South African Class 32-000

The South African Railways Class 32-000 of 1959 was a diesel-electric locomotive.

South African Class 32-000
No. 32-029 and 32-042 at Oudtshoorn,
22 September 2007
Type and origin
Power typeDiesel-electric
DesignerGeneral Electric
BuilderGeneral Electric
Serial number33722-33836
ModelGE U18C1
Build date1959-1961
Total produced115
Gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) Cape gauge
Leading dia.762 mm (30.0 in)
Wheel diameter915 mm (36.0 in)
Wheelbase15,246 mm (50 ft 0.2 in)
  Bogie4,927 mm (16 ft 2.0 in)
Pivot centres8,128 mm (26 ft 8.0 in)
  Over couplers16,866 mm (55 ft 4.0 in)
Width2,756 mm (9 ft 0.5 in)
Height3,924 mm (12 ft 10.5 in)
Axle load12,700 kg (28,000 lb)
  Leading10,160 kg (22,400 lb)
Adhesive weight76,200 kg (168,000 lb)
Loco weight96,520 kg (212,790 lb) max
Fuel typeDiesel
Fuel capacity4,300 litres (950 imp gal)
Prime moverCooper-Bessemer FVBL-12
RPM range400-1,000
  RPM low idle400
  RPM idle535
  Maximum RPM1,000
Engine type4 stroke V12 diesel
AspirationC-B ET13 turbocharger
GeneratorDC 10 pole GE 5GT-581C5
Traction motorsSix GE 5GE-761A3 DC 4 pole
  Rating 1 hour600A
  Continuous590A @ 17 km/h (11 mph)
Gear ratio92:19
MU working3 maximum
Loco brake6-SLAV-1 with vigilance control
Train brakesWestinghouse 6CDX4UC compressor/exhauster
Air tank cap.700 litres (150 imp gal)
Compressor0.039 m3/s (1.4 cu ft/s)
Exhauster0.155 m3/s (5.5 cu ft/s)
CouplersAAR knuckle (SASKOP DS)
Performance figures
Maximum speed100 km/h (62 mph)
Power output:
  Starting1,475 kW (1,978 hp)
  Continuous1,340 kW (1,800 hp)
Tractive effort:
  Starting183 kN (41,000 lbf) @ 25% adhesion
  Continuous146 kN (33,000 lbf) @ 27 km/h (17 mph)
Factor of adh.:
Brakeforce60% ratio @ 345 kPa (50.0 psi)
OperatorsSouth African Railways
SNCZ, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Consortium ARZ
ClassClass 32-000
Number in class115
Numbers32-001 to 32-115
DeliveredNov 1959 to Nov 1961
First run1959

Between November 1959 and November 1961, the South African Railways placed 115 Class 32-000 General Electric type U18C1 diesel-electric locomotives with a 1Co+Co1 wheel arrangement in service in South West Africa.[1]


The South African Class 32-000 type GE U18C1 diesel-electric locomotive was designed and built to South African Railways (SAR) requirements by General Electric (GE) and imported. They were numbered in the range from 32-001 to 32-115.[1]

Class 32 series

The Class 32 consisted of two series, the high short hood Class 32-000 and the low short hood Class 32-200, both GE products and both with a 1Co+Co1 wheel arrangement. The short hood end was the front on both versions and both had single station controls.[1]

The pony truck affair

In the United States of America, the South African Class 32-000 is credited with being a major factor in the demise of the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) and the rise of GE in the locomotive building business.[2]

In the late 1950s South Africa, at the time one of the last bastions of steam traction, planned to embark on a massive dieselisation program. A SAR technical team was sent to Europe and the United States to prepare an assessment of design alternatives, finalise specifications and compile a list of qualified bidders.[2]

In the United States only ALCO, GE and General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) were considered to be qualified bidders. The SAR was not very enthusiastic about two-stroke cycle prime movers and had a strong preference for ALCO's Model 251 prime mover and GE's transmission systems. As a long-time prior supplier of steam locomotives for the SAR, ALCO appeared to be virtually assured of receiving the order.[2]

The SAR's tender for bid was issued in 1957, with two options:[2]

  • 115 1,800 horsepower (1,300 kilowatts) locomotives with a 1Co+Co1 wheel arrangement; or
  • 230 1,000 horsepower (750 kilowatts) locomotives with a Co+Co wheel arrangement

These units were intended for operation in South West Africa (SWA) under very light rail conditions that necessitated lighter axle loadings which could not be achieved with conventional Co bogies under a heavy locomotive. General Steel Castings had a design on paper for a 1Co bogie, a Co bogie with an integral pony truck, which could be utilised by either ALCO or GE and which would enable the SAR's specifications to be met for the heavier 1,800 horsepower (1,300 kilowatts) units.[2]

The SAR made it clear that, despite the two options afforded by the tender, its strong preference was for a 1Co+Co1 locomotive. The use of a pony truck was not universally accepted by ALCO's engineering management, however, and the result was that ALCO bid on only the Co+Co option and lost out to GE, who had bid on both options.[2]

In South Africa, this virtually opened the floodgates for GE since more than half of the SAR's vast diesel-electric locomotive fleet which was acquired between 1959 and 1981 were GE products.[2]


South African Railways

The Class 32-000 was designed specifically for service in SWA and most of them spent their entire SAR working lives there.[3][4][5]

Some initially entered service at Germiston to work coal trains on the Witbank coal line where electrification was approaching completion. From Germiston they worked all sorts of traffic, including the Trans-Natal Express between Johannesburg and Volksrust. Ten of these units were temporarily allocated to De Aar in the last quarter of 1961 to work the mainline to Beaufort West. Between 1964 and 1976, several were also allocated to the Eastern Transvaal for service around Waterval Boven.[3][5][6]

Of the original 115 locomotives, only five survived into the Spoornet era in the 1990s. In SWA they began to be replaced by the Class 33-400 during the early 1970s. After being withdrawn from Spoornet service, a few were allocated to the National Collection, later the Transnet Heritage Foundation, and two of these, numbers 32-029 and 32-042, still saw occasional service as Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe excursion locomotives based at George, Western Cape. Numbers 32-021 and 32-094 were staged at Danskraal for years and were sold in 2013, believed to be for further use by the buyer.[3][7]

Post-SAR service

After withdrawal from SAR service in the 1980s, almost fifty of the Class 32-000 locomotives were sold to Zaire's Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Zaïrois (SNCZ) which became the Société nationale des Chemins de fer du Congo (SNCC) after the country's name change to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Of these at least one, SNCC no. 1405 (ex SAR no. 32-019) was seen on local workings around Lubumbashi in 2013.[3][7]

Three went to Consortium ARZ (CARZ), an Italian per-way contractor working in Zaire and later also in Zambia.[3]

Numbers 32-007, 32-010, 32-013, 32-069 and 32-113 went to Zambia, two to Nchanga and three to Nkana, two of the Zambian copper mines, where they were used on the mine systems at Nchanga and Kitwe on both ore trains and miner's passenger trains. The three locomotives at the Nkana Mine retained their SAR numbers. No. 32-013 is depicted alongside on the Nkana-Chibuluma miner's train at Nkana Mine Sidings in Zambia. The coaches behind it are second-hand Tata bus bodies mounted on freight wagon frames and bogies which were initially made for the Mulungushi Commuter train service in Lusaka, which was later taken over by Zambia Railways and renamed Njanji Commuter.[7]

LEGE in Durban, who operates an active hire and overhaul business, owns two of these locomotives, numbers 32-070 and 32-084. Of these, no. 32-070 has been observed shunting in the Merewent Oil Refinery on the Bluff as late as 2014.[7]


The class 32-000 were delivered in the new Gulf Red livery with yellow side-stripes and a yellow V on each end. They wore this livery throughout their SAR and Spoornet service life.[5]


Four of the Class 32-000's have been preserved.

  • 32002 incorrectly numbered 32001 is plinthed in Windhoek in Namibia.
  • 32029 is preserved at The Railway Museum in George.[8]
  • 32042 is preserved at the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe Railway in George.[8]
  • 32047 preserved at Voorbaai Loco Depot.[8]

Works numbers

The Class 32-000 builder's works numbers and known disposition are listed in the table.



  1. 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. Steinbrenner, Richard T. (2003). The American Locomotive Company: A Centennial Remembrance. Warren, NJ: On Track Publishers, LLC. ISBN 0911122-07-9.
  3. 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, 47, 67.
  4. Paxton, Leith; Bourne, David (1985). Locomotives of the South African Railways (1st ed.). Cape Town: Struik. pp. 138–139. ISBN 0869772112.
  5. Pivnic, Les. "System 7, Western Transvaal, based in Johannesburg, Part 6. Germiston, the Steam and Diesel Running Sheds". Soul of A Railway. Captions 5, 33, 36. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  6. Pivnic, Les; Armer, Eugene; Stow, Peter; Micenko, Peter. "System 7, Western Transvaal, based in Johannesburg, Part 21: Witbank Line". Soul of A Railway. Caption 10. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  7. "SAR-L Yahoogroup message no. 47981". 17 October 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  8. "Sandstone Heritage Trust - 2017016 Locomotive status - January 2017". Google Docs. Retrieved 8 March 2019. (subscription required)
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