WCML 321 units remembered.
September 2015 saw the final class 321 unit operation on the WCML, bringing to an end operations that started in 1989. Back in the "Network South East" era Ilford based 321320 and 321321 arrived at BY in May 89 for crew training. At the Northampton station gala day on May 13th both were amongst an impressive display of power with 321321 working Northampton - Rugby shuttles too.
The first of the eventual 39* strong WCML fleet was 321401 which was delivered new from BREL York on July 3rd 1989. 321401/2 were first recorded on service train locally on July 11th 1989.
* 321401-321448 were initially to all be WCML units but 321438-448 were soon transferred to the Eastern, leaving 321401-437 as the WCML 321 units.
The slow ousting of the then established class 317's units quickly followed and on August 17th 1989 321401/408 appeared on the 1853 Euston - Northampton "Cobbler" loco hauled turn. A short term grounding of the class 90 loco fleet saw acute loco shortages on the WCML hence the inagural "Cobbler" working.
The class quickly established themselves as units that could "go like the wind" and were pretty popular replacements for the 317s which were always "Midland" rejects in some local enthusiasts eyes!
From 1989 - 2015 the class went from NSE, to the "North London Railways" shadow franchise, to privatised operator National Express as "Silverlink" in 1997 before "London Midland" in Nov 2007. The 321's home depot of Bletchley won "golden spanner" awards for their 321 fleet reliability, then Bletchley was closed and the surviving LM based units worked out of Northampton depot alongside their new heavy weight class 350 new build units.
Over the years the class visited at least Liverpool (staffex) , Preston (snow chaos), Wolverhampton (diagrammed) and Walsall (diagrammed until Dec 2008) amongst other shacks well away from the Bletchley unit empire! Silverlink regularly hired
their 321s to other operators with Anglia, C2C and Northern all operating the likes of 321407 and classmates across their networks.
2 serious incidents in their operating history included:
August 8th 1996 - A fatal collision South of Watford involving 321420,321418, 321406
September 2003 - Routine inspection of 321427 at BY depot early on September 11th reportedly found 15 brake disc bolts loose on two wheelsets. As an urgent safety precaution the whole Silverlink fleet was withdrawn until full safety checks could identify and correct similar issues. Only by September 13th were the 321's gradually returned to service to replace a hot potch of loco hauled, 150 and 313 units that Silverlink commendably brought in as very short notice to cover the huge hole left by being 37 units short...
With the introduction of the class 350 units on local turns from June 2005 many thought we would soon loose our York built quality power. Even with the 350'2 fleet and even 350'3s, the small fleet of 7 321 units (aka the "magnificent seven!");in 2015 carried on their booked turns generally without incident and without much enthusiast interest too.
With yet more "Midland rejects" this time as 319's, drafted in as replacements in late Summer 2015 the final main line service working saw 321417 and 321414 flailed at on leaving Leighton with the 2224 Euston - Northampton on Friday September 18th. The very last 321 service train workings locally were 321413 on a half day on the "Abbey Flyer" diagram on September 20th 2015.
By late September 2015 321413/4 were with LOROL for Romford - Upminster duties
whilst Scotrail beckons for 321411/12/15/16/17 once Doncaster Works refurbish/reform them as 3 car units.
As with much of the todays broken up railway, things by October 2015 haven't perhaps quite gone to plan, with an apology re class 319 reliability currently on London Midland's website. ........The sensible option would be for our 321's to return.......Listen out for those screaming motors on these dark December evenings!
WCML 321 units photo spot
Thanks to RM for this Bletchley CS view of 310110 and 321404 in July 89.RM advises "310110 has a drop head "buck eye" coupler whilst the 321 has a "tightlock" coupler hence the height differences between the old and new.
Over the years 321's worked in multiple with 313/317's and after a failure class 319's.
has been repainted white with "make the link" branding. "Silverlink" was coming and
the rumoured plan was for the unit to be silver livery but this didnt happen...
321428 again looking colourful with "Euston - Birmingham" daytripper bargain fares in this March 2000 Ledburn view. 321428 also had a Travelcard "panda" livery, today 428 is a more respectable plain National express white!
Class 321 gone locally but not forgotten..