 321/4 fleet that was already operating on that route (Note: these 17 Units retain the first class style 2+2 seating in the de-classified first class section however, rather than having been converted to 3+2). All have been progressively re-painted into National Express livery as they went through a C6 overhaul, in common with the rest of the Class 321 fleet at National Express. In March 2012, Greater Anglia commenced an interior 'refresh' on these units and installation of internal CCTV (CCTV had already fitted to the rest of the Greater Anglia fleet at the start of the National Express franchise). The refresh consisted of new floor coverings and seat covers throughout, replacement and re-painting of interior panels and re-painted grab poles and door handles. Tables were also removed, to ensure consistency with the rest of the Class 321 fleet. The first unit treated was 321425 and by April 2013 all 17 units had been refurbished.

Recent eventsEdit

In 2016 all Class 321/4s currently operated by Govia Thameslink Railway will be replaced as a result of the new operator's move to introduce Class 387s cascaded from the Thameslink route on services to Cambridge.[14]

Abellio ScotRail will gain seven Class 321 units cascaded from London Midland by December 2015 for Glasgow suburban services. These Class 321s have been reformed to three-car units, by removing the TSO vehicle and reclassified as Class 320/4.[15][16][17]

In August 2016 on being awarded the new East Anglia rail franchise, Abellio Greater Anglia has placed a huge order for brand new Bombardier Aventra EMUs which will replace the Class 317 and 321 units despite the ongoing Renatus project for the latter. The new trains will comprise of 22x10-car units and 89x5-car units. The first of the new trains is due to enter service in 2019. [18]


Fleet detailsEdit

Class No. Built Cars per set Year Built Operator No. in Traffic Unit nos.
Class 321/3 66 4 1988-90 Greater Anglia 66 321301–321366
Class 321/4 48 1989-90 Greater Anglia 28 321421–321448
Great Northern 13 321401–321410
Class 321/9 3 1991 Northern 3 321901–321903


  • The Class 321s are nicknamed "Dusty Bins". This nickname is derived from the game show 3-2-1, which featured the animated character "Dusty Bin".[19]


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  14. Template:Cite journal
  15. The Scottish Ministers and Abellio Scotrail Limited: Scotrail Franchise Agreement Transport Scotland 6 March 2015
  16. "ScotRail to receive LM Class 321/4s" Rail issue 766 21 January 2015 page 27
  17. "London Midland 321s Scotland Bound" Railways Illustrated September 2015 page 10
  18. Modern Railways Magazine, September 2016 issue, pages 13-15
  19. Template:Cite book

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Template:Mark 3-derived Template:British Rail EMU