REVIEW - Revolution Trains Class 321 EMU
Revolution Trains announced the Class 321 and Class 320 EMUs in 2015 as the follow up model to their acclaimed n gauge Class 390 Pendolino.
Various events, including a change in manufacturer, have conspired to extend the development and production of these models, but they are now arriving in eager hands and here we take a look at the Class 321 in London Midland Livery.
Based on the Mk.3 profile, the first batch of 25kV AC Class 321 EMUs, classified as 321/3, were ordered by Network SouthEast in September 1987 with the first unit being unveiled to the public a year later. Ordered for use on services from Liverpool Street to Southend, Clatcton and Cambridge, the 321s replaced the older slam door classes 305, 307, 308, 309 and 312 then in use. The initial batch of 46 units was quickly expanded with a further 20 examples.
A second batch of Class 321s, designated as 321/4, were ordered in October 1988 for use on the Great Eastern and West Coast Mainlines. These were ultimatley all delivered to Bletchley for use on the WMCL outer-suburban services from Euston to Birmingham, Northampton & Rugby, replacing the relatively new Class 317s. Eleven 321/4 units did eventually make it on to the GEML after modification to match the interior layout of the 321/3s already in use on that line.
The third batch of Class 321s were ordered by Regional Railways for use on Doncaster - Leeds services and were classified as 321/9. These differed from previous batches in not having any first class seating provision. The also saw service on the Wharfdale line from Leeds to Ilkley, but perhaps their most high profile time was operating services from Kings Cross to Leeds for GNER after a shortage of Class 91 locomotives due to mechanical issues.
Following privatisation, the units were operated by various franchise holders including Sliverlink, London Midland, Greater Northern, First Capital Connect & Northern Rail. In 2013 Eversholt Rail announced Project Renatus, which sought to modernise 30 units with air conditioning, modernised interior, once piece saloon windows and a new traction package supplied by Vossloh.
The entire class has now largely been replaced by newer units like the Class 331 on Northern services, Class 350 'Desiro' on the WCML, Class 387 on the Eastern lines and Class 720 on Anglia services. Some units are starting to find a second life as dedicated parcels trains and Eversholt Rail have so far converted 4 units branded as Swift Express. Plans are also being developed to convert some units to Hydrogen power using Alstom technology and seeing them reclassified as Class 600 'Breeze'.
The Revolution Class 321 was the first Ready to Run MK.3 25kV AC EMU unit announced in N Gauge back in 2015 when expressions of interest were first sought. A change in manufacturer slowed development but it's clear on removing the model from the packaging that the extended wait has been worth it. And speaking of packaging, this is worth a mention in its own right, with the model being supplied in a lovely book type box and sleeve arrangement, similar to the recent Kato Class 800.
On removing the model from the box, it's immediately obvious Revolution have captured the distinctive shape of the Class 321/320 cab perfectly. The raked, flat cab front features separately moulded wipers, posed in the usual asymmetrical position of the prototype. In an innovative move, the entire yellow panel and light clusters are moulded as one clear unit. This gives the clusters the appearance of being integral to the unit, something separately fitted parts sometimes fail to do.
The overall shape of the mk.3 based unit have also been captured to a tee, with the unmistakable profile looking spot on. The bodies are crisply moulded with smaller details like door locking lights, vents and roof ribs very finely represented. Very nice dummy tight lock couplings are fitted in NEM pockets at each end as supplied and standard rapido couplers are included to allow for multiple running.
The PMSO is, like the prototype, the powered car of the model and features a low profile mechanism which does not intrude into the window space of the saloon. The plastic cover for the mechanism features moulded seat heads to give the impression of the interior, and only on closer inspection is it possible to see the lack of depth. It's certainly a vast improvement over models like the Graham Farish Class 150 and the large motor block which fills a large part of the coach.
The Pantograph is a particularly nice representation of the Brecknell Willis type fitted to the prototype, and has sufficient friction to allow it to be posed in the raised position.
A notable and innovative feature of the model are the conductive couplings fitted in place of the usual rapido type. Whilst electrical couplings are not a new feature on UK outline N Gauge, the Revolution Pendolino and Dapol Class 142 both having basic conductive couplings for all wheel current collection, this is the first time in a UK RTR multiple unit that the couplings have also been used for DCC signal transmission. This means only one DCC chip is required for the entire unit, whereas previous models have often required two or even three chips.
On first impressions the couplings do appear quite large, especially when compared to the standard Rapido, but thanks to a kinematic system they are able to commendably close couple each carriage and as a result are no more intrusive than a normal coupling. Another advantage of the system used here by Revolution is the impossibility of coupling the unit up in the wrong order, as they will only connect one way.
To aid in coupling the units, a small set of plastic tweezers are thoughtfully included with the model along with instructions which detail the procedure for coupling. The couplings are not a simple push fit and do need some care to avoid popping them out of their housings. We found the best way to couple the unit was to place it on it's roof and roll it upright once all coaches were connected. It is slightly more unwieldy than usual, but the benefit of a single decoder outweighs the extra effort.
The BREL T3-7 bogies and heavier powered bogies are both fine mouldings in their own right with nice deep detail. All wheel sets ran free and with very little friction. At lower angles the brass pickups are slightly visible but only if you get right down level with the model.
Most of the underframe detail is found on the PMSO, with various equipment boxes all present and correct. What little underframe equipment can be found under the remaining coaches is all nicely reproduced. The DTCO, TSOL and DTSO all feature easily accessible switches underneath which can be used to turn off the saloon lighting and head/tail lights if running in multiple is required. On the PMSO, these switches are found on the PCB.
At the core of the low profile mechanism is a smooth and quite motor driving all axles of the PMSO. Thanks to the conductive couplings, pick up is from all wheel sets on the unit, meaning performance is very smooth with no stuttering evident in the model when test run. The weight of the non powered coaches ensures there is no wobble evident.
For those wishing to fit sound, a factory fitted speaker is fitted to the PCB in the roof of the PMSO. DCC users will need a NEXT18 decoder to fit the provided socket.
All coaches have interior lighting fitted which can be switched off if desired using the switches under each coach, and on the PCB of the PMSO. On the DC test track, the lighting was flicker free thanks to the all wheel pick up. DCC users may wish to reduce the brightness via the CV settings on their chosen chip. At the forward running end, the destination blinds are also illuminated.
The complex London Midland Livery on this model has been reproduced excellently, with good colour matching to the prototype. The finish is very smooth with no blemishes or marking, however there are a few areas where the demarcation between livery elements is a little on the fuzzy side. This is magnified significantly in the close up photos here and does not really detract from the overall high quality of the model in the flesh.
There are a plethora of smaller printed details including overhead warning flashes, logos, passenger information stickers and general text across the model, all of which are sharply printed. The saloon window frames are neatly picked out in sliver as per the prototype.
The Revolution Trains Class 321 is yet another an excellent and welcome addition for N Gauge modern image modellers, and marks the start of something of an n gauge EMU rush with the Graham Farish Class 319 due within the next few months and Revolution following up this model with the Class 313. The use of conductive couplings marks a significant step forward for ease and cost effectiveness of DCC conversion in addition to ensuring smooth running.
It's also another important missing piece of the puzzle for those modellers wishing to accurately model the various lines these units worked and, with the Revolution Pendolino and Graham Farish Class 350 Desiro, is especially useful for WCML modellers.
Was it worth the wait?
For those who missed out when the Class 321 was first released, the models will also available from Revolution Trains stockists. Liveries produced are:
Class 320 - RRP £249.50
N23020A CLASS 320 315 SCOTRAIL SALTIRE (2013-PRESENT) 3 CAR EMU
N23020B CLASS 320 318 SCOTRAIL SALTIRE (2013-PRESENT) 3 CAR EMU
N23022A CLASS 320 301 STRATHCLYDE PTE (1990-2001) 3 CAR EMU
An exclusive Class 320 model will also be available in Strathclyde PTE livery from Model Rail Scotland
Class 321 - RRP £289.50
N23001A CLASS 321 401 NETWORK SOUTH EAST (1989-1999) 4 CAR EMU N23001B CLASS 321 440 NETWORK SOUTH EAST (1989-1999) 4 CAR EMU
N23002A CLASS 321 411 LONDON MIDLAND (2007-2017) 4 CAR EMU
N23002B CLASS 321 417 LONDON MIDLAND (2007-2017) 4 CAR EMU
N23004A CLASS 321 428 SILVERLINK (1997-2007) 4 CAR EMU
The model reviewed was purchased by the reviewer for £205 direct from Revolution Trains.