British Rail Class 323

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British Rail Class 323
Northern Rail Class 323, 323224, Alderley Edge railway station (geograph 4524576).jpg
Northern unit 323224 at Alderley Edge
323225 Interior.jpg
The interior of a refurbished Northern Class 323
In service1992 – present
Order no.
  • 31112 (DMSO A)
  • 31113 (TSOL)
  • 31114 (DMSO B)[2]
Built atLeeds[3]
ReplacedClass 304
Entered service1992
Number built43 sets
Formation3 cars per set:
  • EA272 (DMSO A)
  • EH296 (TSOL)
  • EA272 (DMSO B)[2]
Fleet numbers
  • 323201-323243[3]
  • 64001-64043 (DMSO A)
  • 72201-72239, 72340-72343 (TSOL)
  • 65001-65043 (DMSO B)[3]
  • 284 (all except 323223-323225)
  • 98 (DMSO)
  • 88 (TSOL)
  • 244 (323223-323225 only)[3]
Line(s) servedCross-City Line
Chase Line
Rugby-Birmingham-Stafford Line
Glossop Line
Crewe to Manchester Line
Stafford to Manchester Line
Car body constructionAluminium alloy[2]
Car length
  • DMSO: 23.37 m (76 ft 8 in)
  • TSOL: 23.44 m (76 ft 11 in)[3]
Width2.80 m (9 ft 2 in)[3]
Height3.78 m (12 ft 4 78 in)
DoorsBi-parting sliding plug[1][3]
Articulated sections3
Maximum speed90 mph (145 km/h)[1][3]
Traction motors4 × Holec DMKT 52/24[3]
Power output1,168 kW (1,566 hp)[3]
Electric system(s)25 kV 50 Hz AC Overhead
Current collection methodBrecknell Willis high speed pantograph
UIC classificationBo'Bo'+2'2'+Bo'Bo'
  • Powered - RFS BP62
  • Trailer - RFS BT52[3]
Braking system(s)Regenerative, Air Brake (Westcode)[3]
Safety system(s)
Coupling system
Multiple workingClass 313-323[3]
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

The British Rail Class 323 electric multiple units were built by Hunslet Transportation Projects. All 43 units were built from 1992 through to 1996, although mock-ups and prototypes were built and tested in 1990 and 1991.[4]

The units were specifically designed to operate on inner-suburban commuter lines in and around Birmingham and Manchester with swift acceleration and high reliability. They remain operational on commuter lines and are currently operated by West Midlands Trains and Northern.

The units are known for a distinctive whine made during acceleration or deceleration caused by use of a gate turn-off thyristor in the traction power circuitry. [5]


In the early 1990s the Regional Railways sector of British Rail placed an order for new EMUs both to replace older electric units around Birmingham and Manchester, and to work services on the newly electrified Birmingham Cross-City Line. In June 1990, the contract was awarded to Hunslet Transportation Projects of Birmingham, a new company set up by a team of engineers and managers who had left Metro Cammell. Metro Cammell was at the time a Birmingham-based train builder. They won the contract in competition with six other European train builders.[6]

Initially 37 units were ordered, with the option for fourteen more. Eighteen would be needed for the Cross-City Line, while the remainder would replace older units (such as the Class 304 and Class 310) in the event a total of 43 three-car units were actually built.[6] When the electrification of the Leeds/Bradford - Skipton/Ilkley Airedale/Wharfedale Lines was confirmed in the early 1990s, Regional Railways and West Yorkshire PTE applied to the government for 14 units to add to the units already on order.[7] At the time government spending on the railways was restricted due to the looming privatisation and eventually, when funding was not forthcoming, the order was cancelled, and 21 second-hand 308s from Network SouthEast were used in the interim before the 333s were delivered in 2001.[8]

As part of the privatisation of British Rail, all 43 were sold to Porterbrook in 1994 and allocated to the Central Trains and North West Regional Railways shadow franchises.[9][10]


West Midlands Trains[edit]

The former Central Trains inherited a fleet of 26 units from British Rail: sets 323201-222 and 323240-243. In November 2007, these passed on to London Midland when it took over the franchise. The units were delivered in 1993/94 painted in Centro green and white livery with a blue stripe. They were originally allocated to Bletchley depot, but have since been reallocated to Soho when the elderly class 304s retired. Since the 323s moved there, a workshop has been built for maintenance and repairs.[citation needed]

It was intended for the units to be introduced on the newly electrified Cross-City Line from Redditch to Lichfield (via Birmingham New Street). However, all did not go according to plan, and initially the units suffered from reliability problems. This meant that the ageing fleets of Class 115, 116, 117, 118 and 119 diesel multiple units, which the Class 323 units were meant to replace, continued in service longer than planned. They were finally withdrawn in 1995 once the Class 323 units had become more reliable. In 2014 the London Midland fleet of 26 EMU's was equipped with DC Airco Cab Air Cooling equipment by Onyxrail.[citation needed]

The units were also used on various other routes, including Coventry to Wolverhampton, and Birmingham to Walsall (Chase Line) suburban services, as well as longer distance Birmingham to Liverpool Lime Street services. On these services, they were used alongside the existing fleets of Class 310/1 and Class 312 slam-door units. The introduction of the new trains also allowed the withdrawal of the elderly Class 304 units, and the cascading of Class 308 units to operate suburban services around Leeds.

In December 2017, West Midlands Trains took over the West Midlands franchise. The 323s will transfer to the new operator, however they will be displaced by new trains on the Cross City Line in 2020.[11]

West Midlands Trains units are currently undergoing refurbishment, including new seat coverings, passenger display screens and fitting of accessible toilets. 323217 was the first completed.[12]


At the time of the privatisation of British Rail in 1997, the Regional Railways North West franchise was re-branded North Western Trains, and it inherited 17 of these units (323223-323239). North Western Trains became First North Western and its operations were taken over by Northern Rail in 2004. All passed to Arriva Rail North with the franchise in April 2016.

They were used to replace older stock of Classes 304 and 305, although some of the latter were retained in reserve until 2000. The units are used on the Manchester electrified network, primarily to the south of the city. The 323s were scheduled to leave Northern in December 2018 when replaced by the Class 331, however, this has not yet taken effect.[13][14][15]

The fleet is maintained on behalf of Northern by West Coast Traincare Ltd at its Manchester Traincare Centre Longsight, a few miles south of Manchester Piccadilly, with units stabled at Stockport Edgeley carriage sidings where they receive overnight cleaning.[citation needed]

Route Usage Notes Other Units Used
Liverpool Lime Street to Crewe via Manchester Airport Monday to Saturday Introduced in May 2018 Class 319
Manchester Piccadilly to Glossop/Hadfield Monday to Sunday None
Manchester Piccadilly to Alderley Edge Sunday Before May 2018 on Weekdays, Class 323 terminated at Alderley Edge. After May 2018, Diesel units now operate with the line extended to Wigan North Western.
Manchester Oxford Road to Wilmslow Monday to Saturday Previously, there was an evenings only service via Manchester Airport. After May 2018, the Liverpool-Crewe route serves this line.
Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe via Stockport Monday to Sunday Hourly service calling at all stations Class 319
Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe via Manchester Airport Monday to Saturday Extended to Liverpool Lime Street in May 2018 Class 319
Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport Monday to Sunday An hourly service previously terminated between both stations. Today, all services that terminate at the airport are extended beyond Manchester.
Manchester Piccadilly to Stoke-on-Trent Monday to Sunday Hourly service Monday - Saturday

6 services on Sunday in both directions

Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester United Football Ground Matchdays only Mixture of 3- or 6-car services

Accidents and incidents[edit]

On 18 December 2008, unit 323231 collided with a Nissan 4x4 which had rolled down the embankment from a delivery company car park at North Rode, Congleton. The unit spent 16 months out of service to undergo repair as a result.[16]

Fleet details[edit]

Class Operator No. Built Year Built Cars per Set Unit nos.
Class 323 West Midlands Trains 26 1992–96 3 323201–222, 323240–243
Northern 17 323223–239


  1. ^ a b c d "Class 323 Drivers Manual" (PDF). ttweb. Northern Rail. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Fox, Peter (1994). Electric Multiple Units. British Railways Pocket Book No.4 (7th ed.). Platform 5. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9781872524603.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Class 323". The Railway Centre. Archived from the original on 14 October 2007. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  4. ^ a b "323 Data Sheets". Porterbrook. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  5. ^ "The '323 Sound'..." RailUK Forums. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  6. ^ a b Boynton, John (1993). Rails Across The City, The Story of The Birmingham Cross City Line. Mid England Books. ISBN 0-9522248-0-1.
  7. ^ "A Brief History of the Hunslet Engine Co". Leeds Engine Builders. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  8. ^ Electric Multiple Unit Class 333, UK, Siemens
  9. ^ Class 323 - London Midland Porterbrook
  10. ^ Class 323 - Northern Porterbrook
  11. ^ "More seats for rail passengers as nearly £1 billion is invested in Midlands services - GOV.UK".
  12. ^ "A range of improvements are being made to trains on the Cross City line".
  13. ^ "Likely removal of North West '323s' angers user group".
  14. ^ "Northern Rail: franchise agreement" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  15. ^ CAF to supply 98 trains for Britain's Northern franchise International Railway Journal 22 January 2016
  16. ^ "Train hits 'runaway' car on line". BBC News. 19 December 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2012.