South African Class 6E1, Series 3

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South African Class 6E1, Series 3
SAR Class 6E1 Series 3 E1306.JPG
No. E1306 at Beaconsfield Depot, Kimberley, 25 August 2007
Type and origin
Power type Electric
Designer Union Carriage and Wagon
Builder Union Carriage and Wagon
Model UCW 6E1
Build date 1971-1973
Total produced 150
Rebuilder Transnet Engineering
Rebuild date 2010-2015
Number rebuilt 66 to Class 18E, Series 2
AAR wheel arr. B-B
UIC class Bo'Bo'
Gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) Cape gauge
Wheel diameter 1,220 mm (48.0 in)
Wheelbase 11,279 mm (37 ft 0.1 in)
 • Bogie 3,430 mm (11 ft 3.0 in)
Pivot centres 7,849 mm (25 ft 9.0 in)
Panto shoes 6,972 mm (22 ft 10.5 in)
 • Over couplers 15,494 mm (50 ft 10.0 in)
 • Body 14,631 mm (48 ft 0 in)
Width 2,896 mm (9 ft 6.0 in)
 • Pantograph 4,089 mm (13 ft 5.0 in)
 • Body height 3,937 mm (12 ft 11.0 in)
Axle load 22,226 kg (49,000 lb)
Adhesive weight 88,904 kg (196,000 lb)
Loco weight 88,904 kg (196,000 lb)
Power supply Catenary
Current collection Pantographs
Traction motors Four AEI-283AZ
 • Rating 1 hour 623 kW (835 hp)
 • Continuous 563 kW (755 hp)
Gear ratio 18:67
Loco brake Air & Regenerative
Train brakes Air & Vacuum
Couplers AAR knuckle
Performance figures
Maximum speed 113 km/h (70 mph)
Power output:
 • 1 hour 2,492 kW (3,342 hp)
 • Continuous 2,252 kW (3,020 hp)
Tractive effort:
 • Starting 311 kN (70,000 lbf)
 • 1 hour 221 kN (50,000 lbf)
 • Continuous 193 kN (43,000 lbf) @ 40 km/h (25 mph)
Operators South African Railways
Transnet Freight Rail
Class Class 6E1
Power class 3 kV DC
Number in class 150
Numbers E1296-E1445
Delivered 1971-1973
First run 1971

The South African Railways Class 6E1, Series 3 of 1971 is an electric locomotive.

Between 1971 and 1973, the South African Railways placed one hundred and fifty Class 6E1, Series 3 electric locomotives with a Bo-Bo wheel arrangement in mainline service.[1]


Class 6E1 E1328 BPB.JPG

The 3 kV DC Class 6E1, Series 3 electric locomotive was designed and built for the South African Railways (SAR) by Union Carriage and Wagon (UCW) in Nigel, Transvaal, with the electrical equipment supplied by the General Electric Company (GEC).[2]

One hundred and fifty locomotives were delivered between 1971 and 1973, numbered in the range from E1296 to E1445. UCW did not allocate builder’s numbers to the locomotives it built for the SAR and used the SAR unit numbers for their record keeping.[1]



Series 2 to 11 bogies
Bogie frame and wheels

The Class 6E1 was built with sophisticated traction linkages on their bogies. Together with the locomotive's electronic wheel-slip detection system, these traction struts, mounted between the linkages on the bogies and the locomotive body and colloquially referred to as grasshopper legs, ensure the maximum transfer of power to the rails without causing wheel-slip, by reducing the adhesion of the leading bogie and increasing that of the trailing bogie by as much as 15% upon starting off. This feature is controlled by electronic wheel-slip detection devices and an electric weight transfer relay, which reduce the anchor current to the leading bogie by as much as 50A in notches 2 to 16.[3]


The locomotive itself used air brakes, but it was equipped to operate trains with air or vacuum brakes. While hauling a vacuum braked train, the locomotive's air brake system would be disabled, and the train would be controlled using the train brakes alone to slow down and stop. While hauling an air braked train, on the other hand, the locomotive brakes would engage along with the train brakes. While working either type of train downgrade, the locomotive's regenerative braking system would also work in conjunction with the train brakes.[4]

When the locomotive was stopped, the air brakes on both bogies were applied together. The handbrake or parking brake, located in Cab no. 2, only operated on the unit's last axle, or no. 7 and 8 wheels.[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 no. 2 end. A corridor 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. The locomotive has three small panels along the lower half of the body on the roof access ladder side, and only one panel on the opposite side.[1]

Series identifying features[edit]

The Class 6E1 was produced in eleven series over a period of nearly sixteen years, with altogether 960 units placed in service, all built by UCW. This makes the Class 6E1 the most numerous single locomotive class ever to have seen service in South Africa and serves as ample proof of a highly successful design.[1][3]

Narrow stirrup on E1345
Wide stirrup on E1346

While some Class 6E1 series are visually indistinguishable from their predecessors or successors, some externally visible changes did occur over the years. Series 1 locomotives had their sandboxes mounted on the bogies, while Series 2 to 11 had their sandboxes mounted along the bottom edge of the locomotive body, with the sandbox lids fitting into recesses in the body.[1]

The fifty Series 2 and the first fifty Series 3 locomotives are visually indistinguishable from each other. On Series 3 locomotives in the number range from E1346 to E1445, an externally visible difference is a wider stirrup middle step below their side doors.[1][5][6]

This appears to indicate that Series 2 should actually have consisted of one hundred locomotives and not fifty, firstly since these locomotives, numbers E1246 to E1345, are identical in exterior appearance, and secondly since Series 4, 5 and 6 were all delivered in batches of one hundred.[1][5][6]

If that had been the case, Series 2 and 3 would also have consisted of one hundred locomotives each, numbered in the ranges from E1246 to E1345 and E1346 to E1445 respectively, instead of 50 and 150 as they were officially designated, numbered in the ranges from E1246 to E1295 and E1296 to E1445 respectively.[5][6]


The Class 6E1 family saw service all over both of the 3 kV DC mainline and branchline networks, the smaller Cape Western network between Cape Town and Beaufort West and the larger network, which covers portions of the Northern Cape, the Free State, Natal, Gauteng, North West Province and Mpumalanga.[7]

Reclassification and rebuilding[edit]

Reclassification to Class 16E[edit]

During 1990 and 1991, Spoornet semi-permanently coupled several pairs of otherwise largely unmodified Class 6E1 locomotives, reclassified them to Class 16E and allocated a single locomotive number to each pair, with the individual locomotives in the pairs inscribed "A" or "B". The aim was to accomplish savings on cab maintenance, by coupling the locomotives at their no. 1 ends, abandoning the no. 1 end cabs in terms of maintenance and using only the no. 2 end cabs.[7]

One such pair was made up of two Series 3 locomotives, numbers E1418 and E1419, which became Class 16E no. 16-227A and B respectively.[7]

Rebuilding to Class 18E[edit]

Cab 1 of Class 18E no. 18-689, ex Class 6E1 no. E1390, Bellville Depot, 31 January 2013

Beginning 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 no. 1 end was stripped of all controls and the driver's front and side windows were blanked off, to have a toilet installed, thereby forfeiting the loco's bi-directional ability.[7][8]

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]

The known Class 6E1, Series 3 locomotives which were used in this project, were all rebuilt to Class 18E, Series 2 locomotives. Their numbers and renumbering details are listed in the table.[8]

The Blue Train[edit]

In the SAR and Spoornet eras, when the official liveries were Gulf Red and yellow whiskers for the SAR, and initially orange and later maroon for Spoornet, many selected electric locomotives and some diesel-electrics were painted blue, for use with the Blue Train, but without altering the layout of the various paint schemes. Blue Train locomotives were therefore blue with yellow whiskers in the SAR era, blue with the Spoornet logo and "SPOORNET" in Spoornet’s orange era, and blue with the Spoornet logo, but without "SPOORNET", in Spoornet’s maroon era. Later, in Spoornet’s blue era, there was no need for a separate Blue Train livery, while in the Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) era, one Class 14E and the surviving Class 14E1 electric locomotives were eventually repainted in blue during 2012, for use with the Blue Train.[7][9][10]

All but five of the Class 6E1, Series 3 locomotives were delivered in the SAR Gulf Red and yellow whiskers livery. The five exceptions, numbers E1341 to E1345, were delivered in blue with yellow whiskers, for use on the Blue Train between the Rand and Kimberley. In about 1985, these five were replaced by the five ex MetroBlitz Class 12E locomotives, which were then all repainted in blue and whiskers. The five Series 3 locomotives were all eventually repainted in Spoornet’s orange livery.[7]


The main picture shows no. E1306 in the Spoornet maroon livery, at Beaconsfield Depot in Kimberley on 25 August 2007. Illustrated below are some of the other liveries in which Series 3 locomotives served.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g 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. ^ "UCW - Electric locomotives" (PDF). The UCW Partnership. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Paxton, Leith; Bourne, David (1985). Locomotives of the South African Railways (1st ed.). Cape Town: Struik. pp. 128–129. ISBN 0869772112. 
  4. ^ a b Operation - South African Classes 6E, 6E1, 16E, 17E and 18E
  5. ^ a b c E1345 with narrow stirrup
  6. ^ a b c E1346 with wide stirrup
  7. ^ a b c d e f 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. p. 57. 
  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
  9. ^ E1973 in blue based on orange livery
  10. ^ E1951 in blue based on maroon livery