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 They’ve remained in service on Anglia services until today, although many of the units have now been withdrawn and scrapped after being replaced by the new Class 720 trains built by Bombardier at Derby.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…
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)
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