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NSW 85 Class Electric Locomotive 8501


8501 at Goninan Broadmeadow in 1993

8501 at freshly repainted in Freight Rail blue at Goninan Broadmeadow in May 1993.
Photograph by Brad Coulter.


Built by Commonwealth Engineering of Granville N.S.W., with Mitsubishi Electrical Equipment, for the Public Transport Commission of New South Wales, locomotive 8501 was handed over on 30th May 1979, and entered service on 9th July 1979. It had a short operational life of under 19 years service before retirement on 21st April 1998. It was sold for preservation on 29th November 2006 and other than pantographs is complete.

About 8501

Electric haulage of goods and passenger services began in NSW with the introduction to service of experimental electric locomotive 4501 in 1952. This locomotive was renumbered to 7100 in 1961. From 1956 until the entry to service of the 85 class, all electric hauled goods and passenger trains were operated by 46 class electric locomotives.

By the mid-1970s it was clear the NSW Government Railways (then part of the Public Transport Commission of NSW) needed a programme of heavy capital investment for modernisation, to meet growing operational needs. The Wran Labour Governnent was elected by a one seat majority in May 1976, and as part of implementing its election manifesto embarked on a major reinvestment in NSW public transport, and in particular the NSW railways.

To address a chronic shortage of locomotives in NSW, tenders were called for new designs and a contract was awarded to Commonwealth Engineering (Comeng) initially for thirty 80 Class diesel-electric locomotives in 1977. (Comeng had taken over the MLW (formerly Alco) franchise from A.E.Goodwin.)

The Public Transport Commission also decided to order ten additional electric locomotives with more modern electrical equipment, for use on the western line coal trains (and in advance of the impending electrification projects to Newcastle and Wollongong/Port Kembla). Therefore in the same timeframe as their 80 class contract, Comeng was also awarded a $9.3 million dollar contract in early 1977 to build 10 modern electric 85 class locomotives that were in many aspects fairly similar to their 80 class locomotives.

Although an established electric rolling-stock designer and builder for the NSW railways, Comeng had never previously built electric locomotives. Thus they partnered with Mitsubishi Electric from Japan for the electrical design and equipment supply, and they sought design advice from Comeng's South African subsidiary Union Carriage and Wagon who had previously built around 1600 electric locomotives to both 1500VDC and 25,000VAC overhead supply designs.

In the mid to late 1970s the state-of-the-art DC electric traction control technology was chopper control but the NSW railways declined this and went for the more conventional and tried resistance with camshaft and contactor control design. Other design features that the 85 class had over the older 46 class included cab air-conditioning, cab refrigerators and a crew lavatory on the loco.

8501 was built by Commonwealth Engineering at Granville N.S.W in 1979 and was fitted with Mitsubishi Electrical Equipment made in Japan. Class leader 8501 was officially handed over to the then Public Transport Commission at a ceremony at Comeng on 30th May 1979. The final locomotive of the class, 8510, entered service on 28th July 1980.

8501 at Lithgow on 11th October 1980

8501 sits powered up in Lithgow yard on 11th October 1980.
Unknown photographer.

Brief details of the N.S.W. 85 class electric locomotives are as follows:-

  • Voltage: 1500 D.C.
  • Gauge: 1435 mm
  • Wheel arrangement: Co-Co
  • Weight: 123 tonnes
  • Axle load: 20.5 tonnes
  • Length over couplers: 19.00 m
  • Overall width: 2.960 m
  • Height to lowered collector: 4.305 m
  • One hour rating: 2880 kW
  • Continuous rating: 2700 kW
  • Continuous Tractive Effort: 222 kN (22200 daN)
  • Maximum speed: 130 km/h
  • Wheel Diameter: 1250 mm
  • Gear Ratio: 79:20
  • Control voltage: 120V D.C.
  • Multiple Unit Operation: Up to 4 units

The Mitsubishi electrical equipment includes; six MB-485-AVR traction motors and MG-134-F motor alternator. There are two Westinghouse 3VC75B compressors and (as built) two SMC-EK (Airmate) model WBX 22 pantographs. Traction control is by means of three camshaft controllers and electro-pneumatic contactors. The Mitsubishi control equipment allows manual and automatic (to current limit) notching, and regenerative braking, being operated under electronic control set by the driver's master controller (or jumpered train wires when operating in multiple unit).

The 85 class locomotives primarily operated on the western coal and general freight services, operating between Lithgow and Port Kembla/Inner Harbour. They occasionally hauled the Indian Pacific to and from Sydney Terminal.

When the 85 class were delivered, they were painted in Indian Red with Chrome yellow striping and black underframe, bogies and frame mounted equipment. They carried small chrome yellow numbers on the sides near the centre of the locomotive body. In early 1993, a contract was awarded to A. Goninan & Co. to repaint the locomotives into FreightRail Blue. Two of these locos, 8501 and 8503 were painted at Goninan's Broadmeadow plant and the remainder were repainted at Landsdowne Engineering (owned by Goninan) north of Taree. This involved removing the pantographs because of clearance issues.

In their early operating lives, the 85 class were occasionally accidentally sent into sections of freight yards that were not electrified, by signalers who confused them with 80 class diesel locomotives, that had a strikingly similar appearance. This often caused expensive damage to pantographs and overhead wiring equipment. To combat this, 8501 and 8504 were experimentally fitted with 'E' boards at one end of the locomotive that when illuminated, was designed to alert signallers that it was an electric locomotive that was approaching.

As a result of National Rail purchasing their own locomotives (the NR class) a number of diesel locomotives were returned to FreightCorp after being on long term hire, and this, along with the closure of coal mines at Wallerawang and Charbon, resulted in the 85 class becoming surplus. The reopening of Charbon mine did not require the return to service of the 85 class.

The first locomotive to be retired was 8503, which was damaged in a derailment at Enfield South Junction on 6th January 1998. 8505 was also damaged in this incident but was repaired and later retired in April 1998. 8501 was withdrawn on 21st April 1998 along with 8508, after working 1757 goods from Enfield to Lithgow. The last working of an 85 class was 8507 running light engine from Clyde Yard to Delec on 27th April 1998 as train number X 507. It was later hauled dead attached from Delec to Lithgow for storage.

8501 stored at Werris Creek

8501 stored at Werris Creek.
Photograph by Glenn Ryan.

In July 2000, five 86 class (8602/16/23/32/49) and three 85 class (8501/07/08) were transferred to Werris Creek for long term storage. They were initially stored within the confines of FreightCorp's locomotive depot, but most were later transferred to the former railway line leading out to Gap Junction.

In 2003, all of the stored/retired electric locomotives including the remaining seven 85 class that were stored at Lithgow Locomotive Maintenance Centre were transferred in two movements to Broken Hill for storage.

In November 2006 the Sydney Electric Train Society was advised by Allco Management Limited that it had been successful in its submission to purchase class leader 8501, which had been selected on the basis of being the unit in best condition. Thus 8501 was purchased for preservation on the 29th November 2006. Similarly Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum were advised their submission to purchase 8507 had also been accepted. As a result two 85 class locos are retained for preservation. The remaining locomotives at Broken Hill were scrapped between January and March 2007.

In 2008, the electric locomotives on the line at Werris Creek were returned to the locomotive depot yard. Previously purchased locomotives 8501, 8507 and 8649 were set aside, but 8508 and the remaining 86 class locos were transferred by road from Werris Creek to One Steel at Hexham near Newcastle between 6-8th August 2008 to be scrapped. 8501 currently remains at Werris Creek pending transfer to a new home.

Locomotive notes by Michael McGinty and Hugh Burns.

Nov 2018

 Further Information
Related reading:
NSW 85 Class Electric Locomotive Technical Documentation

See Also:
Electric Locomotive 4615
Electric Locomotive 8606
Single Deck Suburban (EMU) Passenger Cars
Single Deck Interurban (EMU) Passenger Cars

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