South African Class 33-400

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South African Class 33-400
SAR Class 33 Namibia.jpg
Rebuilt TransNamib no. 504 near Keetmanshoop, Namibia, on 2 September 2004
Power type Diesel-electric
Designer General Electric
Builder SA GE-DL Locomotive Group
Serial number 36530-36644 [1]
Model GE U20C
Build date 1968-1970
Total produced 115
AAR wheel arr. C+C
UIC classification Co'Co' (Co+Co interlinked bogies)
Gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Bogies 3.505 m (11 ft 6 in) wheelbase
Wheel diameter 915 mm (36 in)
Wheelbase 12.243 m (40 ft 2 in)
Length 16.866 m (55 ft 4 in)
Width 2.756 m (9 ft 0.5 in)
Height 3.931 m (12 ft 10.8 in)
Axle load 15,749 kg (15.5 long tons)
Locomotive weight 91,000 kg (89.6 long tons) average
94,494 kg (93.0 long tons) maximum
Fuel type Fuel oil
Fuel capacity 3,600 litres (951 US gal)
Prime mover GE 7FDL-12 4 stroke V12
Engine RPM range 400 rpm idle
1,000 rpm maximum
Engine type Diesel
Aspiration Cooper-Bessemer ET13 turbocharger
Generator DC 10 pole GE 5GT-581C9
Traction motors Six GE 5GE-761A6 DC 4 pole
* 635A rating 1 hour
* 620A rating continuous at 20 km/h (12 mph)
Transmission 92/19 gear ratio
Multiple working 6 maximum
Top speed 100 km/h (62 mph)
Power output 1,605 kW (2,152 hp) starting
1,490 kW (2,000 hp) continuous
Tractive effort 223 kN (50,000 lbf) starting
178 kN (40,000 lbf) continuous at 24 km/h (15 mph)
Factor of
25% starting
20% continuous
Locomotive brake 28L-AV-1 with vigilance control
Dynamic brake peak effort:
173 kN (39,000 lbf) at 26 km/h (16 mph)
70% ratio at 345 kPa (50.0 psi) brake cylinder pressure
Train brakes 825 litres (218 US gal) main reservoir
Compressor capacity at idle:
0.029 m3/s (1.0 cu ft/s)
Exhauster capacity at idle:
0.116 m3/s (4.1 cu ft/s)
Railroad(s) South African Railways
Transnet Freight Rail
Ferrovia Centro-Atlântica (Brazil)
América Latina Logística (Brazil)
Ferroviaria Oriental (Bolivia)
Sociedad Química y Minera (Chile)
Kumba Iron Ore
Sudan Railways [1]
Class Class 33-400 [2]
Number in class 115
Number 33-401 to 33-515
Nicknames Bosvark
Delivered 1968-1970
First run 1968

The South African Class 33-400 of 1968 is a South African diesel-electric locomotive from the South African Railways era.

Between July 1968 and March 1970 the South African Railways placed one hundred and fifteen Class 33-400 General Electric type U20C diesel-electric locomotives in service. A large number of them were transferred to TransNamib, the Namibian Railways, upon South West Africa’s independence on 21 March 1990.[2]


The Class 33-400 type GE U20C diesel-electric locomotive was designed for the South African Railways (SAR) by General Electric (GE) and built by the South African General Electric-Dorman Long Locomotive Group (SA GE-DL, later Dorbyl). One hundred and fifteen locomotives were delivered between July 1968 and March 1970, numbered in the range from 33-401 to 33-515.[2]

Class 33 series[edit]

Class 33 consists of three series, the GE Class 33-000 and Class 33-400 and the General Motors Electro-Motive Division Class 33-200. Both these manufacturers also produced locomotives for the subsequent SAR Classes 34, 35 and 36.[3]


South African Railways[edit]

Forty-five of the Class 33-400 locomotives were placed in service in South West Africa (SWA) upon being commissioned. They remained in service there until they were transferred to TransNamib, the Namibian Railways, upon SWA’s independence on 21 March 1990. They retained their SAR running numbers on the TransNamib roster, but without the "33-" prefix. Some have since been sold, while others have been rebuilt with reconditioned engines by TransNamib in Windhoek and renumbered from number 501 up.[1]

Class 33-400 33-506 IDR.JPG
Class 33-400 33-506 IDL.JPG

In South Africa, most of the Class 33-400 locomotives survived in mainline and branch line service well into the 21st century, for example on the lines from De Aar to Upington, from Worcester to George and on suburban service out of East London. From 2009 some were also employed out of Cape Town on the Overberg line across Sir Lowry’s Pass to Caledon and on the Bitterfontein line up the West Coast, where they replaced several Class 35-000 and 35-400 locomotives that were leased to private railway operators in several Southern African countries.

Others were employed for a while as heavy shunters to assemble iron ore trains at the Sishen-Saldanha iron ore route's terminals, until the arrival of the Class 15E in 2010 made more Class 34-000 locomotives available for this task.[1]

The two cabside number plates on Class 33-400 locomotives were not identical as was usually the case. The inscription was in Afrikaans at the top on the driver’s side and in English at the top on the assistant’s side.

Industrial service[edit]

Several Class 33-400 locomotives were sold into industrial service, some to Iscor (now Kumba Iron Ore) for use at its Vanderbijlpark steel works and others to Kumba’s Grootgeluk Colliery at Ellisras.[1]

South America[edit]

Twenty of them were sold in 1997 to Ferrovia Centro-Atlântica (FCA) and were since resold, in 1999, to América Latina Logística (ALL) in Brazil, where they retained their FCA running numbers.[1]

Three of these locomotives, ex SAR 33-410 (ALL 2663), 33-452 (2668) and 33-481 (2679), were resold to the Ferroviaria Oriental (FOB) in Bolivia in 2003. Of these, one was resold again to Empresa Ferroviaria Oriental (EFO) in Bolivia and the other two to Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM) in Chile.[1][4][5]

Of these twenty locomotives in South America, ten still survived by July 2010. These include the three units sold to FOB and subsequently resold to EFO and SQM, five locomotives reported as non-operating and two that were returned to Rede Ferroviária Federal, Sociedade Anônima, (RFFSA), the state-owned federal railroad network of Brazil.[4]

Sudan Railways[edit]

Another ten Class 33-400 locomotives were sold to the Sudan Railways.[1]

Works numbers[edit]

The Class 33-400 builder’s works numbers and disposition are set out in the table.[1]

Liveries illustrated[edit]

The main picture shows Namibia’s TransNamib livery, with ex SAR no. 33-475, now TransNamib’s rebuilt no. 504, south of Keetmanshoop on 2 September 2004. Other liveries that were applied to Class 33-400 locomotives are illustrated below.

See also[edit]


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  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i 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. 38–39, 45, 47, 66. 
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Paxton, Leith; Bourne, David (1985). Locomotives of the South African Railways (1st ed.). Cape Town: Struik. pp. 139–140. ISBN 0869772112. 
  4. ^ a b Ex SAR 33-401 as ALL 2670
  5. ^ Friends of the Rail