South African Class 5E, Series 1

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South African Class 5E, Series 1
SAR Class 5E Series 1 E259.JPG
Class leader no. E259 at the Bellville Depot, Cape Town, 24 May 2009
Type and origin
Power typeElectric
DesignerEnglish Electric
BuilderEnglish Electric
Vulcan Foundry
Serial numberEE 2163-2222
VF E137-E148
ModelEE 5E
Build date1954-1955
Total produced60
 • UICBo'Bo'
 • CommonwealthBo-Bo
Gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) Cape gauge
Wheel diameter1,219 mm (48.0 in)
Wheelbase11,279 mm (37 ft 0.1 in)
 • Bogie3,430 mm (11 ft 3.0 in)
Pivot centres7,849 mm (25 ft 9.0 in)
Panto shoes6,972 mm (22 ft 10.5 in)
 • Over couplers15,494 mm (50 ft 10.0 in)
 • Body14,631 mm (48 ft 0 in)
Width2,896 mm (9 ft 6.0 in)
 • Pantograph4,089 mm (13 ft 5.0 in)
 • Body height3,937 mm (12 ft 11.0 in)
Axle load21,591 kg (47,600 lb)
Adhesive weight86,364 kg (190,400 lb)
Loco weight86,364 kg (190,400 lb)
Electric system/s3 kV DC
Current pickup(s)Pantographs from catenary
Traction motorsFour EE 529
 • Rating 1 hour377 kW (506 hp)
 • Continuous325 kW (436 hp)
Gear ratio18:67
Loco brakeAir & Regenerative
Train brakesVacuum
CouplersAAR knuckle
Performance figures
Maximum speed97 km/h (60 mph)
Power output:
 • 1 hour1,508 kW (2,022 hp)
 • Continuous1,300 kW (1,700 hp)
Tractive effort:
 • Starting200 kN (45,000 lbf)
 • 1 hour128 kN (29,000 lbf)
 • Continuous104 kN (23,000 lbf)
OperatorsSouth African Railways
Impala Platinum
ClassClass 5E
Number in class60
NicknamesKlein Mamba (Little Mamba)
First run1955

The South African Railways Class 5E, Series 1 of 1955 was an electric locomotive.

In 1955 and 1956, the South African Railways placed sixty Class 5E, Series 1 electric locomotives with a Bo-Bo wheel arrangement in mainline service. The Class 5E introduced what eventually became the most prolific locomotive body shape to ever run on South African rails.[1][2]


To cope with increased traffic loads on the South African Railways (SAR) in the 1950s, the capacity of its 3 kV DC electrified lines had to be increased. Since more sections in Natal and Transvaal were being electrified, the SAR placed an order for the design and production of a new and more powerful Bo-Bo mainline electric locomotive with English Electric (EE) in 1952. Sixty Class 5E, Series 1 locomotives were delivered and placed in service in 1955 and 1956, numbered in the range from E259 to E318.[1][2][3]

The first 48 units, numbered in the range from E259 to E306, were built at the Dick Kerr works of EE in Preston in 1954 and 1955, while the construction of the last twelve, numbered in the range from E307 to E318, was subcontracted to Vulcan Foundry. These twelve, with EE works numbers in the range from 2211 to 2222, were therefore also allocated Vulcan works numbers in the range from E137 to E148.[4][3]

They were delivered in a bottle green livery with red cowcatchers, initially without the yellow lines and whiskers which were added later to improve their visibility. Since the long Class 4E was already nicknamed Groen Mamba (Green Mamba) by Cape Western enginemen, the shorter Class 5E promptly became the Klein Mamba (Little Mamba) when they first appeared on that section, while the Class 4E was "promoted" to Groot Mamba (Large Mamba). Beginning in 1960, a Gulf Red and yellow whiskers livery gradually replaced the green and yellow.[3]

With both the bottle green and later the Gulf Red SAR liveries, the units had red cowcatchers, except in the Cape Western region. Locomotives based at the Bellville Depot could be identified by their yellow cowcatchers.


These dual cab locomotives had a roof access ladder on one side only, just to the right of the cab access door. The roof access ladder end was marked as the no. 2 end. A corridor along the centre of the locomotive connected the cabs, which were identical except that cab 2 was where the handbrake was located.[1]


While the locomotive itself used air brakes, it was only equipped to operate trains with vacuum brakes. While hauling a train, the locomotive's air brake system would be made subordinate to the train's vacuum brake system and would come into operation as the vacuum brakes were being applied, gradually building up to its maximum of 350 kilopascals (51 pounds per square inch). While working a train downgrade, the locomotive's regenerative braking system would also work in conjunction with the train's vacuum brakes.

The locomotive's air brakes would usually only be used along with the train brakes during emergencies. Under normal circumstances the train would be controlled by using the train brakes alone to slow down and stop.

While the locomotive was stopped, the air brakes on each bogie could be applied independently. The handbrake or parking brake, located in cab 2, only operated on the unit's last axle, the no. 7 and 8 wheels.

Class 5E series[edit]

SAR Class 5E Series 1 E259 ID.JPG

The Class 5E was produced in three series, the EE- and Vulcan-built Series 1 and the Vulcan-built Series 2 and Series 3. Between 1955 and 1959, altogether 160 Class 5E locomotives were placed in service, 60 Series 1, 45 Series 2 and 55 Series 3.[1][3]

The traditional number plates on the sides of SAR locomotives were usually in a perfect oval shape and were usually cast in a leaded bronze. On the Class 5E, Series 1, however, the plates were in an oval shape with blunted ends and were cast in aluminium.[4]


The Class 5E introduced what eventually became the most prolific locomotive body shape to ever run on South African rails, serving on all the 3 kV DC lines country-wide. The body shape and dimensions were continued with the Class 5E1 in 1959, the Class 6E and the Class 6E1 from 1969 to 1985, and still later with the rebuilding of Class 6E1 locomotives to Class 18E, a project which began in 2000.[1][2][3]


The Class 5E entered service on the Natal mainline between Durban and Johannesburg and eventually served almost country-wide as electrification was completed on more mainlines. In 1960, sixty units of the Class 5E family were allocated to the Witbank section upon completion of its electrification. In December 1961 twelve of them were replaced by Class 32-000 diesel-electric locomotives and transferred to the newly-electrified Touws River-Beaufort West section. More followed to replace the Class 25 condensers that were being transferred from that section to Beaconsfield in Kimberley. At the time, electric locomotives were urgently needed on the Touwsrivier–Beaufort West section, most likely because of the water issues in the Karoo and the redeployment of the Class 25 condensing steam locomotives to the Northern Cape.[5]

After withdrawal from service, six Class 5E, Series 1 locomotives were sold into industrial service.

  • Five, numbers E269, E274, E284, E289 and E318, were sold to the Impala platinum mine in Rustenburg.
  • No. E290 was sold to the Driefontein gold mine near Carletonville.[4]

Works numbers[edit]

The EE and Vulcan works numbers of the Class 5E, Series 1 and their known disposal are shown in the table.[4]



  1. ^ a b c d e 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 Dulez, Jean A. (2012). Railways of Southern Africa 150 Years (Commemorating One Hundred and Fifty Years of Railways on the Sub-Continent – Complete Motive Power Classifications and Famous Trains – 1860–2011) (1st ed.). Garden View, Johannesburg, South Africa: Vidrail Productions. p. 292. ISBN 9 780620 512282.
  3. ^ a b c d e Paxton, Leith; Bourne, David (1985). Locomotives of the South African Railways (1st ed.). Cape Town: Struik. pp. 127–128. ISBN 0869772112.
  4. ^ a b c d 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. 50, 62.
  5. ^ Soul of A Railway, System 7, Western Transvaal, based in Johannesburg, Part 21: Witbank Line by Les Pivnic, Eugene Armer, Peter Stow and Peter Micenko. Caption 10. (Accessed on 4 May 2017)