CC 6500 career

CC 21001 and then 21002, 6501 and 6502 were put in service during summer of 1969 for testing and setting.

Then between November 1969 and February 1970, Lyon-Mouche depot progressively took delivery and put in service CC 6503 to 6511. Designed for heavy and fast trains, these new locomotives took over most prestigious trains of South East area from Paris to Marseille, including the famous “Mistral” (trains No 1 and 2), replacing some BB 9200 and 9300 series. Thanks to their grip and 8000 BHPs, CC 6500 shown great easiness in passing “Burgundy threshold” (highest point of the Paris to Lyon line), hauling the heaviest C160 trains (C160 = train having a 160 km/h / 100 MPH limit speed).

CC 6563 about to leave Paris-Lyon station with TEE 11 "Mistral" in July 1981.
(Photo Jean-Luc Bobier)

From February 1970 to March 1971, it was then Paris-Sud-Ouest depot turn to take delivery of CC 6512 to 6531.
In opposition to South-East, South-West main lines include long sections on which 200 km/h / 125 MPH speed is allowed. Before powerful CC 6500 came over, a few BB 9200 series locomotives, at the limit of their capacity were modified to be operated at 200 km/h. CC 6500 series soon took over C200 trains like the “Capitole” (Paris – Toulouse), and then inaugurated 200 km/h speed on the Paris to Bordeaux line with prestigious “Aquitaine” (trains No 1 and 2 with operations starting on May 23rd 1971) and “Etendard” (Trains No 15 and 16). These trains were composed with “Grand – Confort” cars delivered new.

To illustrate, here are some information coming from CC 6500 locomotives of Paris-Sud-Ouest depot on service from August 3rd to 30th1970 :

  • Service 411 920 – CC 6500 : 7 days service with a 1565 km average distance covered per day. It included two round trips Paris-Bordeaux (trains 15/16, 33 and 8), two round trips Paris-Hendaye (trains 5/6, 3 & 32), one round trip Paris-Limoges (trains 1005 & 1002), two round trips Paris-Toulouse (trains 1006/1007, 1023 & 1032) and one round trip Paris-Tarbes ;
  • Service 411 921, interchangeable CC 6500 / BB 9200 series : 3 days service towards Limoges and Narbonne ;
  • Service 411 922, interchangeable CC 6500 / CC 7100 : 2 days service with car-sleeper trains to Biarritz.

At the beginning, V200 trains hauled by CC 6500 series were limited to a towed load of 570 tons (metric) i.e. 10 “Grand-Confort” cars. However, considering commercial success of these services, decision was taken to modify gears of CC 6500 locomotives to increase towed load. After this modification, during 1976 winter service, towed load limit was raised from 570 to 680 tons corresponding to 12 “Grand-Confort” cars.

From July 1971 to February 1972, Lyon-Mouche depot took delivery of CC 6532 to 6538. The first sub-series CC 6501 to CC 6538 is then completed. It was then their mostly intense activity period. Their services included toughest trains like, for instance, No 5014 from Paris to Marseille, limited to 160 km/h, with many stops and a 17 cars composition representing a 778 tons towed load or T.E.E train “Le Lyonnais” going from Paris to Lyon in 3h41, with average speed of 138.9 km/h.

T.E.E train « Le Mistral » Paris to Nice and back was, of course part of their service between Paris and Marseille.

In parallel with delivery of 1st sub-series 6501 to 6538, Lyon Mouche depot also took delivery of 2nd sub-series which was quickly named “Maurienne” after the line on which they were to operate, and including CC 6539 to 6559. These locomotives were delivered between March 1970 and December 1972.
"Maurienne" CC 6500 had their gear reducer locked on the low speed position, and had shoes to pick-up 1500V DC current on a third rail which was then still equipping the line from Chambery to Modane.  These CC 6500 came to replace ageing former PLM electric locomotives, and reinforce services provided by"Unités-Maurienne" (couplings made of two BB 1-80 series) and six CC 7100 series equipped with shoes.

Duty done by CC 6500 series on this Maurienne line was specific as well as extremely tough. On accelerated freight trains, a single CC 6500 admiteda 1100 tons towed load from Chambéry to Saint Jean de Maurienne and 600 tons from Saint-Jean to Modane. On slow freight trains, they admitted a towed load of respectively 1200 and 600 tons on the same sections. CC 6539 to 6559 locomotives remained on this Maurienne line only until 1976 when overhead contact line replaced third rail. They then joined regular services of other CC 6500 locomotives.

Third and last sub-series including CC 6560 to 6574 was put into service, still at Lyon-Mouche depot from July 1974 to June 1975. These powerful locomotives are the last generation being equipped with rheostat before massive deliveries of BB 7200 / 22200 series equipped with current choppers, purely static equipment.

BB 7200 series delivered to Villeneuve depot progressively took over some express trains until then attributed to CC 6500 series. However, CC 6500 locomotives remained extremely busy on all south-west lines electrified with 1500V DC system (except “Causses” line between Beziers and Neussargues).

Here are some information on Lyon-Mouche depot CC 6500 service on September 28th 1980, i.e. after massive deliveries of BB 7200 / 22200 series but before TGV services started.

  • A first 5 days service for CC 6500 equipped with energy meter with an average distance of 1292 km per day. It included trains like No11 “Le Mistral” Paris-Marseille, 181 Paris-Marseille, 188 ”Le Phocéen” a night train from Marseille to Paris immediately followed by train 5461/60 Paris-Toulouse via Lyon and Montpellier ;
  • A second 10 days service for CC 6500 equipped with snowplow spur: an average 604 km distance per day, much lower as this service mainly includes short trips mostly on Maurienne line ;
  • A third 19 days service with an average distance of 974km per day on a wide area covering all South-East, up to Toulouse. Except night trains between France and Italy, long distance trains are rare.

In 1981, the start of TGV operations brutally reduced South East CC 6500 activity with progressive opening of high speed line. Some CC 6500 then emigrated to Paris-South West depot in which services were then still intense.

January 14th 1980 service at Paris-South West depot was as follows :

  • A first 5 days service for CC 6500 equipped with energy meter and signal pre-announcing. 1518 km average distance per day almost exclusively made of rapid trains with especially T.E.E trains C200 No 1 and 2 ;
  • A second 11 days service for CC 6500 equipped signal pre-announcing with an average distance per day of 1435 km including T.E.E trains Paris – Bordeaux, “Capitole” trains Paris-Toulouse ;
  • A third service with 8 days, 1255 km per day, including a stop in Marseille coming from Toulouse.

At this time in Paris South West depot, it was common to have 40000 km covered monthly by CC 6500 locomotives.

On South East area, as long as TGV operation extended, CC 6500 locomotives were shifted aside mainly on freight trains. Paris South West depot CC 6500s progressively met the same fate from 1990 when TGV took over Paris to Bordeaux services. However, CC 6500 services at 200 km/h lasted until mid-90’.

Let’s have a look on one of the last consistent services, during summer of 1995.
At Lyon-Mouche depot, there were two main services :

  • A first one with 18 days, with a huge majority of freight trains but still a few nice passenger trains: No 189 “le Phocéen” from Paris to Marseille, 6461/60 from Toulouse to Lyon or train No 211 to Italy, from Paris to Modane ;
  • A second service looking similar with many freight trains and a few passenger trains: No 216 France – Italy from Chambéry to Paris and its counterpart No 217 Paris to Modane, No 210 from Modane to Paris and No 5073 from Paris to Valence.

Between January and May 1995, Paris South West depot CC 6500s still had an interesting 200 km/h service, with 8 days and an average 1270 km distance per day. It included almost only passenger trains on Paris-Toulouse, Paris-Bordeaux, Bordeaux-Marseille. Still two “Capitole” trains remained in that service.

This service and the 1996 one were in a way their swan song as right from 1998, the whole series was grouped in Venissieux depot near Lyon and concentrated on freight service.

CC 6500 were prematurely condemned with major overhauls stopping in 2003 and several massive withdrawals, first one taking place in June 2004 and second one in December 2004.

From service starting on December 12th 2004, only regional activity in Rhône-Alpes kept a regular service for CC 6500 locomotives which took them from Lyon to Macon, from Macon to Avignon and from Avignon to Lyon. During fall of 2004, recurrent mechanical issues on BB25200 series gave unexpected extra trains to CC 6500 with two daily trains from Lyon to Geneva. In addition, CC 6500 were frequently used between Lyon and Avignon to take rolling stock needing to pass on the under-floor wheel lathe.

Let’s also mention a very popular CC 6500 service among train spotters with a double deck rake normally used in Paris suburban area and used to reinforce services towards French Alps valleys during winter season.

Freight department CC 6500s lost any regular activity on December 12th 2004. However, during summer of 2005, they were used on a so called regular service with a round trip from Sibelin to Miramas.


Texte : Pierre Chavernac


Bibliographie :

- CC 6500 / CC 21000 - Editions La Régordane - par J. Zalkind et O. Hérubel
- CC 6500 - numéro spécial LE TRAIN - Avril 2004 - par O. Constant
- CC 6500 - article Rail Magazine - 1985 - par P. Chavernac

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