South African Class 17E

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South African Class 17E
SAR Class 17E E1826.JPG
Class 17E no. E1826 at Capital Park, Pretoria, Gauteng, 28 September 2006
Type and origin
Power type Electric
Designer Union Carriage & Wagon
Builder Union Carriage & Wagon
Model UCW 6E1
Build date 1977-1982
Rebuilder Transwerk
Number rebuilt 139
UIC classification Bo-Bo
Gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) Cape gauge
Bogies 3.43 m (11 ft 3 in) wheelbase
Wheel diameter 1,220 mm (48 in)
Wheelbase 11.279 m (37 ft 0.1 in)
Length 15.494 m (50 ft 10 in)
Width 2.896 m (9 ft 6 in)
Height 4.089 m (13 ft 5 in) pantographs down
Axle load 22,226 kg (21.9 long tons)
Locomotive weight 88,904 kg (87.5 long tons)
Current collection
Traction motors Four AEI 283 AY
Transmission 18/67 gear ratio
Performance figures
Maximum speed 113 km/h (70 mph)
Power output Per motor:
623 kW (835 hp) 1 hour
563 kW (755 hp) continuous
2,492 kW (3,342 hp) 1 hour
2,252 kW (3,020 hp) continuous
Tractive effort 311 kN (70,000 lbf) starting
221 kN (50,000 lbf) 1 hour
193 kN (43,000 lbf) continuous at 40 km/h (25 mph) [1]
Locomotive brake Air & Regenerative
Train brakes Air & Vacuum
Operator(s) Spoornet
Class Class 17E
Power class 3 kV DC
Number(s) See table
First run 1993

The South African Class 17E of 1993 is a South African electric locomotive from the Spoornet era.

During 1993 and 1994 Spoornet modified several Class 6E1, Series 7, 8 and 9 locomotives to improve their braking and traction reliability for service on the Natal mainline. These modified locomotives were reclassified to Class 17E.[2]


The 3 kV DC Class 6E1 electric locomotive was built for the South African Railways (SAR) by Union Carriage & Wagon (UCW) in Nigel, Transvaal, with the electrical equipment supplied by the General Electric Company (GEC). UCW did not allocate works numbers to the locomotives that it built for the SAR, but used the SAR unit numbers for their record keeping.[3]

Class 6E1 characteristics[edit]

To ensure the maximum transfer of power to the rails without causing wheelslip, the Class 6E1 was built with sophisticated traction links between the bogies and the frames and equipped with electronic wheelslip detection. These traction struts and linkages were to become a distinguishing feature of most subsequent South African electric locomotive models.[4]


These dual cab locomotives have a roof access ladder on one side only, just to the right of the cab access door. The roof access ladder end is marked as the number 2 end. A passage along the centre of the locomotive connects the cabs, which are identical apart from the fact that the handbrake is located in cab 2. A pantograph hook stick is stowed in a tube mounted below the lower edge of the locomotive body on the roof access ladder side.[1]


The locomotive is controlled via resistors over which the voltage is dropped in a configuration of series and parallel electrical circuits. The circuit breakers that switch these circuits work under very high power and voltage and are all pneumatically operated for insulation purposes. Compressed air is required to open or close the switch actions and air is also used for the weak field cam switch that also switches under very high currents.[5]

Upon starting off and in the low notches the major part of the voltage is dropped over the banks of resistors and all four traction motors are in series. As the driver notches up, some of the resistor banks are cut out via the pneumatically operated switches and the voltage increases across the traction motors. The more resistors that are cut out as the driver notches higher, the more power is developed by the traction motors. At around 22 to 28 kilometres per hour (14 to 17 miles per hour) the locomotive switches to a parallel combination, where the two traction motors per bogie are in a series electrical circuit while the two bogies are in parallel electrical circuit. Eventually, when all resistors are cut out, the locomotive is operating in full-field.[5]

Series identifying features[edit]

Series 6 and Series 7 locomotives are visually indistinguishable from each other, but can be distinguished from the older series models by the rain water beading above the small grilles on the sides just to the right of the side doors. Series 8 locomotives can be distinguished from older models by the large hatch door on each side, below the second small window to the right of the side door on the roof access ladder side, and below the first window immediately to the right of the door on the other side.[1]

The Series 9 locomotives could be distinguished from all earlier models by the rainwater drainage holes on their lower sides. These holes were usually covered by so-called buckets, although the covers were absent on several locomotives. Further distinctions were the end doors that were recessed into the doorframes on Series 9 locomotives, compared to earlier models that had the end doors flush with the doorframes. In addition, unlike all earlier models, all four doors on Series 9 locomotives had rounded corners.[6]

Modification to Class 17E[edit]

Class 17E locomotives were modified and reclassified from Class 6E1, Series 7, 8 or 9 locomotives during 1993 and 1994. Key modifications included improved regenerative braking and wheelslip control to improve their reliability on the steep grades and curves of the KwaZulu-Natal mainline.[2]

A stumbling block was that the regeneration equipment at many of the sub-stations along the route was unreliable, and since there was no guarantee that another train would be in the same section to absorb the regenerated energy, there was always the risk that line voltage could exceed 4.1 kV, which would make either the sub-station or the locomotive trip out. As a result the subsequent rebuilt Class 18E locomotives were not equipped with regenerative braking.[7]

Unlike the Class 16E locomotives, which were renumbered and reclassified but otherwise unmodified semi-permanently coupled pairs of Class 6E1, Series 3 to Series 9 locomotives that merely had their number 1 end cabs abandoned in terms of maintenance, the Class 17Es retained their original unit numbers after reclassification, but with a "17E" marking applied below the locomotive’s unit number behind the driver’s side window.[2]

Apart from the "17E" markings, they are visually indistinguishable from unmodified Class 6E1s. Those in SAR Gulf Red and yellow whiskers livery that still carried number plates even still showed "6E1" on the plates. Altogether one hundred and thirty-nine Class 6E1 locomotives were modified to Class 17E, of which fourteen were Series 7, fifty-five Series 8 and seventy Series 9.[2]

Rebuilding to Class 18E[edit]

Cab 1 of Class 18E no. 18-328, ex Class 17E no. E2071, Sentrarand, 22 September 2009

In 2000 Spoornet began a project to rebuild Series 2 to 11 Class 6E1 locomotives to Class 18E, Series 1 and Series 2 at the Transnet Rail Engineering (TRE) workshops at Koedoespoort. In the process the cab at the number 1 end was stripped of all controls and the driver's front and side windows were blanked off in order to have a toilet installed, thereby forfeiting the locomotive's bi-directional ability.[2][8]

Brake rack in Class 18E no. 18-089

Since the driving cab's noise level had to be below 85 decibels, cab 2 was selected as the Class 18E driving cab primarily based on its lower noise level compared to cab 1, which is closer and more exposed to the compressor's noise and vibration. Another factor was the closer proximity of cab 2 to the low voltage switch panel. The fact that the handbrake was located in cab 2 was not a deciding factor, but was considered an additional benefit.[8]

While the earlier Class 6E1, Series 2 to 7 locomotives had been built with a brake system consisting of various valves connected to each other with pipes, commonly referred to as a "bicycle frame" brake system, the Class 6E1, Series 8 to 11 locomotives were built with an air equipment frame brake system, commonly referred to as a brake rack. Since the design of the rebuilt Class 18E locomotives included the same brake rack, the rebuilding project was begun with the newer series 8 to 11 locomotives in order to reduce the overall cost of rebuilding. [8]

Between 2002 and 2007 all but three of the Class 17Es were rebuilt to Class 18E, Series 1. The exceptions are numbers E1778, E1803 and E2035 which are presumed to have been scrapped. The table shows their Class 6E1 series and numbers, Class 18E numbers and year of rebuilding.

Markings illustrated[edit]

The main picture shows Class 17E number E1826, ex Class 6E1, Series 7, at Capital Park in Pretoria on 28 September 2006. The "17E" markings below the locomotive numbers on this and the following picture were the only means to visually distinguish Class 17E locomotives from unmodified Class 6E1 locomotives.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c South African Railways Index and Diagrams Electric and Diesel Locomotives, 610mm and 1065mm Gauges, Ref LXD 14/1/100/20, 28 January 1975, as amended
  2. ^ a b c d e Middleton, John N. (2002). Railways of Southern Africa Locomotive Guide - 2002 (as amended by Combined Amendment List 4, January 2009) (2nd, Dec 2002 ed.). Herts, England: Beyer-Garratt Publications. pp. 49–51, 57. 
  3. ^ "UCW - Electric locomotives" (PDF). The UCW Partnership. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2010. 
  4. ^ Paxton, Leith; Bourne, David (1985). Locomotives of the South African Railways (1st ed.). Cape Town: Struik. pp. 128–129. ISBN 0869772112. 
  5. ^ a b Operation - South African Classes 6E, 6E1, 16E, 17E and 18E
  6. ^ 18-050 (ex Series 9) E2013 with recessed end door and rounded door corners
  7. ^ Class 17E braking systems
  8. ^ a b c Information gathered from the rebuild files of individual locomotives at Transnet Rail Engineering’s Koedoespoort shops, or obtained from John Middleton as well as several Transnet employees