British Rail Class 323

The British Rail Class 323 electric multiple-unit passenger trains 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]

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
Styal 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]. Class 323s can also be controlled from Class 67 locos.
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

Entering service in 1992, the 323s were among the last trains to enter service with British Rail before its privatisation in the mid-1990s. The units were specifically designed to operate on inner-suburban commuter lines in and around Birmingham and Manchester with swift acceleration and high reliability. Of the 43 sets built, 26 are in operation with West Midlands Trains and 17 with Northern. By 2021, the West Midlands Trains sets will be replaced by new rolling stock and all 43 sets will be operated by Northern.[5]

The units are known for a distinctive whine made during acceleration or deceleration.[6]


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. It won the contract in competition with six other European train builders. The trains were designed in Birmingham, but built and fitted out at the Hunslet works in Leeds.[7]

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.[7] 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 those already on order.[8] 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.[9]

The units are known for a distinctive whine made during acceleration or deceleration, rising/falling through multiple phases falsely suggestive of a motor connected to a gearbox with a great many ratios, caused by use of a gate turn-off thyristor-based inverter as part of the traction control circuitry that drives the 3-phase AC motors, a common setup in the early to mid 1990s which is notably also present in the Networker family of electric multiple units. The "gear-changing" effect is produced by the simplification of the PWM pulse pattern so as not to overload the thyristor, which switches at lower frequencies than later implementations of the variable-frequency drive and hence produces a lower-pitched sound.[10]

Service historyEdit

British Rail serviceEdit

The first 323s entered service in November 1992 on the northern section of the Cross City Line, before electric services began on the entire route in July the following year. In their early years the 323s suffered from a number of technical problems related to their gearbox, doors and traction converters which took several years to resolve, preventing the full fleet from entering service. Some of the elderly diesels which they had been intended to replace as well as some elderly Class 304, Class 308 and Class 310 electric units had to operate many of the Cross City Line services until the problems were resolved, and the 323s became reliable enough to operate a full service in 1995.[7][11]

Post-privatisation serviceEdit

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.[12][13]

West MidlandsEdit

The former Central Trains inherited a fleet of 26 units from British Rail: sets 323201-222 and 323240-243. In November 2007, these passed to London Midland when it took over the franchise.

In December 2017, West Midlands Trains took over the West Midlands franchise, and the 323s passed to that company. However, they will be displaced by new Class 730 trains on the Cross-City Line in 2020.[14] 17 of the displaced fleet will then transfer to Northern to supplement its existing fleet. Homes for the remaining 9 have not yet been identified.


The units were used to replace older stock of Classes 304 and 305, although some of the latter were retained in reserve until 2000. They are used on the Manchester electrified network, primarily to the south of the city.

At the time of the privatisation of British Rail, 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.

The fleet is maintained at Allerton TMD, with units stabled at Stockport Edgeley carriage sidings where they receive overnight cleaning. Units are also stabled on a temporary basis overnight at Longsight Excursion Platform, whilst new stabling space is constructed at Ardwick TMD operated by Siemens. The 323s were formerly maintained on behalf of Northern by West Coast Traincare Ltd at its Manchester Traincare Centre Longsight, a few miles south of Manchester Piccadilly.[citation needed]

Current ServicesEdit


Route Usage Notes Other Units Used
Liverpool Lime Street to Crewe via Manchester Airport Monday to Saturday (Daytime) Hourly service,

Introduced in May 2018. Combination of previous Liverpool to Manchester and Manchester to Crewe services.

Class 319
Liverpool Lime Street to Wilmslow via Manchester Airport Monday to Saturday (Evenings),


Hourly service, introduced in May 2018. Class 319
Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria Monday to Friday (Peak Periods) Peak-only service, previously hourly service (Monday to Saturday) before May 2018 Class 319
Liverpool Lime Street to Warrington Bank Quay Monday to Saturday (Daytime) Hourly service, combineses with Liverpool to Crewe service to provide 2tph service between Liverpool and Earlestown. Class 319
Manchester Piccadilly to Glossop/Hadfield Monday to Sunday Half-Hourly service. Extra services in Peak Periods. None
Manchester Piccadilly to Stoke-on-Trent Monday to Sunday Hourly service Monday - Saturday,

6 services on Sunday in both directions

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 Friday

(Peak Periods)

Peak-time service only. Previously hourly service (Monday to Saturday) extended to Liverpool Lime Street in May 2018. Class 319

Previous ServicesEdit

Route Usage Notes
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 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 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 Manchester United Football Ground Matchdays only (suspended since 2018) Mixture of 3- or 6-car services

Accidents and incidentsEdit

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 Road, Congleton. The unit spent 16 months out of service to undergo repair as a result.[16]


The 323s were expected to leave Northern in December 2018 when replaced by the Class 331[17][18][19] However, this has not taken effect; the 323s will be retained, replacing the older Class 319s, and being joined by 17 units cascaded from West Midlands Trains.[20][21]

Class 323s operated by both Northern and West Midlands Trains are currently receiving a full refurbishment, with the first refurbished units delivered to West Midlands Trains in February 2019,[22] and the first Northern unit (323234) returning on 22 October. The rest of fleet will be refurbished to the same standard over the following months.[23] These works involve the replacement of seat covers, interior and exterior repainting (into the new livery of their respective operators), the installation of a new passenger information system and wheelchair call-for-aid buttons, and the addition of an accessible toilet in place of the original small toilet cubicles, among other modifications.[24] Many of these changes are a requirement of the PRM (Persons with Restricted Mobility) TSI, with which all UK trains must be compliant to continue running during 2020.[25]

Fleet detailsEdit

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. ^ "Northern to retain 323s". Modern Railways. 15 August 2019. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  6. ^ Harrison, Matt (12 January 2019). "5 of the world's most epic-sounding trains". Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Boynton, John (1993). Rails Across The City, The Story of The Birmingham Cross City Line. Mid England Books. ISBN 0-9522248-0-1.
  8. ^ "A Brief History of the Hunslet Engine Co". Leeds Engine Builders. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  9. ^ Electric Multiple Unit Class 333, UK, Siemens
  10. ^ "Electric Traction Control". The Railway Technical Website. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  11. ^ Boynton, John (1999). A Century of Railways around Birmingham and the West Midlands, Volume Three 1973 - 1999. Mid England Books. ISBN 0-9522248-6-0.
  12. ^ Class 323 - London Midland Porterbrook
  13. ^ Class 323 - Northern Porterbrook
  14. ^ "More seats for rail passengers as nearly £1 billion is invested in Midlands services" (Press release). Department for Transport. 10 August 2017.
  15. ^ "Timetables for Northern Trains - Northern". Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  16. ^ "Train hits 'runaway' car on line". BBC News. 19 December 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  17. ^ CAF to supply 98 trains for Britain's Northern franchise International Railway Journal 22 January 2016
  18. ^ "Northern Rail: franchise agreement" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  19. ^ "Likely removal of North West '323s' angers user group". Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  20. ^ "Northern to retain '323s' | Modern Railways". Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  21. ^ "Class 323s to remain with Northern". Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  22. ^ "Case Study - Class 323 Overhaul". Gemini Rail Group.
  23. ^ "The first in fleet refurb makes its way back to Allerton". Gemini Rail Group. 22 October 2019. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  24. ^ "A range of improvements are being made to trains on the Cross City line" (Press release). West Midlands Railway. 22 February 2019. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  25. ^ "Heavy rail fleets: 2020 targeted accessibility compliance". GOV.UK. Retrieved 13 November 2019.