Being built in 1995, the pre-series BB 36001 was outshopped at GEC Alsthom's Belfort factory in January 1996. From then, the approval process started. Serie delivery was initiated in 1997. In 1998, a provisional limited authorization was granted for France, while a second batch of thirty locomotives was ordered, to boost freight traffic with Italy.
International services to Belgium and Italy
The year 2000 saw the 36000 getting approved for operation in Italy, and the beginning of the delivery of the second batch; BB 36031 to 060. Where the first batch had a red cabin front, the second serie got this part painted in green, the new base colour of all French locomotives running for the new freight division of the French railways at that time; Fret SNCF.
Initially, the BB 36000s is developed for mixed services, hence its possible top speed of 200 kph. However, its envisaged duty as haulage for the new international nights services (project Nightstar) through Channel Tunnel never became reality, as the complete project was cancelled. Since then, the BB 36000 is fully dedicated to international freight service. Their actual maximum speed varies, being dependent of voltage system and country. Since 2003, 200 kph was only allowed under 25kV AC catenary in France. An overview:
[F] 25 kV : 200 kph
[F] 1.5 kV : 160 kph
[B] 3 kV : 120 kph
[B] 25 kV : 100 kph
[I] 3 kV : 120 kph
Authorization in Belgium and Italy were cross processes with SNCB's HLE 13 and Trenitalia's E402 B series authorization in France. As all types are being used for freight services only, each of them have there full max speed only in their home country, and 120 kph abroad. This reduced speed also avoided costing supplementary tests (such as current collection).
The "reds" (BB 36001 to 36030) are generally used for international freight services from and to Belgium. They are authorized for running in this neighboring country since 2002. Direct through haulage of intermodal trains with the same locomotive is observed from Schaerbeek to Orbassano at that time. The BB 36000s were approved for Belgium, France and Italy at that time.
Adjustments for services in Italy; the BB 36200 and BB 36300 subseries
From 2003 to 2007, all the locomotives from the second batch were modified, to be better fitted for heavy freight haulage through the Alps. Multiple unit control and automatic fire detection/extinction was installed. In a first step, twelve locomotives were modified and renumbered as BB 36200. Eight other locomotives received the same modifications, plus SAFI (emergency brake override), for use with the AFA (Rolling motorway) from Aiton [F] to Orbassano [I]. They were renumbered as BB 36300. Step by step, all BB 36200s were then converted to the BB 36300 version. Finally, in 2006 and 2007, also the 36051 to 36060 were converted into BB 36300s, so all second batch units are the same since then. Also, the "greens" are all specialized for the international France-Italy connection. BB 36300s can run in multiple, but that is only allowed in Italy and France under 1,5 kV DC.
Two units are no longer property of the French railways. In 2005, as a participation in providing rolling stock for AFA, Trenitalia purchases the BB 36339 and BB 36348 from the SNCF.
In 2006, SNCF’s subsidiary SNCF Fret Italia (now Captrain Italia) starts open access operation in Italy. Thus, all BB36300 running in Italy under its license are re-matriculated as E 436 3xx MF series. MF stands for Monferail, the open access operator purchased by SNCF to enter the Italian market.
First batch sold to Akiem, available for rent
In July 2010, BB 36001 to 36030 were sold to SNCF’s subsidiary Akiem, and leased back. Since then, all first batch Astride locomotives are available for rent to rail operators other than the SNCF and its partners. Veolia/Transdev are the first to make use of the leasing services of Akiem when they start a night train services between Paris and Italy in December 2011. They hire BB 36007, 36011 and 36015 from Akiem.