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B-B Diesel Electric

Above: Builder's photo of BB701 ready for shipment.

Above: BB903 is seen in stills taken from a US movie, captured around July 1967 as BB903 was switching (shunting) Saigon yard.

These six locomotives were built by Alsthom/SACM in France.

They were part of a French assistance package to South Vietnam. This seems to be a standard narrow gauge locomotive type produced for many of France's ex colonies. The diagram below identifies it as model "Union Francaise" (French Union).

They are virtually identical to metre gauge locomotives supplied to Portugal and Spain and several African countries.

The locomotives were powered by SACM's own MGO (MAREP Grosshaus Ollier) diesel engine rated at 590 Kw/850 hp.


There were six locomotives of this type delivered to the southern system in 1959 as part of French assistance.  Some sources give the build year as 1955. Note the brand new silver US boxcar in the background. Many are still in service with DSVN though painted boxcar red.

According to Trains Magazine 901, 904 and 906 were at some stage based in the 'Central' section with 902, 903 and 905 in Saigon in 1968.


Above: News report in 1967 of unknown BB901 class off the rails after Viet Cong mine explosion.

They presumably would have been classified D8E or D9E if they had lasted till that classification system was introduced but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Even though at least one locomotive still survived in 1972 (see photo below), there is no evidence that any survived the war. As there was  a surplus of BB907 locomotives, they were probably not needed.


Above: BB902 in Saigon

Above: Unknown BB901 class in the "Central" region.

BB901 in shed
Above: BB902. The photo apears to show the unit at the time of delivery.

BB902 in Saigon

Above: Colour photo of BB902 at Saigon. Possibly artificially coloured.

BB906 in Saigon

Above: A very clean BB906 (newly delivered?). Screendump from a movie taken in Saigon.

BB901 class in Saigon
Above: Unknown BB901 class shunting (switching) in Saigon 1972.
Photo by John Beirne on Mike Condren's website "condrenrails.com"

BB901 plane

Above: Similar (identical?) locomotives supplied to the Djibouti-Etheopian Railway. Interesting that 6 units were supplied (same number as Vietnam) and the year built is given as 1955.

Below are similar units in Portuguese, Spanish and African service.

Alsthom 05Alsthom 04
Alsthom 04


BB901 (there doesn't seem to be a post '75 class so presumably not used)
Manufactured by
Alsthom/SACM, France
Country of manufacture
France (supplied to VNHX under French Assistance Program)
Year of manufacture
Not known. Some sources say 1955.
Year Supplied:
1000 mm
Road Number
Rail system
Used by the southern system (VNHX). No evidence of any surviving after re-unification in 1975.
 10200 mm/34feet over pilots (measurements from African version. Appears to be identical) 11798mm/39 feet over couplers.
9 feet (guesstimate)
3838 mm (from African diagram)
44 tonnes/52 tonne
Wheel Arrangement
 MGO(MAREP Grosshaus Ollier) V12 590 Kw/850 hp. (or  935) 175mm bore, built by SACM
Diesel Electric
Max. Speed
70 kph
Trains Magazine lists 901, 904 and 906 in "Central" Vietnam (apparently the Thap Cham - Qui Nhon section) and 902, 903 and 905 in Saigon some time in 1968/69.

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. Each class was/is also allocated a unique set of road numbers, usually starting with x01. EG. 231-501. This means you can have more than one class with the same first 3 numbers.

Diesel locomotives have a completely dfferent clasification system.

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 each class has a unique set of road numbers allocated. For example D20E 001-016.

I am still investigating pre 1975 classifications. Some are the same e.g. 141 steam class, and some use the French Diesel system e.g. 'BB' class instead of D9E. 

The practice of  allocating unique sets of road numbers remains the same.

Diesels and steam locomotives in the south also seem to have had their road numbers changed after 1975 re-unification.

I also believe there was a complete overhaul of locomotive numbers in 1939, so locomotives before that time were numbered differently (usually just a road number).

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Railways in Vietnam website 2009-2016 David Gurnett
  Update January 19, 2016
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