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The Queen of German Electrics: Re-tooled class 103 from Roco

NGT6 1315



Morning all!


Followers of the Continental modelling scene may have registered that a few months ago, Roco has begun releasing a series of re-tooled Deutsche Bundesbahn class 103 electrics, adding several much-wanted enhancements to this model which had first been offered in 1977. It might not be surprising that when I was able to obtain one as a real bargain recently, I could not resist. Therefore, today's focus will be on what I assume most railfans will agree on being the? signature Deutsche Bundesbahn electric locomotive, and possibly the pinnacle of conventional single-phase AC locomotive development.


The 103's history can be traced back into the early 1950s when Deutsche Bundesbahn were rebuilding the German rail network and working towards restoring express passenger services which had already reached a high level of sophistication before 1939.


In these early years, pre-war electrics such as the class E 18 1'Do1' locomotives were used for top-tier „D“ (Durchgangszug) and „F“ (Fernschnellzug) passenger services, as were the four class E 19 locomotives which had been a more powerful evolution from the E 18. Of course, the latest express steam locos like the class 01 and 01.10 4-6-2s as well as the emerging generation of diesel-hydraulics like the V 200 type also took their share in express passenger traffic as electrification was by far not as widely spread as it is today.

Yet even then, plans were made to increase top speeds beyond the 160 kph which had been the de-facto maximum at the time. One suggestion discussed in this context had been putting the E 19 back in production, as this class had been approved for 180 kph originally. However, they also had proven to be unable to meet the 1,000 metre baseline braking distance mandated by German railway construction and operating rules from that speed, meaning a more advanced design was a definite must. One of these was a concept called E 01 at the time, describing a twelve-wheel locomotive with a top speed of 180 kph and a power output of 5,000 kW, which but was not pursued any further and therefore not elaborated in great detail initially.


In the early 1960s, the newly built class E 10 and E 10.12 Bo'Bo' locomotives began taking over national and international express services, including the prestigious TEE services. At the same time, Deutsche Bundesbahn began reconsidering the E 01 concept, modifying it such that it mandated a top speed of 200 kph and an axle load of 18 tonnes. Following a formal request for proposals, Krupp and AEG presented plans for (1Bo)(Bo1) and (A1A)(A1A) configured locos with four 1,250 kW traction motors, while Henschel proposed a Co'Co' configured design which was eventually chosen as the basis for the new locomotive. The Siemens-Schuckert Works were contracted to develop the electrical equipment.


Several components for the new locomotives which had been designated class E 03 in the meantime were subsequently tested on locomotives E 10 299 and 300 - the former being fitted with a Henschel-designed quill drive, the latter with a differently designed quill drive from SSW. A series of test runs was subsequently carried out between Bamberg and Forchheim in order to gather additional data on OHLE, permanent way, suspension and drivetrain design for high speeds. However, as the two modified E 10s could not provide any conclusive data as to which of the two quill drives was actually better, two of the four E 03 prototypes each were ordered with either drive. Later tests with these prototypes would then result in the SSW drive being picked for the production E 03s.


The first E 03 to be completed was E 03 002 which was handed to the Bundesbahn on 11 February 1965 at the Henschel works in Kassel, which are now a Bombardier plant. However, it was fitted with E 03 001's number plates for publicity reasons. The real E 03 001 was completed in March, with E 03 003 and 004 following till June. All four locomotives were presented at the June 1965 International Transport Fair (Internationale Verkehrsausstellung, IVA) in Munich, there being referred to not as mere express locomotives, but rather as „high speed locomotives“ - which is how I personally would translate the German terms „Schnellzuglokomotive“ and „Schnellfahrlokomotive“ in this context. During the fair, two of the four locos were always in operation, having been diagrammed onto demonstration services between Munich and Augsburg. These special workings had the reporting numbers D 10/D 11 and D 12/D 13 respectively and operated at 200 kph following a special permit by the Ministry of Transport. E 03 003 remained a static exhibit as her traction motors had been removed to serve as spares, and the third locomotive was held on standby as a backup. The reason for this was that the traction motors in particular had not been fully tested yet and required a large amount of care during that early stage. However, a total number of 347 200 kph runs could be successfully completed during the Transport Fair, proving that such speeds were indeed viable in everyday operation.


After the fair the four E 03 prototypes were put in scheduled service on trains outbound from Munich, including several services to Stuttgart which had to travel across the Geislinger Steige with its 2.25% gradient. These revealed the locos to quickly overheat, requiring modifications to the engine room ventilation pattern. From the winter of 1974, the E 03 prototypes – now having been redesignated 103 001 through 004 – were allocated to the Eidelstedt depot in Hamburg, then to work semi-fast express and occasional stopping services in northern Germany. In 1979 they were then relegated to departmental duties. In this role, they were based at Minden and Munich and assigned to empty stock services, LZB cab signalling monitoring and OHLE inspection duties, and also assisted in trials for new rolling stock. 103 003, then redesignated 750 002 to highlight its departmental role, took part in the trials for the new class 120 electrics as well as the ICE 1 power units, often serving as a load simulation locomotive owing to her powerful electrodynamic brake. The last E 03 prototype to have been retired was 750 001, originally known as 103 001, leaving revenue service in 1997.


The production 103s were specified with even higher performance, being required to be able to haul a 480 tonnes train at 200 kph – as opposed to 300 tonnes for the prototypes – and 800 tonnes at 160 kph. To that end, both the transformer and traction motors were uprated, and engine room ventilation was improved with a second row of grilles on both body sides. The motors were designed with improved insulation and collectors. Beginning with 103 216, the body was lengthened by a total of 70 cm (27.5 in), so as to provide more spacious cabs for additional driver comfort. 103 109 was the first production locomotive to be delivered, having been handed over on 27 May 1970 and accepted on 8 September that same year. In fact, all 103s were given both a preliminary and a final certificate of acceptance, so as to be able to carry out any necessary last minute fixes on manufacturer's expense. The last loco to be accepted by Deutsche Bundesbahn was 103 245 which was handed over on 11 July 1974.

Over the delivery period and in subsequent years, the 103s were given several major and minor improvements, such as improved wheelset suspension, rotational dampers and new SBS 65 type pantographs.

Even from today's perspective and with three-phase AC electrics having taken her place in regular service, the 103 offers outstanding performance, with a power/weight ratio of 15.6 kilogrammes (34.4 lbs) per kilowatt, continuous power output of 7,440 kW and short-term maximum output of 10,400 kW – the latter having but been limited to 9,000 kW in later years to reduce thermal load.


In addition, the 103 featured two selectable transformer output settings. On the “High” setting, the transformer provided a maximum output voltage of 612 V instead of 501 V up to a speed of 140 kph. With this setting enabled, the 103 provided a short-time peak output of 12,000 kW. However, this switch was disabled in later years to avoid overheating, much to the dismay of many drivers who had come to appreciate the extra power with the longer and heavier 1st and 2nd class IC sets introduced in 1979. Originally, German InterCity services had been all-1st class, and much shorter. The transformer switch was informally known as „Reheat“, „Hamburg Hammer“ or quite simply „Booster“.


The loco's initial tractive effort up to a speed of 120 kph (or 140 when the transformer output selector was still active) is 312 kN, and it had no problems pulling 400 tonnes at 200 kph on even track, or 300 tonnes on a 0.5% gradient. After the introduction of 1st and 2nd class IC services it frequently pulled 600 tonnes at 200 kph, which of course contributed to the locomotives suffering from increased wear and subsequent malfunctions. Disabling the “Reheat” switch did improve the overall reliability of the class and thus timetable stability, as this measure also reduced the numbers of failed traction motors. The problem with this kind of failure was not only the lack of about 17% of total tractive effort per disabled motor, but also the requirement of completely disabling the dynamic brake for the bogie with failed traction motors. This meant reducing the loco's total dynamic braking effort by half, which could lead to either reduced top speeds or to longer deceleration. In the event that both bogies should have at least one failed motor, the dynamic brake would be unavailable entirely.


The loco's body and frame are fully welded, the frame carrying the complete electrical equipment and being set on top of the six-wheel bogies. The body consists of the two welded steel cab sections and three non-carrying aluminium hoods over the locomotive room, the latter of which can be removed separately to facilitate access to and maintenance of on-board equipment. This layout was also chosen for the class 151 freight locos as well as the class 181.2 dual system locos which were introduced in the early 1970s.

The aerodynamic shape of the cab sections resulted in the cabs being somewhat cramped inside, which was why the last 29 locomotives were built with larger cabs, extended by 35 cm (13.75 in) each. In addition, the cabs were outfitted with air conditioning units as the traction motors immediately below them radiated a large amount of heat. However, follow-up research in later years showed that while the 103's unique and undeniably attractive shape did offer good aerodynamical properties for the head of the train, the rounded cab fronts actually produced excessive drag when the locomotive was coupled to a train, as the gap between the locomotive and the first coach resulted in the formation of significant turbulence. Reducing this drag thus was one of the criteria applied to later locomotives such as the class 101 electrics which were introduced in the second half of the 1990s, resulting in the vertically cambered cab fronts seen on these as well as several related types of locomotives.


The bogies feature central wheelsets with eight millimetres of lateral displacement, with the axleboxes being supported by rubber-suspended levers, helical springs and hydraulic shock absorbers. All locomotives from 103 216 onwards were also fitted with rotational dampers at the factory, which were eventually refitted to earlier 103s as well. The traction motors are suspended from the bogie frames, and traction bars serve for force transmission.

The 103’s electrical components are built around the transformer, which is oil-cooled and provides a 6,250 kVA traction output. The high-tension, thyristor-assisted tap changer has 40 power notches, and aside from its standard pre-selection operating mode can also function in an emergency impulse controller mode.

The single-phase AC type WB 368/17f traction motors have twelve poles, forced ventilation and a maximum speed of 1,525 rpm, weighing 3.5 tonnes each and providing a continuous power output of 1,240 kW.


As previously mentioned, the motors can also operate in dynamic braking mode. This brake is self-excited and thus independent of overhead tension. The dynamic brake is rheostatic and has two cooling towers with braking rheostats. The electrodynamic brake has a maximum power of 9,800 kW and a continuous rated power of 4,800 kW, with a maximum braking effort of 180 kN from 200 to 40 kph. Additionally, the 103 has a graduated, indirect pneumatic brake with tread brakes on all wheels. It is blended with the electric brake and also comprises direct shunting brake control. The locos are fitted for ECP and emergency brake override.

On the roof, two cutoff switches, an air blast circuit breaker and voltage sensing device are provided, as well as two pantographs. The latter in particular were an important item for this class, due to the high speed the locomotive was meant to achieve. Originally, the 103s were fitted with DBS 54a type diamond pantographs with Wanisch heads, which but proved to be very prone to tangling with the overhead wires at high speeds and often caused extensive OHLE damage. From 1976, the 103s were thus refitted with SBS 65 single arm pans, many of which were actually “borrowed“ from newly produced class 111 locomotives. These were then outfitted with DBS 54a pans – though with standard Dotzler heads – in exchange, as these locos had a top speed of 150 kph initially and were uprated to 160 kph in later years, which was still well within limits for the DBS 54a type.


For safety equipment, the 103 has a combined LZB/PZB cab signalling and train protection suite as well as an alerter. This class was one of the few initially fitted with an early LZB type developed by Siemens and designated LZB 100, which but was later replaced by the microprocessor-controlled LZB/I 80.


The 103 also proved to be well suited for various kinds of departmental purposes, which is why several locos were treated to various experimental modifications over the years. The first notable trials involving a production 103 took place in the early 1970s when 103 118 was fitted with modified gearboxes and cleared for a top speed of 265 kph. She actually set a new speed record on 12 September 1973, recording 252.9 kph between Gütersloh and Neubeckum on the Hamm-Minden Railway which had been declared a preferred test route by Deutsche Bundesbahn earlier that year. On the same line, 103 003 pushed the limit to 283 kph on 14 June 1985, becoming Germany's fastest loco until her record was broken by the class 127 “Eurosprinter” prototype on 6 August 1993, which reset it at 310 kph.

Beginning in July 1986, locomotives 103 001, 003, 004, 107 and 154 were assigned to trials and measuring services in preparation for the opening of the Hanover-Würzburg high speed line. Between 15 July and 8 August they conducted certification trials between Burgsinn and the Hohe Wart crossover at speeds up to 280 kph, and subsequently proceeded to test new high speed pantographs together with 120 001. The remainder of the campaign on the Hanover-Würzburg HSL was then spent with gathering aerodynamic data for future high speed rolling stock designs. In 1988, 103 003 was refitted with her original gearboxes for 200 kph.

In 1989, 103 222 was fitted with the bogies originally used on 103 118. The locomotive was subsequently given an extended certification for 280 kph and redesignated as 750. She had her original number restored in May 2005, but retains her modified bogies and 280 kph top speed.


The 103 had been designed with premium passenger express services in mind, and initially worked many of the then all-1st class InterCity trains which were first introduced in 1971, as well as the even more luxurious Trans Europ Express trains from 1972 onwards. They could also be seen working fast overnight mail trains. In addition, they worked a handful of semi-fast and stopping services and even a few freight trains, although freight trains were not really what the locomotive was designed for. In July 1972, locomotive 103 157 recorded a one-month mileage of 50,251 kilometres, with the monthly average amounting to between 35,000 and 42,000 kilometres.

Almost all trains worked by 103s during the early years were reasonably short and light, leaving the locomotives with sufficient power reserves. This, however, changed when the InterCity concept was changed in 1979 to include 2nd class coaches as well, resulting in significantly longer and heavier trains with eleven or more coaches which placed considerable strain even on an locomotive as powerful as the 103.


In the meantime, 103 106 had been lost in the Rheinweiler accident of 21 July 1971, which was caused by a malfunction of the AFB speed control device. Having been under LZB control on this section of the line, the locomotive had automatically accelerated to 140 rather than the mandated 120 kph, making it impossible for the driver to manually slow down to the 70 kph limit just north of Rheinweiler in time and resulting in the locomotive derailing and taking her train down the embankment. 24 persons were killed and approximately 130 were injured in the incident.


Eventually, the heavier two-class IC services began to take their toll on the 103, though those trains which were not timetabled for 200 kph were reassigned to class 110, 111 and 112 locomotives. The average daily mileage for the 103 amounted to 1,400 kilometres by 1985. In 1988, the first new class 120 locos entered service, beginning to take over some services from the 103. The 120 offered the advantage of having pressure-strengthened cabs which had been declared mandatory for the newly built German HSLs. By that time, up to 30% of the 103 fleet was out of service for maintenance at any time, indicating the severity of the strain having been placed on the locomotives over the preceding years. In 1991, the new ICE services were first introduced, beginning to replace a considerable number of what had been IC services originally. On the other hand, many 103s did find new work after German reunification, beginning to serve the newly established eastern states where no ICE services were available yet. Also in 1991, 103 101 was repainted in a white and yellow Lufthansa style livery as she was assigned to working the Lufthansa Airport Express service between Frankfurt Airport and Cologne, Bonn, Koblenz, Nuremberg, Würzburg and Aschaffenburg along with a number of similarly repainted 111s. These trains were interesting in actually being given Lufthansa flight numbers in addition to their train reporting numbers. This concept lives on in today's AIRail system, where certain ICE services have taken over this role and appear as “flights” in Lufthansa's booking system. On these trains, parts of the seating are always reserved for Lufthansa passengers and unavailable for railway ticket holders.


The condition of a growing number of 103s continued to deteriorate in the early 1990s, expanding to such serious things as cracked bogie frames. The situation was compounded by Deutsche Bundesbahn's decision to stretch maintenance cycles even further as a cost-cutting measure, leading to locomotives being kept in service until they were, in fact, disabled by a major malfunction. Several 103s were even limited to 160 kph due to worsening riding characteristics, and the AFB speed control device was eventually disabled on all locomotives as it was found the frequent occurrence of the tap changer switching back and forth between any two notches in order to maintain a selected speed often led to tap changer failures.

Realising the 103 was on a downward slope, newly created Deutsche Bahn eventually chose to procure the new class 101 electrics. Thus the 103 was frequently relegated to working InterRegio and semi-fast express services during her last years in service. The locos also occasionally worked regional trains, but the lack of push-pull controls meant their utility in this role was limited. Also, the higher number of stops and associated braking and accelerating phases did not do them any good either.


In the wake of the ICE disaster at Eschede on 3 June 1998 the 103 fleet was again called upon to handle a large number of replacement IC services as all ICE 1 sets were taken out of service and underwent extensive checks. Also, they handled a significant portion of the extra services put into circulation on the occasion of the EXPO 2000 world fair in Hanover.

These allocations turned out to be the last hurray for the 103, and only a few locomotives remained in the DB inventory by 2003. They were most frequently used for ECS workings and charters in their final period of revenue service. 103 184 was the last such locomotive to work a scheduled IC service in August 2003, much to the disappointment of many railfans.

At the time of writing, 103 113, 184, 235 and 245 are still part of Deutsche Bahn’s active inventory, while 103 132 is currently inactive and used as a spares donor. A few years ago, 103 184 had been outfitted with a 1,450 mm head on Pantograph 1, enabling the locomotive to operate in Switzerland where it could be seen working charters. As the 103 is not equipped with any Swiss train protection systems, these workings required the presence of a Swiss driver for route knowledge and observation.

103 222 had long been assigned to the DB Research and Technology Centre at Minden and used for permanent way inspection and measuring services, but has been sold to Railadventure recently and is expected to be given a new revision soon. In this role, it was replaced by 182 506, which Deutsche Bahn had procured from the MRCE Dispolok locomotive fleet.

103 113 re-entered service after a full revision was made in 2011, and along with 103 235 is at present diagrammed onto the pair of IC 118 and 119 (Stuttgart – Münster and back), and onto IC 2099 (Frankfurt – Stuttgart) and 2316 (Stuttgart-Wiesbaden). 103 245 can be most frequently seen on the pair of IC 2201/2301 and 2206 between Nuremberg and Munich.

Between August 2010 and December 2012, 103 184 worked the pairs of IC 1806 and 1817 (Cologne – Hamburg-Altona) and IC 2410 and 2417 (Cologne – Flensburg), which as part of the 175th anniversary of German railways were formed of preserved IC stock in 1979 condition.

As 103 235’s revision is about to expire, plans are being discussed for reactivating 103 220. This locomotive is currently stored at Deutsche Bahn’s museum at Koblenz, and has retained the colourful “Tourism Train” livery.

In addition, 103 226 is in operational condition and on loan to the “Lokomotiv-Club 103“ association. However, it is not allowed to work any trains according to its lease contract. Aside from these, E 03 001, 103 002, 004, 101, 136, 167, 197 and 224 have been preserved in various conditions.


Technical specifications


Length, width and height – 19.50 or 20.20 m, 3.09 m, 4.49 m/64 or 66.3 ft, 10.1 ft, 14.7 ft

Service weight – 116 t/114.1 long tons


Bogie wheelbase – 2x 2.25 m/7.4 ft

Wheel diameter – 1.25 m/49.2 in

Minimum curve radius – 140 m/4.6 chains


Short-term maximum power output – 10,400 kW or 9,000 kW/13,946 or 12,069 hp

One-hour power output – 7,780 kW/10,433 hp at 181 kph/112 mph

Continuous power output – 7,440 kW/9,977 hp at 191 kph/119 mph


Maximum speed – 200 kph/125 mph

Maximum tractive effort – 312 kN

Power/weight ratio – 64.14 kW/tonne




The model


Roco's 103 is one of their longest-running models, with the first variants having been released in 1977 originally. While the model had seen a couple of interim upgrades during the last 37 years, modellers long waited in vain for a model representing the 103 as she appeared from about the late 1970s as by that time, the locomotives had been amended with additional grab rails, tread plates and access ladders on their cab faces.


By the turn of 2013, Roco therefore announced another re-tooling to address these issues exactly. Furthermore, the new 103 variants announced for release during 2014 were promised to feature various photo-etched detailing parts such as rooftop grilles, windscreen wipers, and chromed headlight rims, as well as fine scale wheelsets and coupler extension mechanisms. The following variants were announced, or indeed released by now – second references where indicated being DCC sound fitted:

  • 72306/72307 – 103 225 (long cab), TEE livery with grey solebar and buffer fairings
  • 72308/72309 – 103 220 (long cab), "Tourism Train" livery
  • 72311 – 103 200 (short cab), TEE livery with grey solebar and buffer fairings, model outfitted with RF video camera
  • 72312 – 103 245 (long cab), TEE livery with grey solebar and buffer fairings, standard DCC sound
  • 72313/72314 – 103 113 (short cab), TEE livery with red solebar



May I introduce you to a stunning blonde? Actually, many German railfans do refer to the TEE liveried 103s as such, so go figure


This model represents 103 113 as she appears following her reactivation, and is therefore lettered with the last revision dating from 11 May, 2012, and carried out at the Dessau workshops – abbreviated "LDX". However, I suppose modellers could easily backdate the model's lettering to Epoch IV as the livery itself would be the same. 103 113 was built by Henschel in 1970 with works number 31431.


Needless to say, I did treat the model to a few improvements of my own, which I'll be calling out along with the next photos.





As they corroded easily and were quickly damaged especially by falling pieces of ice in winter, the frontside skirts were removed during the early 1980s. Similarly, the buffer fairings were also removed from the majority of the 103s by the end of the 20th century. You can also see how the body is split into three independently removable sections.







On the Cab 2 end, the technical lettering comprises indications for the braking gear (KE-GPR-EmZ), zero speed door locking (TB 0), ECP brake equipment, revision date, ownership (DB Fernverkehr AG) and depot allocation – interestingly in the Deutsche Bundesbahn format as "BD (Bundesbahn Directorate) Frankfurt (M)", Bw Frankfurt (M) 1" – , service weight (116 t), and the braking weights table:


R+E160232 t

R+E 206 t

P+E 156 t

R 150 t

P 100 t

G 85 t

Handbrake 2x 13 t


Also note the ladder on the right hand buffer and the tread plate, as well as the grab rail on the cab face.






As for my own mods: I touched up the wiper blade holders with aluminium paint and the brake pipe valve levers with red







…and the pantograph head ends with some light grey.


Furthermore, I amended the busbar with my usual set of sectional wire connectors, also touching up the busbar attachment clamps and the circuit breaker casing with red, and the pantograph actuator rod bellows with black.



And again, a handful of Youtube videos:









Thanks for reading!

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An excellent write up. Thanks for taking the time. Being an N scale modeller I'm looking forward to the new Fleischmann model of the long cab 103 due at the end of the year. Now could we have a new version of the short cab too please?


I was lucky enough to see 103 113 and 103 235 in Koblenz last month working IC118/119. I hope 103 235 survives the expiry of her revision, would be a shame to see her go. Really must get round to posting the photos on RMweb.

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It's intriguing just how these stalwarts cannot seem to be defeated! Have you seen the first photo of 103 222 in Railadventure livery yet?

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Very much so. It was fabulous to see them again in Koblenz last month. They have such presence!


I haven't seen any photos of 103 222 in its new livery yet. It's a nice livery on the 139's (or are they 140's?) should look very good on the 103.

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