South African Class 34-500

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Iscor Class 34
South African Class 34-500
SAR Class 34-500 34-530.JPG
No. 34-530 at Saldanha, 12 September 2007
Type and origin
Power typeDiesel-electric
DesignerGeneral Electric
BuilderSA GE-DL Locomotive Group
Serial number35261-35282, 40400-40419,
40570-40571, 40578-40579
ModelGE U26C
Build date1974-1977
Total produced46
 • UICCo'Co'
 • CommonwealthCo-Co
Gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) Cape gauge
Wheel diameter915 mm (36 in)
Wheelbase13,004 mm (42 ft 8 in)
 • Bogie3,188 mm (10 ft 6 in)
Pivot centres10,058 mm (33 ft 0 in)
 • Over couplers17,982 mm (59 ft 0 in)
Width2,756 mm (9 ft 1 in)
Height3,962 mm (13 ft 0 in)
Axle load18,850 kg (41,560 lb)
Adhesive weight113,100 kg (249,300 lb)
Loco weight113,100 kg (249,300 lb) max
Fuel typeDiesel
Fuel capacity7,000 litres (1,500 imp gal; 1,800 US gal)
Prime moverGE 7FDL-12
RPM range450-1,050
 • RPM low idle450
 • RPM idle535
 • Maximum RPM1,050
Engine type4-stroke diesel
AspirationElliott H-581 turbocharger
Alternator10 pole 3 phase GE 5GT-A11C1
Traction motorsSix GE 5GE-761A13 DC 4 pole
 • Rating 1 hour665A
 • Continuous655A @ 24 km/h (15 mph)
Gear ratio92:19
MU working6 maximum
Loco brake28-LAV-1 with vigilance control
Train brakesWestinghouse 6CDX4UC compressor/exhauster
Air tank cap.825 litres (181 imp gal; 218 US gal)
Compressor0.039 m3/s (1.4 cu ft/s)
Exhauster0.155 m3/s (5.5 cu ft/s)
CouplersAAR knuckle type E
Performance figures
Maximum speed100 km/h (62 mph)
Power output:
 • Starting2,050 kW (2,750 hp)
 • Continuous1,940 kW (2,600 hp)
Tractive effort:
 • Starting272 kN (61,000 lbf) @ 25% adhesion
 • Continuous218 kN (49,000 lbf) @ 26 km/h (16 mph)
Factor of adh.:
 • Starting25%
 • Continuous20%
Brakeforce60% ratio @ 345 kPa (50.0 psi)
Dynamic brake peak effort180 kN (40,000 lbf) @ 29 km/h (18 mph)
Douglas Colliery
South African Railways
Kumba Iron Ore
Transnet Freight Rail
ClassClass 34-500
(Class 34-400 ex Iscor)
Number in class46
Numbers34-501 to 34-539 (SAR)
1D-40D, G03 & G04 (Iscor)
D5 & D6 (Douglas)
First run1974

The South African Railways Class 34-500 of 1974 is a diesel-electric locomotive.

Between 1974 and 1977, the state-owned South African Iron and Steel Corporation placed forty-four General Electric type U26C diesel-electric locomotives in service. They were employed on Iscor's 1974-built Sishen-Saldanha iron ore line and as heavy shunters at the Sishen mine. In 1977, another two locomotives were built for the Douglas Colliery near Witbank. Also in 1977, thirty-nine of the Iscor locomotives were transferred to the South African Railways where they were initially designated "Class 34-400 ex Iscor" and later became commonly known as Class 34-500.[1][2][3]


The Class 34-500 type GE U26C diesel-electric locomotive, also known as "Class 34-400 ex Iscor", was designed by General Electric and built for the South African Iron and Steel Corporation (Iscor) by the South African General Electric-Dorman Long Locomotive Group (SA GE-DL, later Dorbyl). Forty-four locomotives were delivered to Iscor on three orders:[1][3][4]

  • Twenty-two were delivered between 1974 and 1975, of which twenty were numbered in the range from 1D to 20D and geared for mainline service while two were numbered G01 and G02 and geared for shunting work.
  • Twenty more were delivered between 1976 and 1977, numbered in the range from 21D to 40D and geared for mainline service.
  • Another two were delivered in 1977, geared for shunting and numbered G03 and G04.

In 1977, two locomotives were also built for the Douglas Colliery near Witbank in Transvaal, numbered D5 and D6. Of the Iscor mainline locomotives, 39 were transferred to the South African Railways in that same year.[1]

Distinguishing features[edit]

The Iscor locomotives were delivered with a 7,000 litres (1,500 imperial gallons; 1,800 US gallons) fuel tank to cope with the lack of en route refuelling points on the Sishen-Saldanha line. To facilitate the larger fuel tank, the inter-bogie linkage found on all other South African U26C models was omitted on these locomotives. To maintain its lateral balance, a slab of metal was attached to each bogie in place of the removed linkage.[1]

As built, the GE Classes 34-000, 34-400 and 34-900 locomotives were visually indistinguishable from each other. Many of the Class 34-500 locomotives could be distinguished from the others by the air conditioning units mounted on their cab roofs, but not all of them were so equipped. When it was still a feature unique to them, they could also be distinguished by their running board-mounted handrails. All South African diesel-electric locomotives have their side handrails mounted along the upper edges of their long hoods. The ex Iscor Class 34-500s, however, were equipped with additional removable running board-mounted handrails. Since these handrails are slide-fit into brackets welded onto the running boards, they are easily removed.[3]

Since c. 2009, other mainline diesel-electric locomotive types also emerged from the Koedoespoort Transwerk shops with running board-mounted handrails after major overhauls.[5]

At some stage during the mid-1980s, all Class 34-000, 34-400 and 34-500 locomotives had saddle filters installed across the long hood, mounted just to the rear of the screens behind the cab on the sides. Since then, Class 34-900 locomotives could be distinguished from the older models by the absence of the saddle filter.[6]

Electronic control system[edit]

Beginning in 2010, some locomotives were equipped with electronic fuel injection and GE "Brite Star" control systems. On some of the first locomotives to be so modified, externally visible evidence of the modification is a raised middle portion of the long hood.[7]


Changes in ownership[edit]

In 1977, all mainline rail operations on the Sishen-Saldanha iron ore line was taken over from Iscor by the South African Railways (SAR). Between November 1977 and June 1978, 39 of the Iscor mainline locomotives were transferred to the SAR. They were initially designated "Class 34-400 ex Iscor" and renumbered in the range from 34-501 to 34-539, but these units were also commonly referred to as Class 34-500 from their SAR number range. This eventually became the accepted official classification.[3]

Five locomotives were retained by Iscor to work at the Sishen mine, numbers G01 to G04 and 40D. These are now Kumba Iron Ore’s units numbers 01 to 05, with no. 40D having become Kumba no. 05.[1]

The Douglas Colliery locomotives are now in Sheltam livery, initially as Sheltam numbers 5 and 6 and later renumbered to 2602 and 2603 respectively.[1]

South African Railways service[edit]

SAR Class 34-500 34-518 ID.JPG

While it is believed that they were for the most part renumbered from Iscor numbers to SAR numbers in sequence with their Iscor numbers, at least one locomotive has been observed as being out of sequence. No. 34-523 bore works plate no. 35265, identifying it as ex Iscor no. 5D. It can be presumed that no. 34-505 carried works plate GE 40402, which would make it ex Iscor no. 23D, but since the works plates have over time disappeared from most of these locomotives, this cannot be confirmed.[1]

Until 2012, when they began to be replaced by new GE Class 43-000 type C30ACi locomotives, most of the Class 34-500s remained on the 861-kilometre long (535-mile) Sishen–Saldanha Orex line to haul ore from the open cast iron mines at Sishen near Kathu in the Northern Cape to the harbour at Saldanha in the Western Cape. Some also ended up being allocated to other depots at times. During the 1980s several were observed working goods and passenger trains between Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein and between Beaufort West and Kimberley, still clad in their Iscor livery.[4][8]

Mixed power working[edit]

On the Orex line, the GE Class 34 family of diesel-electric locomotives ran consisted to Class 9E and Class 15E electric locomotives to haul the 342-wagon iron ore trains. Each wagon has a 100-ton capacity and the trains are at least 3.72 kilometres (2.31 miles) in length, powered by mixed consists of Class 9E and Class 15E electric and GE type U26C Class 34-000, 34-400, 34-500, 34-900 and from 2012, GE type C30ACi Class 43-000 diesel-electric locomotives. In South Africa, mixed electric and diesel-electric consists are unique to the iron ore line.[3][8][9][10]

Ore train about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Lamberts Bay
Ore train about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Lamberts Bay

A Class 9E or Class 15E electric locomotive serves as the master of each mixed electric and diesel-electric consist, with a total of between nine and twelve locomotives per train, twelve being the maximum number allowed. Before the Class 15E was placed in service in 2010, motive power usually consisted of three sets of locomotives, each set made up of one or two Class 9E electrics and one or two Class 34 diesel-electrics, with each set’s leading electric locomotive controlling its respective set of diesel-electrics by means of a slimkabel (smart cable). In effect, each ore train was made up of three separate 114-wagon trains consisted together with the locomotives of all three trains being controlled by means of a Locotrol radio distributed power control system by one crew in the leading electric locomotive. A typical train would therefore be made up of locomotive set A, 114 wagons, locomotive set B, 114 wagons, locomotive set C, and 114 wagons.[3][9][10][11]

Some problems were experienced using this configuration and after a couple of major derailments, the locomotive configuration was changed to four sets, with locomotive set D initially made up of two Class 34 diesel-electric locomotives at the rear end of the train, pushing at between 40% and 50% of tractive power at all times, depending on the grades being traversed. The total maximum number allowed was still between nine and twelve locomotives per train.[3][10]

As more Class 15Es were delivered and placed in service, Class 9E or Class 15E electrics replaced the pair of Class 34 diesel-electrics in set D. At the same time, the more powerful Classes 15E and 43-000 also made it possible to use as few as seven locomotives per train, with locomotive sets A, B and C each made up of one Class 9E or 15E and one Class 34 or 43-000, and set D of a single Class 9E or 15E.[3][10]

Works numbers[edit]

The Class 34-500 builder’s works numbers, ownership changes and renumbering are listed in the table.[1][2]


The Class 34-500 were all delivered in an Iscor livery. After their transfer to the SAR, they were gradually repainted in the SAR Gulf Red livery with signal red buffer beams, yellow side stripes on the long hood sides and a yellow V on each end. In the 1990s some of the Class 34-500 units began to be repainted in the Spoornet orange livery with a yellow and blue chevron pattern on the buffer beams. At least one later received the Spoornet maroon livery. In the late 1990s most of them were repainted in the Spoornet blue livery with outline numbers on the long hood sides. After 2008 in the Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) era, many were repainted in the TFR red, green and yellow livery.[1][12]


The main picture shows no. 34-530 in Spoornet blue livery with outline numbers. Some of the other liveries applied to Class 34-500 locomotives are illustrated below.


  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, 40–41, 45–46.
  2. ^ a b GE Export List (Accessed on 10 June 2017)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h 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
  4. ^ a b Paxton, Leith; Bourne, David (1985). Locomotives of the South African Railways (1st ed.). Cape Town: Struik. pp. 140–141. ISBN 0869772112.
  5. ^ Shosholoza Meyl’s no. 34-102 with running board handrails (Accessed on 10 June 2017)
  6. ^ No. 34-435 without saddle filter, 1 March 1982 (Accessed on 7 June 2017)
  7. ^ "Brite Star" equipped no. 34-538 in TFR livery (Accessed on 10 June 2017)
  8. ^ a b 32 New Locomotives for the Iron Ore Line (Accessed on 10 June 2017)
  9. ^ a b "Extra-long 4 km ore trains". Actom Divisions News. 22 July 2010. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d Information supplied by Orex train crew members
  11. ^ Locotrol Distributed Power
  12. ^ Soul of A Railway, System 7, Western Transvaal, based in Johannesburg, Part 9. South-Eastwards as far as Volksrust (2nd part) by Les Pivnic. Caption 4. (Accessed on 11 April 2017)