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131 Class/C12 Class
2-6-2/ 1-3-1 Tank Locomotive


Some 293 of these 2-6-2 tank locomotives were built in Japan between 1932 and 1947 for that countries 1067mm (3ft 6inch) lines. It is believed a total of 66 engines were moved by the Japanese Army to Northern China and Sakhalin during WW2. There is actually a figure of 1938-39 on the Japanese Wikepedia entry.  Of those sent to Northern China, 60 engines were converted to narrow gauge (C12101 - C12160). (1067mm 3ft-6in -> 1000mm). In Japan they were classified as C12. They were built by a number of Japanese companies, including Hitachi, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi.

The following table outlines the various builders:

Manufacturing year Original Class number Factory Builder's No.
1935 C12-101 ~ 102 Japanese vehicles 340 ~ 341
1935 C12-103 ~ 105 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries 158 ~ 160
1935 C12-106 Kawasaki vehicles 1610
1935 C12-107 ~ 109 Automotive Manufacturing 1337 ~ 1339
1935 C12-110 ~ 113 Hitachi, Ltd. 683 ~ 686
1935 C12-114 ~ 127 Kawasaki vehicles 1611 ~ 1614
1618 ~ 1627
1936 C12-128 ~ 135 Kawasaki vehicles 1689 ~ 1696
1936 C12-136 ~ 138 Hitachi, Ltd. 734 ~ 736
1937 C12-139 ~ 143 Japanese vehicles 470 ~ 474
1937 C12-144 ~ 147 Kawasaki vehicles 1771 ~ 1774
1937 C12-148 ~ 154 Automotive Manufacturing 1463 ~ 1469
1937 C12-155 ~ 156 Japanese vehicles 480 ~ 481
1937 C12-157 ~ 160 Automotive Manufacturing 1485 ~ 1488

The original delivery dates and numbers used in Northern China:

1938 40 C12-101 ~ 140   A 501 ~ 540 May 15,  August 20, November 5
1939 20 C12-141 ~ 160 A 541 ~ 550 March 20

The locomotives were classified as PL51 by the new Chinese Government in 1950. However when the metre gauge line used by PL51s was converted to standard gauge (1435 mm)  in 1956, the remaining locomotives were surplus and so sent to North Vietnam.

In 1956 these machines (or at least those remaining) were transferred to North Vietnam by the new Chinese government for use on the metre gauge line between Vietnam and China (Kunming).
As several survived through to the diesel era they must have been quite a useful machine. Similar locomotives were also used in Korea and Indonesia. The last surviving locomotives were used at the Thai Nguyen Steel Works including locomotives 131-402 (seen in a 2007 fan tour) and 131-436 in a photo below.

The following photo was discovered in the Vietnam AirForce Museum in Hanoi (of all places) on my March 2011 visit. It's a little fuzzy but the caption states that it is being used on the Hanoi-Hai Phong line.There are also several photos on the DSVN web site which also seem to show 131 class locomotives in northern service. The Trains Magazine list of steam locomotives in the south in 1968-9 has no Japanese 131 class locomotives listed. This confirms that the locomotives were delivered to the north after partition in 1954.

131 airforce

As the numbering system for locomotives usually started at 01 then 401 would be the first class member. The highest road number so far identified is 131-444 (see photo below). Does this mean that at least 44 of the 60 made it to Vietnam?

In the book "Illustrated Book of Steam and Rail' By Colin Garratt and Max Wade-Matthews there is a small photo of 131-444 at Hai Phong in 1989. So we can now guess that of the 60 C12's converted to metre gauge at least 44 went to Vietnam. How many were destroyed by US bombing during the war and how many survived after 1975 is not known.

This book was originally published as two separate books in 1998. The publisher regularly republishes it (them) with a different cover but no updates but presents it as a new book. The book (books) is therefore wildly out of date and has many mistakes. For example it claims that "French influence can be seen in the locomotive...." which is obviously wrong, and says nothing about it's Japanese
origins. Recently I noted the same two books 'newly' published in my local bookshop as a boxed set! Boy! Apparently you can trick most of the people most of the time!
Above: 131-444 at Haiphong in 1989.

There is a problem in relation to exactly which locomotives of the 60 actually made it to Vietnam. While builders numbers have been identified on several machines , they don't always match. There are parts with more than one builders's number on the same locomotive so it would seem that some of the locomotives  may have been cannibalised or rebuilt with parts from others. This seems reasonable allowing for the needs of the northern system during the war. It has been identified that 131-436 was probably C12-106 but  there is still some doubt.



Above: Three images of 131 class locomotives being used in the north. VNR Website. 131-424, 131-426(?) and possibly 131-402.



Above: 131 class no. 436 in and around Thai Nguyen steel works (source: http://tsuzuki.photoland-aris.com/vietnam/131/)



This particular locomotive (131- 428) is on display at Dalat, though it probably never ran there in revenue service. Some records suggest that it is still serviceable but I have my doubts.

Data of C12 class

131 (Japanese C12, Chinese 1950 classification PL51)
1000 mm (originally 3ft 6inch/1067 mm gauge - regauged in China)
Number in Class
Not known. At least 44 out of the 60 originally delivered to China.
Original Country of Manufacture
Country of Origin
Japanese Class No.s (the original 60)
Various including: Kisha Seizo Co, Hitachi, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi.
Wheel arrangement
Diameter of Driving Wheels
1400 mm
Loco Weight in Workin Order
50.05 tonne
Weight on Driving Wheels
32.02 tonne
Max Axle Load
10.9 tonne
400x610 x2
Boiler Pressure
14.00 kg/cm2
Grate Area
1.30 m2
Heating Surface
74.20 m2
5.5 m3
1.5 tonne
Height of Boiler cube Centre
2450 mm
11350 mm
3900 mm

Above: 131-416 at Hanoi Depot with unknown 141 class behind and 131-424 on an adjacent track. There is another locomotive behind the 141 which I have yet to identify.

131- 428 at Dalat

These images were taken at Da Lat in July 2010. The locomotive doesn't seem to go anywhere but is quite popular for wedding photos etc.

Click on thumbnail images below for full size.





C12 Drawing 2

Above: 131-436 in use at Thai Nguyen Steel Works
Locomotive Classifications

Steam Locomotives generally used the traditional French classification system. A steam locomotive with a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement is classified as 141 class, a locomotive with  4-6-2 wheel arrangement is classified as 231 class etc. Pretty straight forward, except what happened  if two classes had the same wheel arrangement? It would appear that there would be several different say 231 classes eg. 231-301 and 231-501.

Diesel locomotives have a completely dfferent clasification system.

In the south diesels were classified again by wheels, so BB for bo-bo types. The same system as used in France and still used iietn Cambodia. In the north I'm not sure.

Now all diesel classes start with the letter 'D'  (for diesel) then a number which I believe is related to the locomotives  power output. The third character defines  Electric' (E) or hydraulic  (H).

e.g. D5H class = Diesel + 500 hp + hydraulic.

Again, what happens if two classes are the same I don't know.

Therefore it would appear that metre guage locomotives can have the same class but not the same road number.

Standard guage locomotives have a slightly different system. Diesel sometimes have 'er' added to the class e.g. D19er, but sometimes don't, e.g. D14E. Steam?

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Railways in Vietnam website 2009-2014 David Gurnett
  Updated August 29, 2014
All images remain the copyright of their original owners and are reproduced purely for the purposes of research.

Please feel free to contact me at railwaysofvietnam@gmail.com