The Swedish ASEA success story
The name ASEA is associated with many industrial electrical concerns from Sweden. Until only a few years ago, this included locomotive building; and one of the most successful designs has got to be the “Rc” series, introduced for the domestic market from 1967, and exported to a number of other destinations. Here, we look at the Swedish “Rc” story, from a feature published in “FLMJ-Nytt” in 2004, by Andrew Henning.
Note: Without disturbing too much of Andrew’s original work, some updates and modifications have ben made to this article more recently.
In 1967, the Swedish State Railways (Statens Järnvägar / SJ) put into service, a new design of locomotive, the “Rc,” which was later to become the “Rc1.” The design was developed by ASEA (Allmänna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget) especially for the Swedish railways. At the time, it was probably the world’s most advanced electric locomotive design, and it went on to become probably the most successful. The key factor in the design’s success, was the thyristor control system – innovative at the time. It was designed for mixed traffic with a top speed of 130km/h, being equally at home on passenger duties as on goods duties. Derivatives of the “Rc” have gone to Austria, Iran, Norway and the U.S; whilst significantly different locos, but with the same technology, have gone to many other places.
In 1964, SJ was in need of modern electric locomotives and ordered five thyristor locomotives type Rc (1007-1011) and 15 diode locomotives type Rd (1012-1026). They were based on experiments carried out with the Rb1-Rb3. However, the locomotive order was soon changed so that they all would be delivered as type Rc. When Rc2 was ordered in 1968, Rc was changed to Rc1. Initially, a “1” in smaller style was pasted to the Decals on the locomotive sides (1007-1024). Only two were delivered as Rc1 (1025-1026).
The twenty locomotives were followed by 100 “Rc2” versions. These latter locomotives had improvements to the thyristor circuits and more sophisticated electrical filters. It had been found with the earlier locomotives that the thyristor circuits caused ‘harmonic ripples’ in the signalling circuits that were in the rails!
During construction of the “Rc2,” an extra ten were supplied with gearing for 160km/h and classified “Rc3,” and another 16 were supplied to the Austrian Railways (ÖBB) as their class “1043.” The Austrians, however, decided that they could do better, and instead of ordering more “1043s” from Sweden, they built their own derivative, the “1044.” This new design has never been particularly reliable, and to avoid further embarrassment, they’ve now withdrawn the “1043s” so that there’s nothing to compare with! The “1043s” have mostly returned to Sweden, where reclassified as “Rc2-ÖBB,” many are now in active, reliable service with private operators.
In 1975, the design was improved further, with the “Rc4,” of which 150 were provided. This new version had a device to prevent wheel-slip during acceleration and was fitted with solid-state converters (instead of rotary) for the power supply to auxiliary apparatus. During the construction of these locomotives, another 15 were made for the Norwegian Railways (NSB) and classified “El.16.” Also, during this time, one locomotive (Rc4 1166) was sent to the USA for trials, and proved so successful that the design was adopted initially by Amtrak as their class “AEM7,” but further derivatives were introduced with other train companies there. (As the U.S. has a strong “Buy American” lobby, ASEA allowed General Motors to build the locomotives under licence in the U.S.) Another variant during this time, was the Swedish “Rm,” of which only six were built. These locomotives were to be used on the Iron Ore trains (in pairs or threes), and were fitted with automatic couplings, lower gearing for 100km/h, more weight to improve adhesion, and better heating and insulation in the cabs. They were not wholly successful in this duty and they have been relegated to other duties.
In 1982, the “Rc5” appeared. These sixty (and subsequent) locomotives were instantly recognisable due to a different roof profile. Inside, however, they had a new motor (ASEA LJM 450 instead of ASEA LJH 108), better ventilators (hence the new roof profile), stronger bogies, and an improved cab with better accident protection for the driver, stronger windows and redesigned desk.
Then, in 1985, a 160km/h version of the “Rc5” appeared, classified “Rc6.” These were the last forty “Rc” locomotives to be delivered. During the 1990s, all “Rc5” locomotives were converted to 160km/h and reclassified accordingly. In more recent times, a couple of these locomotives were reclassified “Rc7” and marked for 180km/h, though this speed was only in theory, as they were still limited to 160km/h; and have been rebranded back to Rc6.
The “Rc” story comes almost to an end with the “Rz.” This is not really an “Rc” at all, but it is mentioned as it is contained within an “Rc” body (but without the small round windows on the bodysides)! The “Rz” had asynchronous traction control (developed for the X2000), and as such, brought the “Rc” technology to obsolescence. The solitary “Rz” had been preserved, but neglected for too long, it has subsequently donated parts for other locos.
In more recent times, almost all of the surviving SJ Rc2 locomotives have been rebuilt as class “Rd2”, not to be confused with the earlier mention of the “Rd”. Essentially, these are completely new locomotives in terms of equipment, but built into the carcasses of the original locos. They are easily identified by the large air conditioning ‘boxes’ over the cabs.
The Swedish locomotives are generally contained within two bodies.
The latter roof profile distinguishes the “Rc5” and “Rc6” from the earlier members. There are other detail differences to look for, that are worth considering if converting any of the models of the design that are available. “Rc4” onwards had different roof fittings to the earlier locomotives and different underslung equipment between the bogies; though this equipment has been changed on several assorted earlier types! The “Rm” has different bogies with extra springing (for the extra weight) and the Austrian “Rc2” versions have a different lamp layout. All of the pre-“Rc5” locomotives have had their roof profiles changed with the retrofitting of the better ventilators – but not to match the “Rc5” onwards! “Rc1” has four large box-like affairs along each side. “Rc2,” “Rc3,” “Rc4” and “Rm” have two of these, but not along the full roof length. Although these all look the same, note that on the “Rc4,” they protrude more than with the others, which are almost flush-sided!
The Austrian class “1043” locomotives were identical to the “Rc2” and were even delivered in SJ livery! Over the years, there have been a few minor modifications to the locomotives, but the only readily notable difference is the different lamp layout. Returned to Sweden, there has been no apparent need to change the lamps’ layout. The “1044” is not an ASEA product, so we will not discuss it here!
The Norwegian class “El.16” locomotives are quite similar to the “Rc” in appearance, except for the cab ends and roof detail. The ends are pointed (and have toughened glass for dealing with icicles in tunnels)! Some of these locomotives had been returned to Sweden, and were in regular use with a number of operators; but they now seem to be operated by Norwegian “CargoNet”, who does operate into Sweden!
The American class “AEM7” locomotives are quite similar to the “Rc,” but not similar enough to be able to just repaint a model! The cab ends have a different profile, the roof equipment is very different and the bodysides are slightly different also. But there is still something of a ‘family resemblance’ with them. (Despite a model formerly at the FLMJ, there have never been any of these in Sweden!)
The Rc in model form
Fleischmann, Jeco, Lima, Märklin and Roco have produced the “Rc1-3” design, and Roco the Rc5-7 design (with a Märklin one hinted at). Here’s a brief review of the models.
Fleischmann introduced their model in 1973 as Rc2 1091. The only major change to the model was a new “drive” fitted from 1994 onwards. By 1970s standards it is a very fine model. It is slightly over-scale and the cab end windows were fitted the wrong way up for many years (check the moulded-on windscreen wipers to see what I mean). Running performance is good. It seems that as their “Rc” is not a German locomotive, Fleischmann has no known plans to improve it.
Jeco introduced their Rc2/Rc3 in 2012 in a number of versions, each as a limited run. There were only two orange versions with original roof profile, but only one of them had original window surrounds. SJ Blue, GC Blue and GC Green versions were also produced along with SJ Black and SSRT Grey, and a few more. Unfortunately, whilst all these more modern versions have the roof modifications, they have the Rc4 modifications, not the Rc2/Rc3 mods. (As mentioned above, on the the Rc2/Rc3 the boxes are almost flush-sided, whilst on the Rc4 they protrude a lot more. Rc4 has different underfloor equipment between the bogies, so just changing the number would not be correct!) As of late 2022, Jeco has hinted that more will be produced soon, Rc1, Rc2, Rc3 and Rc4.
Lima introduced their model in 1974 as Rc2 1035. It has had a number of cosmetic changes over the years, the most notable being the new blue livery in 1991. It is a very basic model (more akin to a toy) even by 1970s standards, and as a ‘rule of thumb,’ you could buy three Lima models for the price of one Roco model – and have some change left over! Performance is poor to middling!
Märklin introduced their model in 1968 as Rc 1010. (Note, this is not a typo; it was “Rc” not “Rc1” – see earlier notes.) In line with all Märklin products, however, this model was designed to operate on their 3-rail system. It has undergone a number of cosmetic alterations, but it is only recently that the roof profile has been modified to current standards (but it retains the non-heated mirrors!). Starting in 1969 Märklin licensed Hamo to produce 2-rail versions of their model, though this agreement no longer exists. There was hope of a fresh agreement of this nature with Trix, but this only applies to some models, not the “Rc”! Their model has also been advertised as an “Rm,” but it is inauthentic in that it is only an “Rc” with “Rm” markings (check the bogies)! From 2022, Märklin has produced a modern epoch Rc6.
Roco introduced their model in 1984 as Rc5 1323; but it actually came with a sheet of transfers so that the purchaser could apply one of four numbers (or chop them about to make even more numbers – see FLMJ’s “1393”)! Roco’s model has for many years, been the only one to represent the newer roof profile. Different versions of the model have been issued over the years in several liveries and with a selection of more numbers. A major alteration to the model was that current ones are DCC-ready. This means that in addition to being able to fit a DCC chip, the headlights don’t work except dimly at full power (unless you do fit DCC)! Even more recently, Roco has introduced the “Rc2/Rc3/Rc4” versions in various conditions and with them, a third technical specification which is much more up-to-date.
As a footnote, almost, another brand for the H0-scale “Rc” is Editions Atlas. Their Rc3 1027 in blue ‘radio controlled’ livery is a plinthed static model. However, the FLMJ has acquired one, which, fitted with proper flanged wheels, couplings, sprung pantographs, and weights, is now available for double heading! (With double heading on an analogue layout, two locos will share the power output, so to have one as a ‘dummy’ is advantageous!)
There have been a few special celebrities among the “Rc” locomotives, and some of them have appeared in model form. One of the more notable ones was Märklin’s model, which appeared as Rc4 1166, in the condition that it was in when it went to the USA for trials. Also, Roco’s model has appeared as Rc5 1377, in the experimental silver livery (and this loco is the only “Rc” to never have carried the original Orange livery). Märklin’s model was produced in house (by Märklin), but the Roco model was first produced by Svenska Järnvägsmodeller HB, Stockholm, in 1987. Roco has issued their own version, since. (Another company did a version of Rc5 1377 in the silver livery, but used the inappropriate Märklin model! )
Jeco has also produced a metal kit enabling modellers to convert a Roco (or other) model to an Rc4, and the sheet of transfers has 15 different loco numbers (including Rc2/Rc3) but only enough “Green Cargo” labels for one model! Unfortunately, the metal components are quite heavy, but the FLMJ experimented with two, neither of which we were happy with, but were able to find good homes for! Entec produces a kit to convert the earlier models into modern condition (roof boxes, window surrounds, etc.), and one can speculate that this used in conjunction with the Jeco kit, would give you an Rc1!
But, why would you want to convert such a nice (Roco) model anyway? The answer is quite simple; as a rule-of-thumb, the Rc6 only works passenger trains. (The Rc3 also works them due to its higher speed – though some were in use by Green Cargo for Postal duties.) The goods traffic is worked by Rc1, Rc2, Rc4 and Rm. The FLMJ, for example, had nine “Rc” locos, but only one of them (a Märklin model) was a goods loco. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and the FLMJ responds by permitting goods trains to be hauled by Rc6 locomotives! But observation of the prototype is the only way to achieve authentic operation! Also, since becoming a Heritage railway, more flexibility with these locos is apparent!
Roco’s models disappear out of the catalogue and reappear from time to time, and it is a salutary thought that the model was so well produced, that in it’s twenty-year history, it was only modified once, and that was to make the newest ones DCC-ready. It is still probably the smartest “Rc” on the market (in H0 scale); although the Jeco ones compete very well for that recognition!
In creating this review, I have had great help from Adrian Allum and Patrick Grace, both of whom supplied information that was otherwise of no interest to me at all (my own modelling interests are BR 1950s steam, larger scale)! Also, during his recent trip to Sweden, Adrian did try to get as many photos as possible, too many to publish, but appreciated all the same. And there were photos and information from Dennis Hage, Tony Horne and Rory Wilson. Thanks, guys.
I would also like to thank Adrian for allowing me to get involved with the production of his journal, “FLMJ-Nytt” during 2003-2004, and for allowing me a free hand (almost) with the changes that have been made to it. It was in exchange for Adrian’s kindness, that I agreed to write one article for “FLMJ-Nytt,” and this was it.