Class M9 Specifications:
Locomotive Class: M9
Manufactured Country: France
Manufactured Company: ALSTOM Transport
Imported Year: 2000
Type of Locomotive: Diesel Electric
Prime Mover: RUSTON 12V 12 RK 215 4-Stroke
Maximum Power: 1800 Originally 3220hp
Maximum Speed: 110kmph
Axel Arrangement: Co-Co
Weight: 100.56 Tons
Fuel Capacity: 5000l
Sand Box Capacity: 480l
Axel Load: 16.76 Tons
Rated RPM: 1000rpm
Idle Rpm: 400rpm
Minimum Curve Radius: 100m
Colour: Yellow, Blue & Silver
No. of Locomotives Imported: 10
Locomotive Numbers: 864-873
The Alstom Prima or the Class M9 is a locomotive which led to a huge agitation in railway service. Most of the people call this locomotive as a failure. Nearly 4 years before these locomotives were imported to Sri Lanka both local & foreign specialists said that these locomotives are not suitable to Sri Lanka. According to their arguments RUSTON 12 RK 215 engine has never been used for a locomotive before & has never done a test with locomotives. Actually RUSTON 12 RK 215 is an engine designed for marine vehicles. Ruston is a company which manufactured engines for workshops but not for vehicles. The RUSTON 12 RK 215 engine was designed by Alstom Company after they bought Paxman (A famous & most successful engine manufacturing company) company by using Paxman technology.
After considering these technological errors Locomotive Technology Committee stated that these Prima locomotives are not suitable. They presented reports of the changes should be done if SLR going to import these locomotives but got ignored by high ranked officers. If they followed that recommendations M9s may not be a failure.
The first M9 arrived in 2000 & it wasn’t even tested by the Alstom. The excuse they gave was the gauge difference of the tracks in France. After these locomotives entered the Sri Lanka locomotive batch some media companies reported that this is the longest & the most powerful locomotive in Sri Lanka. Further they stated that this loco can pull a long train with about 20 coaches in the up country line.
There is no doubt that this is a High Technology Locomotive. This is a dual cab locomotive & almost all the controlling functions are done by an automated computer system with Windows Workgroups. The dash board was so simple & there was only a small joystick for the driver. There was a LCD screen to display information about the locomotive. This system was completely different from other locomotives which had levers & meters.
The computer system controls accelerating & braking functions completely. If the temperature of the locomotive is above the normal level this loco can decrease the speed & functionality to keep the temperature in normal level. Also these are programmed to stop the engine immediately if the internal temperature is very high. There were sensors in most of the parts to assist the computer system by supplying details of the track, controlling the fuel flow to the engine, checking the state of the coolant in the radiator etc. The computer checks the data received by the sensors & acts accordingly. Most importantly the drivers’ cab was air conditioned & the seats were very comfortable. It is said that after few months of running, M9s had to face many problems because the officials didn’t took steps to buy the technology & instruments which was needed to repair the locomotive.
Although these locomotives expected to run on the up country line, running beyond Nawalapitiya wasn’t successful due to the unusual bogie length & the Co-Co Axel Arrangement like the M4s. M9 locomotives were subjected to derailments most of the time when running because of the length & the functioning difference of the bogies. These bogies doesn’t rotate a greater angle as the other locomotives. Therefore the rail road got damaged due to the expansion of rails. This wasn’t suitable for other locomotives to run.
Because of the damage done to the rail road by these giants rail road workers started to complain against this loco. Government invested a lot of money to increase the strength of the road in curves & to increase the length between two rails in curves. But didn’t generate good results. And the brake system of these locos was not enough to run on the up country line. Therefore it was recommended to use an extra Brake Wagon when these run on up country. Also it was recommended that Auto Couplers are compulsory to run beyond Rambukkana. But it was not practical every time. Due to these reasons the trains which expected to add about 18 coaches had to run with 10 coaches. So now M9s don’t run beyond Kandy.
According to the reports a M9 has stopped for about an hour near Kadugannawa because the computer systems stops the engine when overheated. So the locomotive cannot run until it gets cool down. The manufacturers have stated that using coolant is essential. A liter of these coolant was over 600LKR & had to use about 500 liters for a run. This was too expensive & local technicians used normal water instead of coolant. But when water is used for the radiator, oxides deposited on the sensors & computer system started to malfunction. Therefore technicians had to remove these sensors from the locomotive.
The body of this locomotive is fully covered while the other locomotives had a metal mesh on their body. This is the reason for that. France has a cooler climate than Sri Lanka. For a locomotive to keep maximum efficiency the generated heat should be kept inside the locomotive in france. This formation suits a country like France. But this doesn’t suit a country like Sri Lanka. The engine gets heated more because the heated air particles remain inside the locomotive. Not instructing the manufacturer about the product that country need when offering the tender might be the reason for that. Because a lot of heat gets trapped inside the engine room & the locomotive cannot be driven correctly because of the data sent by the sensors. Therefore all the heat sensors were removed.
The sensors at the bogies on both sides of the locomotive report the computer about the track condition frequently. Then the computer decides the speed of the locomotive accordingly. Because the tracks in Sri Lanka is not uniformly smooth the conditions differ from one place to another even on a plain & flat track. Due to this the information sent by the sensors are not 100% correct & it’s a barrier to maintain a good speed. As a result these sensors were removed too.
Due to the removal of the essential parts the performance of computer system went down day by day. And the Taiwan computer equipment was not resistant to high temperature. This also led to the low performance of the system. Removal of the Air Conditioners inside the Driving Cab was another reason. They were removed when importing. To control the excess heat generated because of the above facts 2 more radiators were fixed to the locomotive.
Another defect of this locomotive is the wrong position of the driving seat. The driver couldn’t see the signals & the road clearly due to this positioning. Later the driving seat was fixed in a much better place.
After a year of service the fuel tanks of M9s got rusted internally. Because rust particles got stuck on the filters impairments happened to the functionality of the loco. Therefore M9 filters had to repair & replace frequently. So SLR had to bear an additional cost than other locomotives to maintain M9s.
After few years of service these locomotives faced a lot of problems & was withdrawn from the service one by one. Later they were left alone at running sheds. Loco No.868 caught fire after a derailment near Thalawa. Repairing other locomotives is also a problem because some of the parts had stolen when they were left alone & due to the difficulty of supplying those parts back. However Sri Lanka Railways conducted a project associated with the Arthur C. Clarke Center to repair some of these locomotives. Loco numbered 866, 869, 870, 872 was repaired in this project & now on service with some changes.
The original horse power of M9 was 3120hp & it has de-rated to 1800hp to reduce the wearing. These repaired locomotives are now running on Coastal line, Northern line & up to Kandy on the main line. Dynamic brakes were fixed to 866, 869 & 872 during the repairs. At present 864, 866, 869 & 872 are in service.
Credits to Gehan Chandika & Nipuna Dodanthenna.