In railroad terminology, a steeplecab is a style or design of electric locomotive; the term is rarely if ever used for other forms of power. The name originated in North America and has been used in Britain as well as the alternative camelback.

A steeplecab design has a central (or nearly central) driving cab area which may include a full-height area in between for electrical equipment. On both ends, connected to the full-height cab areas, lower (usually sloping) "noses" contain other equipment, especially noisy equipment such as air compressors not desired within the cab area. When overhead lines are used for power transmission, the cab roof usually supports the equipment to collect the power (either by pantograph(s) bow collector(s) or trolley pole(s)), although on some early designs (such as the North Eastern Railways Electric number 1 -- later known as an "ES1") a bow collector might be mounted on one of the bonnets (or "nose hoods") instead.


The steeplecab style was developed in America, and in 1900 Thomson-Houston and General Electric designed and built a 650 V DC 3rd rail locomotive of this type for use between Milan and Varese in Italy, becoming FS420.001 (in 1937 this engine was sold to the Cumana railway, Naples). In 1902, the British North Eastern Railway placed an order for two steeplecab locomotives of virtually identical design, the ES1 (although they had a dual collection system, using both 3rd rail and pantograph) . These were for the Tyneside Electrics system in North East England, where their job was to haul very heavy mineral trains relatively short distances but over a route that included gradients as steep as 1 in 27. These locomotives started work in 1905 and were only retired in 1964. The North Shore Railroad in California built a standard gauge, steeplecab locomotive in its own shops in 1902-1903 which was used until 1906 when it was apparently sold to the United Railroads of San Francisco.[1]

Steeplecabs are almost only used for DC electrification, not AC. The first electric railways used DC supplies which could be fed directly to their traction motors, without needing much electrical equipment on board. AC electrification required either large frame-mounted motors, or rectifiers. AC locomotives thus used the boxcab or centercab layout, where their high bodywork provided space for the additional transformer, rectifiers and control equipment. A centercab, such as the PRR GG1, is similar to a steeplecab and has the same single central control cab with a view in both directions, but there is only vision to one side of the locomotive from each side of the cab, as the hoods are too high to see over.

Advantages and disadvantages

The steeplecab design was especially popular for electric switcher locomotives, and on electric locomotives ordered for interurban and industrial lines. It offers a large degree of crash protection for the crew combined with good visibility.

Disadvantages include reduced room for bulky electrical equipment compared to other designs.

The overall design pattern of a central crew area with lower and/or narrower equipment hoods on each end has been repeated many times, although the lack of equipment space has meant it has largely died out in recent years.

By country


The first two members of the Victorian Railways E class electric locomotives, introduced in 1923, were of a steeplecab design.


The Compagnie du chemin de fer de Paris à Orléans introduced eight steeplecab locomotives derived from a General Electric design for the Baltimore Belt Line in 1900.


A single locomotive was built in 1900 by Thomson-Houston and General Electric for the Milan & Varese railway. The Hungarian designer Kálmán Kandó was employed by the Ganz works to electrify the Italian Valtellina railway, Milan: his steeplecab locomotive was operational in 1901.


Built by Toshiba named Toshiba wartime type Electric locomotives (Japanese: 東芝戦時型電気機関車).

United Kingdom

When the Central London Railway (now the Central line of the London Underground) opened in 1900, its trains were hauled by camelback (steeplecab) electric locomotives. Due to severe vibrations as a result of their most of their weight being unsprung, they were withdrawn in 1903 and replaced by multiple-unit trains.

The North Eastern Railway operated three classes of camelbacks between 1905 and the company's merger under Grouping in 1922. These became:

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway also built at least two steeplecab locomotives. One was a straight electric which could pick up current from third rail or overhead wire. The other was battery powered. See external links for photos.

United States

In the US, several examples of steeplecab electric locomotives can be found preserved at various railway museums. At least one common carrier railroad, the Iowa Traction, still operates several locomotives of this style.

Similar designs

Other, similar, designs included some very large locomotives such as:


  1. Demoro, Harre W. "Electric Railway Pioneer: Commuting on the Northwestern Pacific, 1903-1941," at 118. (Interurbans Special No. 84). (1983, Interurban Press). ISBN 0916374556.
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