8606 sits powered up at Lithgow around 4:00 am on 31st March 2003.
Photograph by Matthew Doyle.
Built by Commonwealth Engineering of Granville N.S.W., with Mitsubishi Electrical Equipment, for
the State Rail Authority of NSW, locomotive 8606 was delivered on 12th September 1983, and entered
service on 21st September 1983. It had a short operational life of nearly 19 years before
retirement on 30th June 2002. It was sold for preservation on 21st February 2003, and is in
With the extension of electrification from Gosford to Newcastle (opened June 1984) and to Port
Kembla (from December 1985), additional electric locomotives were required to service these new
routes and add to the existing fleet of aging 46 class and newer 85 class electrics. The
Commonwealth Engineering Company of Granville was again successful in winning the tender for 50
locomotives using Mitsubishi electrical equipment from Japan. They had previously built the 85
class, which were first introduced in May 1979. The 86 class electric locomotives were a further
development from these, with an electrical design similar but not identical to that of the previous
class. Compared to the 46 class, the 86 class had roomier cabs, modern amenities and were better
riding for the crew, but their traction control system was less direct and slower to respond to
the driver's commands.
The class leader 8601 was delivered in February 1983 and the penultimate member of the class, 8649,
was delivered during late August 1985. However, the last of the class, 8650, was not delivered
until January 1986 and underwent its trial trip on 6 January that year. 8650 was an experimental
departure from the NSW norm in featuring the Bo-Bo-Bo ("tri-Bo") wheel arrangement. It was built
as a prototype for the electric locomotive design Commonwealth Engineering planned to construct
for Queensland Railways, having also successfully tendered for these locos.
Brief details of the N.S.W. "86 class" electric locomotives are as
- Voltage: 1500 D.C.
- Gauge: 1435 mm
- Wheel arrangement: Co-Co (8601 - 8649); Bo-Bo-Bo (8650 only)
- Weight: 120 tonnes
- Axle load: 20 tonnes
- Length over couplers: 20.08 m
- Overall width: 2.886 m
- Height to lowered collector: 4.33 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-BVR traction motors and MG-146-SF motor
alternator. There are two Westinghouse 3VC75B compressors and (as built) two pantographs of the
Airmate type. 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).
As the new class entered service they took over the handling of the most important express, mail
and passenger trains, ranging from the Indian Pacific to and from Lithgow; the Brisbane Limited,
Pacific Coast Motorail and Newcastle Expresses to and from Broadmeadow/Newcastle as well as
inter-urban loco hauled services to Gosford and the Blue Mountains. 86 class locomotives continued
to haul the Indian Pacific and the Grafton Express up until 1994, when both runs were taken over
by diesel locomotives. 86 class electrics shared goods train workings with 85 and 46 classes on all
three electrified main lines out of Sydney. The use of quad 86 class on Lithgow to Port Kembla coal
workings was a feature of their service. 86 class locomotives were also used to haul new chopper
sets and early Tangara sets from Goninan's at Broadmeadow to Sydney.
8606 in original "candy" livery stabled at Port Kembla
in 1995. Photograph by Michael McGinty.
All 50 members of the class were delivered in the then standard "candy" livery. To commemorate the
Bicentennial in 1988, the SRA adorned ten locomotives in a striking livery, including electric
units 8604 and 8619. In 1990, locomotives 8601 and 8602 were painted in an experimental blue and
yellow colour scheme. 8626 was then painted in a modified scheme, that became the current blue
livery, at Clyde Engineering's Bathurst workshops during December 1990 and January 1991. The
remainder of the 86 class fleet were then repainted into this blue standard livery at Goninan's
Taree (and one at Broadmeadow) during 1994 and 1995.
During 1997 a number of 86 class units were withdrawn from service as a result of the discovery of
cracks in their underframes, that had initiated within welds in areas of high stress near the bogie
centre pivots. Despite the damage being easily repairable if caught early, most of these affected
locos have never been returned to service.
With revised methods of working long distance freight trains reducing locomotive changes on-route,
usage of electric locomotives on the Sydney to Broadmeadow route was discontinued in March 1998.
However 86 class locos continued to be used on coal trains and the occasional container train
between Lithgow, Sydney and Port Kembla (on the South Coast). The creation of the Rail Access
Corporation (now Rail Infrastructure Corporation) in 1996 lead to higher charges for electricity
being imposed, that made electric locomotives less economic compared to diesel units, particularly
when combined with the locomotive changes that were required, due to the limited range of
electrification in NSW. Thus all 10 of the 85 class and progressively further 86 class locos were
withdrawn from service.
8606 in Lithgow Locomotive Maintenance Centre Yard in
1997. Photograph by Michael McGinty.
In February 2002 government owned Freightcorp and National Rail were purchased by a consortium of
the Lang Corporation and Toll Holdings which formed a private company trading as Pacific National.
By the middle of June there were only seven 86 class units remaining in service. It was decided by
this company that these remaining electric locomotives were surplus to requirements and all were
withdrawn from service on 30th June 2002. Sunday 30 June saw the last freight train to use these
locomotives, being CA16 from Clarence Colliery to Inner Harbour hauled by 8628, 8627, 8607 and 8606.
The last locomotives available for service were 8641 and 8646 which were held at Enfield into early
On the 7th September 2002 the Sydney Electric Train Society arranged a special farewell passenger
train charter to mark the both the withdrawal of the 86 class electrics, and the end of commercial
use of electric locomotives in N.S.W.. Pacific National facilitated loco 8646 being specially
prepared and made available for this trip. Thus this 86 class unit became the very last NSW
electric locomotive in commercial service.
Late in 2002 Pacific National commenced a disposal process for their surplus locomotives, including
all members of the electric locomotive fleet. Following recommendations from Lithgow Locomotive
Maintenance Centre, 8606 was selected as one of the top ranked operational units and was sold to
the Sydney Electric Train Society effective 21st February 2003. The other 86 class unit currently
preserved is 8646, which is held by the N.S.W. Rail Transport Museum.
The balance of the 85 and 86 class electric locomotives were sold to Silverton Rail and their
future is currently uncertain.
After 9 months in storage and replacement of a defective battery, 8606 was operated light
engine (under electric power) from Lithgow LMC direct to Hornsby Maintenance Centre in Sydney
on 31st March 2003. After replacement of a defective frequency relay (used in starting the alternator)
and a motor-alternator set overhaul (to rectify worn bearings and an uneven commutator surface),
the locomotive ran its inaugural Society trip operating the "8606 Return to the North Tour"
on 6th December 2003. It has since been used on a number of the society's trips, the most recent
being the "Terrain Tunnel Push-Pull Tour" on the 29th October 2005.
8606 sits inside the Lithgow Locomotive Maintenance Centre workshop
building on 25th February 2003. Photograph by Hugh Burns.
Locomotive notes by Stephen Halgren and Hugh Burns.