A tale of two ends

Listen to this article

A revised version of the Class 321 train used on Greater Anglia has just been revealed at Wabtec’s Doncaster works. Greater Anglia runs 94 four-car Class 321 trains on its network. 66 are classified as Class 321/3 while 28 are the very similar 321/4 , 17 of which were cascaded from London Midland in 2009.

Planning for the future

Train owner Eversholt Rail had to consider how best to offer these trains to potential new operators when the Greater Anglia franchise was due to expire in July 2014. As it happens, that franchise has now been extended until 15 October 2016.

With new franchises likely to last for 15 years, and the original Class 321s having been built 25 years earlier in 1988, work would be needed if the new operator was to take the fleet on. Plans were therefore drawn up and unit 321448 was sent to Wabtec’s facility at Doncaster for modification.

Eversholt Rail’s intention was that this train would be a true demonstrator. It would show both operators and passengers what was possible and offer alternative solutions. It was therefore decided that two cars would be restyled in ‘metro’ format and two in a ‘suburban’ style.

New interiors

First of all the whole train was stripped out of all its seating and interior panelling. Only the lower side panel would be reused – everything else would be replaced.

The train was already fitted with a passenger information system – dot-matrix displays coupled to an audio message. Air-conditioning was installed in the saloons with overhead units. This, coupled with new overhead LED lighting, meant that the driver’s cabs also had to receive new overhead systems as the previous installation had the air ducted in from a unit in the saloon roof, something that was no longer possible.

The heating was also replaced. A new blown system was run down both sides of the cars under the seats, and all other under-seat equipment was relocated to allow for both the free passage of the heated air and easy cleaning.

As air conditioning was fitted, the original, opening-hopper style windows were replaced by one-piece sealed double-glazed units which also make the carriage interiors appear lighter. The larger glass area and the lack of cross bars transformed the look of the carriage and will reduce the draughts.

The partitions to the vestibule areas were replaced by glass to improve visibility and give that ‘light and airy’ feel.

Refreshed facilities

One of the toilets was refurbished. It is still a hopper toilet, dumping its contents onto the track, but plans are afoot to replace this with a CET (controlled emission toilet) when the full class is refurbished.

The other toilet has been completely replaced by a Spanish-built wheelchair-accessible toilet cubicle. This comes as a plug-in unit and it has a CET system. It is also quite large and takes up the space of about seven seats. However, that cannot be avoided and a lot of effort was made to fit a couple of single seats back into the train to minimise the net loss.

Photo: Jonathan Webb.
Photo: Jonathan Webb.

Alternative seating

All of the above applies to the complete train. The biggest difference between the two ends is the seating arrangement.

In ‘metro’ style the seating is two-by-two. New seat designs have been incorporated from ATD, a Coventry-based firm that normally manufactures car and luxury vehicle seats. However, the new styles were fully approved and tested and had lightweight formed- aluminium shells with firm, foam inserts.

Fabric colours are a mixture of greens, blues and purples as this is a demonstrator and shows no allegiance to any particular operator. It also gives users some idea of what is possible.

Due to the seating arrangements, the aisles are wide and, in peak periods, may have people standing two abreast. New ‘pretzel’ hand-grabs have been fixed to aisle seats so that they are convenient for several standing passengers to hold on to, and overhead handrails have been eliminated.

There are no large tables between facing sets of seats, but small triangular ones are included which can take a coffee cup or two. Balancing a large laptop on one may be a challenge though.

In the ‘suburban’ end the seating is more compact, being three-by-two. This leads to narrower aisles so only conventional hand- holds are needed.

As shown, the train does have a small first- class section. This has larger, leather-covered seats in a two-by-one arrangement and full-sized tables. Again, this is a demonstrator so the ‘production’ versions may be different, or even have no first-class section at all – the mixture of the seating will ultimately be determined by the future fleet operator.

Behind (and under) the scenes

In the driver’s cabs, as well as the new air conditioning, there are new seat covers and fresh new paint. Otherwise, as the mechanical working of the train has not been altered, everything is as it was before.

Externally, the train has a smart new grey livery.

There are plans to update the traction package. This will involve replacing the existing Brush DC traction motors with asynchronous AC motors. The new motors will have to fit in the existing locations on the bogies and mate with the current gearboxes. As the urgency was to get the interior demonstrator finished, this traction package will be fitted next year as a separate project.

Once the new traction is in place, then some revision of the driver’s control desk will be needed to accommodate the instrumentation for the regenerative braking that will then be possible.

Back in service

Andy Course, chief operating officer of Eversholt Rail, explained that tests in Doncaster on the revised train were almost complete. “We shall be carrying out some further testing and checks at Greater Anglia’s depot at Ilford,” he commented, “And then we hope to put it into service in December.”

Passengers will be surveyed, using a dedicated website, for their views on the revisions and the two different seating arrangements. Then, once their views are known, Eversholt Rail will be able to finalise the package to offer future operators.

“This is part of a major programme offering an affordable, value-for-money solution to the rail industry,” Andy continued. “Our Class 320 trains are also undergoing a major upgrade. The Class 321 demonstrator is almost ready for passenger service and we are just commencing a major upgrade to Class 318 trains. On top of this, the Class 315 PRM (Persons of Reduced Mobility) work will be completed in 2016 and we have committed to Class 365 heavy maintenance, refresh and PRM work too.”

It sounds as though Eversholt Rail’s Class 3XX trains will all look very different in a few years, giving these dependable units a new lease of life.


  1. Sounds to me like you are trying to make a silk purse of a sows ear. the 321 is a dreadful train that is totally unreliable. As a Greater Anglia Commuter I know
    The Greater Anglia line is among the most profitable in the country why should we get second class trains? We need new ones. its the only way the service quality will improve!!!

  2. With all that work being done it would be a shame to spoil it all with retaining 2+3 seating. The time has come to provide seating in trains that you can actually sit on for the 90 minutes they take to get where you are going. New cab layouts should be accompanied with corridor connectors for the 12-car formations they run in. The 321s have a better ride than the 360s so it is worth making the effort.

  3. In my 15th year of travelling Wiv to Lon-Lps, the 321 has always been bad 1) due to the windows/heating being useless so you either bake or freeze, 2) the seats are really uncomfortable and the hight seems to be very low making them even more uncomfortable (and i’m not tall). The old slam door trains that were replaced with the 360 were better than the 321. The 360’s aren’t bad but sometimes you get thrown around a bit.
    When the trains are delayed and packed the hand rails are needed and so shouldn’t be removed, also tables even small ones just get in the way.
    I remember reading something about the line being profitable several years ago, so i don’t see how it can be justified that the ticket costs are now 4 times higher than when i first started using the train as the only noticeable change has been the slam door to 360 replacement. Then there are the car park charges now over £1000 a year (it used to be Free).

    And how about the crappy paper based Delay Repay forms that they still have to discourage people from claiming all of the delays. If you have a season ticket you should be able to specify your normal time train and automatically receive the amount in a holding account to be paid as a cheque or discount off the next over priced ticket.

  4. Abellio Greater Anglia (AGA/Abellio GA) has 94x Class 321’s Electric Multiple Units (with Class 321448 known as a “demonstrator train” transformed by Eversholt Rail) would see the new commuter trains with new features including-new double glazed windows, new air-conditioning, AC traction system, Pantograph, passenger information display, doors, seats, interiors, floors, refurbished standard toilets and a newly built disabled toilet and the aspect of having a brand new refurbished 4-car trains would be transformed for Abellio Greater Anglia and other operators who have the Class 321’s including Great Northern (Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)) (formerly First Capital Connect (FCC)) and London Midland with Northern Rail’s Class 321/9’s and ex-Scotrail’s Class 322’s and Scotrail’s 3-car Class 320’s to also be transformed.

    The Class 321’s which is mostly popular and used by Abellio Greater Anglia would see the re-transformation of the “Essex Commuter” trains in years ahead for serving services to Essex and to Ipswich and Norwich to/from London Liverpool Street.

    The Class 321’s along with the Class 322’s and Class 320’s are built by BREL (British Rail Engineering Limited) in York, North Yorkshire in the 1980’s-onwards and is maintained by Wabtec Transportation Co in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

    • Abellio GA’s Class 321’s operates services in/out of London Liverpool Street to Colchester, Chelmsford, Colchester Town, Clacton-on-Sea, Southend Victoria, Southminster, Braintree, Witham, Ipswich, Manningtree, Norwich, Diss, Stowmarket, Harwich International, Walton-on-the-Naze, Wickford, Southend Airport, Romford, Stratford, Shenfield and stations in Essex.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.