Pantograph Testing in South Africa in 1980

Between 8th and 22nd of November 1980 the author spent two weeks in South Africa supporting the SAR trials of the then still developing BR/Brecknell Willis high speed pantograph.

SAR were proposing to introduce a new high speed service to link Pretoria with Johannesburg and were evaluating a number of European pantographs for fitting to their General Electric 6E locomotives. The trains were to run at 90 mile/h (144 km/h) on the 3kV OHLE, which usually saw nothing above 50 mile/h (80 km/h). This was exactly what the pantograph had been designed for but we overlooked the fact that the extremely wide head on SAR would cause us no end of problems with aerodynamics.

The pantograph was fitted to GEC 6E1 loco No: E1525 which had been specially re-geared for high speed running and carried the BR/BW as a second pantograph. This loco had previously run at 245 km/h during tests with the Scheffel bogie.

Testing was carried out over a 10 km length of straight track between Rosslyn and De Wildt on the line between Pretoria and Brits with sections of the OHLE instrumented to measure wire uplift. Total possession of the line enabled the test loco to run at high speed in both directions on a single line whilst the adjacent track was open for normal running.

During the trials, speeds of up to 125 mile/h (200 km/h) were achieved with the pantograph, some of the fastest running ever on the narrow 3 ft 6 inch gauge (1050mm) track, especially with a light engine!

During my time with SAR engineers they kindly arranged for a shed visit to Capital Park and Germiston.

Some pictures of steam locos are included on this page but more are on their own page HERE.

Click on a picture for the bigger image - all pictures are the author's 

Brochure The Rosebank Hotel where the author was forced to drink beer by the poolside after a gruelling day spent testing Room card Name not spelt right!
Pretoria - Joburg. map A map of the area in which the testing took place Funny looking pantograph! SAR engineers contemplate the BR/Brecknell Willis pantograph which was fitted to the GEC 6E1 locomotive No:E1525. Note that both our pan and the loco's Siemens pan are raised.
Depot at Pretoria On 11th November a class 19D 4-8-2 loco propels the 6E1 into the shed at Capital Park depot, Pretoria where the pantograph was fitted. I managed a footplate ride on this loco later - in the middle of a thunderstorm Our shunter A closer view of the 'shunter'.
Pull! In this picture the SAR engineers can be seen raising the pantograph from the footbridge at Rosslyn by use of a long wooden pole - these things can be done with 3kV dc systems Harder! Here's another view of the exercise - the pole is being used to pull the pantograph up against the wire since the loco's air supply couldn't raise enough pressure
15C with ballast Steam was very much in evidence in SA at the time - here is a Class 15C with a ballast train A view down the line The same train passes the test loco 
15C with electric loco The shunter used to move the electric from under the wires was a North British Class 15C 4-8-2 locomotive No:No:2963 test loco An SAR test engineer climbs aboard the locomotive out on the line prior to a test run.
Getting prepared SAR engineers prepare the test site Overhead line The instrumented section of overhead
Ready to run The loco sits in the platform awaiting the first test run Loco on test The loco passes at speed. Note the Siemens pantograph taking power and the (red) BR pan restrained under the wire
Loco passes at 125 The loco is past and away in the blink of an eye at 200 km/h (125 mile/h) View from loco cab The view from the cab looking back
A bit crowded In the cab was a lot of equipment note the chart recorder. The wooden pole was used to keep the driver's widow closed on the cables which passed through the opening In the cab

A view through the cab door

Passing traffic A passing double-headed diesel hauled freight .............. Passing traffic

............. and a diesel-hauled passenger train

Pan up A close up of the pan on the 6E1 locomotive set up for aerodynamic tests with restraining cables incorporating load cells on the LH side. The head was 1.5 metres wide - over 50% wider than BR's and caused me a lot of headaches. Pan down

The pantograph in the retracted position

passing EMU An EMU heads for Pretoria More steam

More steam on the adjacent line

Passing EMU As we headed back to take on water we were passed by numerous EMU's in the rush hour  Taking water

The shunter replenishes its tender at Rosslyn

2963 Germiston 15C No:2963 on shed at Johannesburg's Germiston depot Garratt at Germiston

A 4-8-2-2-8-4 Beyer Garratt on shed

Pantograph aero test You won't collect much current with them! SAR staff examine the wooden strips which were fitted to try to overcome the adverse aerodynamic effects OHLE isolation

The OHLE engineers arrange for an isolation of the line

Germiston There was a constant procession of steam arriving for servicing Numberplate 15C

A typical SAR number plate

Rosie There were some favourite locos which were polished to perfection - here's 'Rosie' Rosie again

More attention is lavished on 'Rosie'

Inside Germiston shed Inside the steam shed at Germiston, Johannesburg Plinth outside Joburg station

Final resting place for steam in South Africa

Me in cab The author in the cab of the test loco The workers

The SAR staff (and me)

In December 1978, E1525 underwent experimental modifications for high speed running which included fitting a bullet type nose cone and suitable gear ratio. With one coach in tow, the locomotive set the world narrow gauge speed record at 245km/h (153 mile/h) over a distance of 3 km between Midway and Westonaria near Johannesburg.

E1525 had previously run at 245 km/h during tests in 1978 with the Scheffel bogie.Shown here with its streamline nose cone - and Dr Herbert Scheffel


The fibreglass nose is now displayed at the Highspeed Testing facility, Koedoesport, Pretoria.



As it turned out the pantograph was not chosen for use on the new service but the new Metroblitz service was introduced in 1984

The Metroblitz service consisted of eight coaches topínítailed by a new class of 12E single cabbed locomotives It reduced the journey time between Johannesburg and Pretoria to 45 minutes Unfortunately the operation of high and low speed traffic meant delays for the ordinary commuters and eventually the service was withdrawn and eventually the whole idea was abandoned altogether.


Class 12E single cab locomotive


Metroblitz train in service



However in December 2004 there was a re-think of the service and by the end of 2006 orders were placed with Bombardier to build some Electrostars for a new standard gauge line between Jo'burg, Pretoria and OR Tambo Airport. The service is known as the Gautrain project - see here for more information.

Fifteen cars were built in Derby and the rest were shipped out to Union Carriage & Wagon in Nigel as kits of parts for assembly in SA.



The Gautrain


Gautrain in service

Firefly Africa

For those of you who may be interested in railways and other transport systems in Southern African there is a great site here.

For more of my SAR steam pictures look HERE.


Back to main index