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Another old BR built Class that’s reaching the end of the line in passenger service is the Class 321/3 fleet. 66 of these 100mph, 4-car units were ordered from BREL York by Network SouthEast in 1987 with the first unit entering service on the lines out of London Liverpool St in 1988. Like the earlier classes (317, 318 and 319) the trains were based on the MK3 coach bodyshell. The major difference was that the units weren’t fitted with front-end gangways which altered their appearance dramatically and allowed drivers far better visibility compared to earlier builds.

Their introduction allowed a lot of the old slam-door electric units to be replaced with modern sliding-door stock. They’ve remained in service on Anglia services until today, although many of the units have now been withdrawn and scrapped after being replaced by the new Class 720 trains built by Bombardier at Derby. As is often the case, the new trains have been delayed. The 321s were meant to have replaced by 2019 but a few still soldier on!

During their lives they’ve had several operators. Firstly Network SouthEast. On privatisation they were sold to Eversholt leasing and operated by ‘First Great Eastern’ who took over many of the services out of Liverpool St in January 1997. FGE lasted until 2004 when the franchise was won by National Express. Initially trading under the name ‘ONE’ the franchise was rebranded National Express East Anglia in 2008 and the livery changed to National Express corporate colours. The franchise underwent a services of extensions and lasted until 2012 when it was taken over by Dutch Company Abellio who’ve run it ever since as ‘Abellio Greater Anglia‘. When Abellio won the retendered franchise in 2016 they announced a total fleet replacement which left the 321s living on borrowed time.

Apart from livery changes the biggest alteration to the Class 321/3 fleet was the ‘Renatus’ refurbishment programme of 2018 which saw the first 30 of the units (321301-330) fitted with a new Vossloh Kiepe traction package (with regenerative braking), rebuilt interior and air conditioning to replace the forced air-ventilation through open windows.

Sadly for the 321s, the ‘Renatus’ programme did little to prolong their loves, despite the traction package being designed with a 30 year life-span. Apart from a few units that are being converted for freight traffic there are no plans for passenger service elsewhere.

Here’s a series of pictures looking back at their time in traffic, from 1990 to the present day. Please note – all these pictures are my copyright…

An everyday scene that’s now disappeared. Class leader 321301 speeds past a pair of Class 315s outside Forest Gate on the 9th June 2011.
This view of ‘Renatus’ set 321306 taken at Manor Park on the 12th June 2021 shows the difference compared to the original units with opening windows. The internal ambience was much improved by fitting a/c and cutting down external noise penetrating the saloons.
In original condition and only a year old, NSE liveried 321307 stands next to one of the trains it was to replace, a slam-door class 307. Seen at Southend Victoria on the 7th January 1990.
On the 5th August 2019 ‘Renatus’ set 321314 and a sister unit sit at Norwich between duties. The units had a regular daily diagram which brought them to the city.
‘Renautus’ set 321316 leads an unrefurbished 321342 into Colchester from Ipswich on the 6th June 2021.
In National Express livery but with Abellio branding, set 321317 crosses the River Stour viaduct at Manningtree and heads for Ipswich on the 19th May 2015.
321318 sports the revised First Great Eastern livery but with National Express branding and white stripe as it leaves Liverpool St on the 9th September 2008.
Here’s 321321 with another of the old slam door units it helped to replace at Clacton on the 9th August 2003.
Here’s 321324 sporting the full corporate National Express livery, seen at Bow Junction on the 27th July 2010.
On the 13th March 2007 a pair of Class 321s sit inside Ilford depot in East London.
On the 14th April 2015 I was working for Network Rail trackside at Wrabness on the Harwich branch. Whilst I was there we were passed by 321332 working the Manningtree – Harwich Town shuttle.
For short while in 2005 three Great Eastern liveried 321s were loaned to Silverlink, operating services out of Euston. Here’s 321338 at Euston on the 24th February 2005.
The 3+2 seating layout, original seats and green moquette in Standard Class aboard 321339 seen at Southend Victoria on the 24th November 2014.
The end of the line (literally) for 321340! It’s seen here at the terminus of the Southminster branch on the 31st March 2015.
Here’s 321343 in the original FGE livery before the stripes were extended around the base of the cab. Seen at Stratford in East London on the 9th August 2000.
Here’s 321346 towards the end of its BR career, seen working the 14:30 to Liverpool St at Ipswich on the 14th June 1996.
On the 4th August 2014 321353 leads a classmate through Witham at speed as it heads for London Liverpool St.
Just a year old and in original condition with NSE livery 321359 and 321366 call at Stratford whilst working to Southend Victoria on the 29th June 1990.

Of course the Class 321/3s weren’t the only members of their type to work Anglia services. 16 of the later batch of 321/4s also ended up working from Liverpool and in recent years the 321/9s built for Northern services have been transferred South along with the peripatetic Class 322s originally built for Stansted Express services before heading up to Scotland – then on to Yorkshire before returning to Anglia – but I’ll be dealing with them in separate blogs.

Personally, although I’ve used these trains since they were first introduced I’ve never been a great fan of the ‘Dusty Bins’ as they were nicknamed. Like the earlier Class 317s they suffered from a lack of tables and high windows which restricted views. As 100mph units they were fast, but their acceleration didn’t match their modern replacements and the saloons were noisy due to the primitive corridor connections, opening windows and slide doors that rattled when other trains passed. The ‘Renatus’ refurbishment was a great improvement, but the lack of a rolling programme of electrification has rendered them redundant just as it has the far superior class 365s.

If you want to view (or buy) pictures of the 321s you can find shots of them in these galleries. These include all versions of the 321s (3s, 4s, 9s and 322s)

The BR gallery



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