South African Railways: Class 6E

For some strange reason the class 6E and 6E1 electric locomotive of the South African Railways has a large following, and I suspect the unique whine that they make from their resistor blowers is part of the attraction.

E163 Germiston

E1637, E1228 and E1416 in Germiston

These units have been in service for many years already, and they are the most numerous loco class in South Africa,  I am not an expert on them though, I am just an admirer. The definitive work (for want of a better description) may be found at the Class 6E page at Wikipedia.  The more numerous class 6E1 went on to have 11 different variants and there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to each variant.

6E1's Maraisburg

E1726 and friends.

All were built locally by Union Carriage and Wagon and most served with the South African Railways although a few were built for private use. 1041 were built in total.

E1267 Germiston

E1267. Germiston

There are a number of colour schemes out there, ranging from gulf red through to orange, purple and blue, although most purists would argue that the gulf red variant was the best livery.  Unfortunately I came into rail photography very late so have very few pictures of them, and most of the images I do have show a declining fleet in various stages of paintwork.

A trio of 6E1's

A trio of 6E1’s

The front two 6E1’s have the original diamond pantographs, while the gulf red unit has the newer style pantograph. Strangely enough she was still in her original livery as late as 2010.

6E-1678 Hamberg

E1678 and friends. (Hamberg)

E1558 and E1433. Germiston

E1411 and friends. Braamfontein

E1411 and friends. Braamfontein

Sadly the 6E and 6E1 are in danger of extinction as they get phased out in favour of more modern traction or are converted into what is now the Class 18E. This conversion robs them of their dual cabs in favour of “private facilities” for female drivers; and frankly that blanked out window does not do much for their looks.  I expect that the Class 18E will soldier on for many years as well, seeing that they are really converted from a good solid bit of design.

18405 Germiston

18405 (Germiston)

The 6E1 was also used as the locomotive on the now defunct “Metroblitz” high speed train that used to run between Pretoria and Johannesburg in the early 1980’s, and of course a specially adapted 6E1 with a nosecone was used to push the speed record for the Cape Gauge.

6E1 in Krugersdorp

6E1 in Krugersdorp

From a model railway point of view the 6E/6E1 never really entered the realm of the modeling fraternity. Many years ago, Italian manufacturer LIMA produced a series of South African Railways rolling stock and at the time they used a 5E/5E1 (E444 (Blue Train) and E919) as the “role model”. The 5E and all of its variants is really the granddaddy of the electric units that we knew so well in South Africa, and 555 were built in total.

E919 (LIMA HO Gauge)

E919 (LIMA HO Gauge)

These poor reproductions have really become collectors pieces and their prices are shocking.

Recently Scalecraft in South Africa was producing some excellent SAR models and while I know there is an 18E amongst their locomotives I am not too sure if the same can be said about the 5E/5E1/6E/6E1 variants.

It is also possible to get a very nice static 5E (although it is marked as a 6E) from Del Prado which included it as part of their Locomotives of the World series of partworks.

Del Prado static "6E" (N Gauge)

Del Prado static “6E” (N Gauge)

Sadly, I may never see one of these beauts ever again, although they will live on in my memory and in some of the videos that I managed to capture of that famous whine. When I was young I never really wanted to drive a steam engine, I really wanted to drive an electric loco, but I never did.

The 6E1 and her family were part of what made the former SAR work, they were the workhorses of the long distance train, and there was something comforting about watching them come into a station pulling a load of saloons behind them with a capable driver and his assistant at the controls, and of course part of going on holiday was sticking your head out the window and watching the units in front driving headlong. Ah, I can hear them from here!

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