Odd Indian locomotives-battery electric locomotives

UPDATE in 2021: Includes pictures of the rare NBM-1 locos which were meant for the 2-ft NG lines around Gwalior.

Small electric locomotives run on batteries have been used in mines and similar environments for a long time. As batteries are heavy, you would not find them on a full-sized locomotive unless there was a good reason for it. One example would be for running maintenance trains in underground railways when power is switched off.

Thus we have the battery tender attached to the YCG-1 metre gauge locomotives which ran between Madras Beach and Tambaram from the 1930s. As some of the stations had unwired turnouts, the locomotives had a battery tender to run on if the overhead wires were absent.


By the mid-1960s this section was converted to 25 KV AC and electrification was extended to Villupuram (which remained the only electrified metre gauge section in India). These DC locos were retired and a fleet of AC locos took over. The top half of the picture below shows one at the NRM in Delhi, minus the battery tender.

There were also two battery DC locos (this time on broad gauge) delivered to the old BBCI in 1927. They were to be used for shunting where steam locos were considered undesirable for some reason. There is a picture of it hauling a goods train in Carnac Bunder (under the Bombay Port Trust lines) in an old annual report of IR.

Old elec locos 001

In this case (in the lower picture) the batteries appear to be inside the main body of the loco. However this loco and number 902 are not mentioned in Hughes.

In the upper picture we see a YCG1 which is preserved at the National Rail Museum in Delhi.

Regarding the BBCI locos, JK Daboo’s book mentions that 2 of these Bo-Bo locomotives were purchased in 1927 from WBC (William Beardmore & Co) and English Electric. They were rated at 240 HP continuous.

From the Wikipedia entry for William Beardmore & Co, these locomotives were of class BE and were later renumbered from 901-2 to 20198-99.

Stranger is the case of the NBM-1 narrow gauge (2-foot) locos, 3 of which were built by BHEL in 1987 for the Gwalior branch lines. But one wonders what purpose they served. Perhaps there was an urgent requirement for replacement of steam locos when no suitable diesels were available. However, these routes have been served by the NDM-5 class diesels which were also built at the same time. But I wonder if there is any example anywhere else in the world where battery locos were used for regular service where there was no electrified line to start with.

The origin of these locomotives is shrouded in mystery. It probably has something to do with Madhavrao Scindia (of the former royal family of Gwalior) who was the minister for railways in the late 1980s. Perhaps someone from BHEL sold the idea to him.

3 of these (numbered 21951-53 according to Hughes) were delivered in 1987. They were rated at 80 HP continuous.

Until now no picture of these locos could be found on the net. Finally there was one by visiting railfan Ian Wright from 1988 which appeared on Facebook recently. Note his comments at the top:

Also note that the number 21950 does not tally with 21951-53 mentioned by Hughes.

Another picture of the same loco:

We may guess that they did not last long.