Open main menu
Russian CA3 SA3 couplers
on Russian locomotive
Russian CA3 SA3 couplers
click here for animation
Russian CA3 SA3 couplers Detail
Russian CA3 SA3 couplers TopView
Russian CA3 SA3 coupler EndView

The SA3 coupler (also known as CA3 or CA-3 couplers per the typical foundry stamp on the top of these couplers, meaning "Cоветская Aвтосцепка, 3-й вариант" in Russian or "Soviet Automatic coupler, Variant 3" in English) is a type of railway coupling used mainly, but not exclusively, in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union.[1]

Railways in Russia used European (British) buffers and chain couplings from their inception. These couplings had three main limitations. Firstly the load was limited. Secondly, the couplings were not semi-automatic like the North American Janney AAR coupler. Thirdly, the buffers could get buffer-locked and cause accidents. Advantages and disadvantages of these couplings are intermediate between Janney AAR couplers and Scharfenberg couplers.[citation needed]

It took a while to find a replacement. One option was to copy the Janney AAR coupling, as Japan (1922), Australia (1915) and other countries were starting to do, or to devise something else.

The Willison coupler was patented by John Willison from Derby, England. It was patented in 1916 [2], and in Germany. The company Knorr bought it and it started to be used in Germany for some heavy trains and some suburban trains in Paris. The Soviet Union needed a new coupler and decided to use this coupler.


In the late 1920s, the UIC had established a working group for the replacement of the chain link coupler, which restricts the efficiency of freight railroads in a major way. Many railroads ran prototypes. In Germany, coal trains with Scharfenberg couplers yielded unfavourable results in winter weather, other railroads did similar tests. But the UIC was not able to agree on one replacement. This failure of the UIC, which hampers freight operation in Europe even today, led to the decision by the Soviet Union to move forward without a standard being achieved in the talks.

The coupler was developed in (1932) and named SA-3 (abbreviation of Russian Советская автосцепка, 3-й вариант, Soviet Automatic-Coupler 3rd Variant) and was an improved version of Willison coupler, with better design of lock parts and mechanics. In 1935, the conversion of the vehicles began gradually. The Second World War delayed the introduction, so that the conversion was completed only 1957.


Helper locomotives at the end of the train are rarely used in the countries of the former Soviet Union. The load of the freight per train is not as heavy as on American railways.

Although the SA-3 coupler is primarily used in the countries of the former Soviet Union, they are visible every day at the transshipping stations, at the eastern borders of the European Union (Poland, Slovakia and Hungary). Since bogie-changing technology has progressed, this allows for cars with SA-3 coupler to regularly operate on the standard gauge tracks. A special converter car is inserted between standard and broad gauge cars for this operation, with different couplers (SA-3 and standard) on either end. Although these coupling freight cars (light blue coloured at the Slovak Cargo Railways) have room for cargo, they are always operated empty.

If the vehicle fitted with the SA3 retains its buffers, then a special adapter allows that vehicle to couple to another vehicle fitted with buffers and chains, provided that the buffers have the same spacing or gauge. This appears to be done in Iran.

On the Uzhhorod–Košice broad-gauge track between Košice and Uzhhorod, Ukraine, of which the major part is on Slovakian territory, SA3 couplings are used exclusively. The railway is used for ore and coal transports from Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine to the US Steel mill in Košice and coal to the power plant of Vojany.

In addition, the heavy iron ore trains on the Swedish Malmbanan began to use SA3 couplings in 1969 after problems with snapping chain couplers and a need for ever increasing capacity with higher train weights. Today, IORE locomotives haul trains of 68 hopper cars of 120 tonnes (120 long tons; 130 short tons) with a total weight of over 8,000 tonnes (7,900 long tons; 8,800 short tons) over gradients of 10 per-mille (1%) in harsh weather conditions, from the LKAB mine in Kiruna to the ice-free harbour of Narvik, Norway using couplings of the SA3 type without any problem. They tried out Janney couplers, too, when moving beyond 8,000 tons because SA-3 hasn't seen much use at such loads before that: in the SU, freight trains rarely exceeded 6,000 tons. The earlier SJ Dm3 locomotives have buffers fitted; therefore, they can couple with cars (or locomotives for transportation purposes) with a chainlink coupler.

The longest and heaviest train with SA3 couplings ran on 20 February 1986 from Ekibastuz to the Urals, Soviet Union. The composition consisted of 439 coal wagons and several diesel locomotives distributed along the train with a mass of 43,400 tonnes and the total length of 6.5 kilometres (4.0 mi).[3]


The new European Automatic Center Coupler (C-AKv)[4] has been based on this coupler, with the extended features of automatic brake and electric couplings. It also has vertical stability added, so that the coupling cannot fall down and damage the tracks or cause a derailment. It is compatible with the standard SA3 coupler and will have buffers needed for use with the standard buffers and chain couplers under the long transition period. The electric plugs would be most useful with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.


The former Soviet Union:

Other countries with extensive usageEdit

Some usageEdit

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit