For rolling stock to be placed on an inventory they need some lettering which will provide a unique identifier. This is generally done by the use of alphabetical letters and/or numbers. There are several methods that can be used
This would take the form of A, B, C, etc or even the use of AA, AB, etc. I know of no system using this method as the use of numbers only is generally adopted.
There are two basic systems that can be used
Vehicles are assigned numbers within blocks. The number blocks are assigned depending upon the number of vehicles required to be identified. Used by the D&MR Co until the introduction of code letters in the mid 1900's.
In the majority of cases this method is used for passenger cars in many countries. The identification of the car is the name assigned to it when the vehicle enters service or is 'renamed' to reflect owner discretion
In Australia, rolling stock design or traffic groups are called 'classes' and the letters assigned to a class is called the 'code'. As an example timber wagons on the VR were assigned the class letters 'IT'. In describing the vehicle 'IT 252' the letters 'IT' are the 'class' or 'code' with the number being the next consecutive number available with the group.
The earliest VR written records are those dating from 1886. These were rewritten from earlier records when the VR merged rolling stock from both the government run system and private systems acquired in the late 1870's. From the 1886 records it can be deduced that the main vehicle coding system was adopted and the private stock considered suitable for VR traffic classed and renumbered to suit. From this we can see a definite system that was used from the late 1850's up to the 1920's before the system fragmented slightly. The coding system was drastically altered in the 1950's but the initial principles remained in play until the 1970s and the start of 'National Coding' which enabled a system to allow for owner identification. Unfortunatly the governing body was limited to 26 letters. The new system suffered several upheavals as wagon types exceeded the letters to segregate them and the number of owners grew as privatisation took hold in the late 1990's.
The coding system can probably be traced back to European practice as a journey abroad in past years revealed vehicle types and codes closely matched those on the VR!. Whilst the subcodes were starnge and unique to the application, the main groupings were consistent and cannot otherwise be explained unless there was some common heritage.
The classification groupings as listed below show the main thread of how the codes originated and the major decision points that caused the 'coding system' to significantly alter the perceptions and understanding of how codes originated. There have been many minor code changes. In the main they are a continuation from the last chronological change.
Large administrations adopt standards to ensure some uniformity across the organisation. Whilst it obviously suppresses the individual urge it ensures that decisions affecting all staff are channelled through a vetting process for
Whilst at no time does there appear to have been a 'manual' written and issued for how vehicles are to be classed or coded and numbered there are many factors that have a huge impact:
So, from the beginning:
In this system, vehicles were grouped into defined blocks of passenger cars, vans(baggage and guards), passenger related and freight. The system ended up as
This list brings us up to the mid 1870's. The traffic was simple, the types few and construction fairly basic. As industrialisation occurred, Victoria expanded outwards and rail lines were extended, the traffic types grew and the route haulage became longer. As new vehicle types were added, the vehicle classes were given the next available letter
The next available letter (V) was not used until 1927. The only class below this was a recent c1895 Workmans sleeper class known as WS by 1908. The vehicles in this group were assembled from a pool of carriages and vans already stripped and converted for works sleeper use from the 1880's.
Because there is no data there are several interesting events that occurred prior to 1886:
- Double letter class 'NN' to denote side dump wagons introduced 1881
- The class of vehicle the Prison van was
- The class letter 'C' for Third Class carriage appears to have remained unused until 1893 when it was adopted for the Hearse Vans
- The class letter 'J' (for Prison Van?) appears to have remained unused until adopted during the 1910 classification for Hearse Van recoding
- Bogie carriages were introduced to service in 1873 and were placed into the 'A - First Class carriage' group using numbers vacated by conversion or scrapping. This must have caused confusion as the capacity of the vehicle is significantly greater than a fixed wheel vehicle. I'm sure the diligence of the staff plus the limited number of cars in service went a long way to overcoming problems. However at some stage the vehicles were all placed into a seperate number group to ensure segregation. Whether this occurred with reclassification during 1886 or prior is not known.
Given the data available there is no indication of any deviation or other sub classes that may have run up to 1886.
Locomotive numbering for this era was most interesting. Early locomotives were given simple numbers or names only. Later locomotive introductions were designated either 'Passenger' or 'Goods' classes. Passenger classes were given EVEN numbers ( 2, 4, 6, 8 etc ) and Goods classes were given ODD numbers; a most confusing system if there ever was one. All of this was rationalised in 1886.
At some point in time vehicle types were evolved that whilst fitting the general vehicle type needed a separate identifier. To date the only known examples prior to 1886 were
However as part of the rationalisation that was undertaken with the merger of private and government rolling stock coupled with the steam engine classification rationalisation it appears that subclass letters were generally adopted to provide small groups of uniquely different wagons or vans that maintained the same characteristic as the initial letter. This was also the start of providing double letters to indicate a capacity increase, NOT to indicate a bogie vehicle. The first classes to receive double letters were passenger stock with the AA and BB codings. In the era up to the mid 1890's the following vehicles were issued to traffic with subclass letters
The introduction of the narrow gauge appears to have seen the broad gauge system adopted without the prefix letter 'N' until mix ups started to occur. Codes on the narrow gauge did not conflict with other rolling stock as there were no equivalents until many years later
From these beginnings the subclass system was used sparingly until the 1950's when new traffic and population booms expanded the variety of rolling stock. The only other deviation to the overall system was the introduction of the 'Intercolonial Express' which started running between Melbourne and Adelaide from 1887. As the rolling stock purchase and maintenance was a joint effort between both rail systems (SAR and VR) all the vehicles were placed into a separate number group (1-31) and the vehicle types grouped together. There is an indication that the class letter 'O' was adopted for all stock and that each system kept the system code identifier in the books as a reference to type. This small system was butchered by VR when AV/BV carraiages were placed into temporary service, renumbered from 32 upwards and given suffix letters A and B to denote class ( as in OA, OB ).
The lettering style for the multiple letter classes was to use large letters for the main class grouping and smaller superscript letters for the subclass.
The locomotive numbering system from 1886 was most interesting. Locomotives were assigned consecutive numbers within a single number grouping and each class was assigned a specific number block AND given a class letter letter designation. Thus on appearance, no loco number could be duplicated across any class.
The 1890's saw some interesting carriage classes introduced. The longest class letters introduced were the ABDABD First/Second/Van combines introduced during the mid 1890s. The new side corridor end vestibule carraiges of the AV/BV class were a dramatic deviation. This was the first use of a suffix letter to denote a construction type with the 'V' indicating a carriage fitted with end vestibules. This was followed up 1901 with the DV guards van to match the 'V' stock and in 1902 the AA carriages with side corridors were renumbered and reclassed to 'AC'. In 1907 the express stock was introduced to service with two suffix letters to denote construction and design. I refer to the 'E' carriages of which the early cars prior to 1910 were issued as 'AVE' and 'BVE'; essentially AV/BV codes with an E to denote new design. All of this being a pre-cursor to the 1910 recoding.
There is one interesting suffix that appeared from about 1895 and was referenced as a 'describer' and only later does it appear to have been included in the class letters. I refer to the suffix 'H' used to segregate older carriage and van stock held in reserve for 'Holiday' traffic. Book entries for this era show what appear to be 'H' description in the entries rather than part of the designated code. Most unusual is the 'H' letters are written in the ink used for the stocktake notes. The normal ink colour was black for entries, red for 'Off Register' (out of service) with ad-hoc stocktake notes jotted in pencil. Only later from about 1901/1902 were the references to H stock penned in black ink. I have seen no photographs for this era to validate this observation.
In 1910 there was a rolling stock code adjustment to make better use of code letters and provide some rationalisation with the carriage fleet. Code letters had previously been assigned around and alphabetical system that segregated the letters to specific rolling stock types. This system did not differentiate fixed wheel and bogie stock. As such an unwieldly suffix suffix system evolved. By 1910 the suffix system was overloading with the majority of carriages in service with bogies, a trend that would obviously continue. From a small start in 1897 with the AV/BV class, the next vehicles into service with new codes were the AP/BP/BCP/ACP "Tait" cars, constructed and lettered in 1909 but first traffic use in 1910.
Basically the new coding system
The new system changes
This was the main thrust of the change. Specific changes to vehicles can be found in other sections of this website ( see Summaries > Major Code Changes By Year > 1910). Many classes were renumbered as well as recoded to remove gaps in the numbering created when vehicles were scrapped or converted to other classes. Use of diagram books to match rolling stock is often difficult between the 1908 and 1914 books as the numbers have changed in many instances.
On of the most interesting points about the code change for 1910 ( itemised in a Weekly Notice, July 1910) was the time taken to perform the task. Initial thoughts were as maintenance occured which would give a spread of some 12-18 months. Graphing the use of old and new codes shows a 13 month window between the first use of the new codes and the last use of the old codes. Howevert the data was skewed as it does not reveal what the vehicles were doing. Many of the old codes were probably in storage and in the workshops for months after withdrawal from service. There are four items of information that are significant in understanding the change
- If a Stocktake across Victoria could be done to track some 12,000 vehicles on a single day, then it seems most likely that similar effort could be organised to reclass and renumber about 2,000 vehicles across several days
- To avoid problems with class and number mixup due to similar classes for different stock, the fixed wheel stock would logically have been reclassed and renumbered first. This would then clear the letters for the next reclassing into those letters
- A diagram of the July 1910 rear end collision at Richmond shows an amazing consist of two trains with all fixed wheel stock with new codes and all bogie stock with old codes. This diagram was a trigger for the previous item.
- It appears that the action occurred in the start of a new financial year. I am summizing that the code change was performed across two weekends. The first week end was to code and number all the stock out of A B C D block and utilising the following week to track down vehicles missed in the first round. The second weekend was utilised to recode and renumber the bogie stock as a second round effort. I am presuming two weekends as there would have been a limited number of people actually involved in the painting work. This would have involved the regular car painters plus maintenance staff. It is also presumed lists of car numbers would have been issued to staff to cross reference old and new codes with respective numbers
The introduction of electric traction to Melbourne suburban created a new set of vehicle subclassifications. The planning had been under way since about 1906 with reports submitted by overseas experts, and various tests through to 1915. By 1916 the planned changeover was underway, after temporary adjournment due to WWI and equipment shortages. The vehicles converted to electric traction use were appended with a suffix
This coding system was in place from 1916 to 1921 when a change was instituted. The codes were rationalised and simplified to the simple classes of M, T and D. To segregate the swing door stock from the sliding door stock the cars were renumbered at recoding. Swing door stock retained numbers between 1 and 200, with the Sliding door ('Tait') stock numbered into the group 200 onwards. The G cars introduced in 1923 were the exception being numbered from 1 upwards.
It is presumed that the change was done for two reasons
From 1925 the VR were introducing new types of rolling stock to service. These new types obtained class letters have had been previously associated with passenger stock. That and the use of D, G, T, M from 1921 expanded on a system where separate alphabetical groups were contained with each rolling stock type; viz passengers cars A to Z, freight A to Z. Whilst passenger codings were not expanded, the freight group saw more class letters used from the late 1950s with the letter A assigned for Car carriar wagons and B for bogie box vans. This was followed in the mid 1960s with C for coil steel wagons and F for flat steel deck wagons. Though this group has a distinct heritage from the 1978 National Coding and is discussed in the topic below.
From 1908, the VR had began introducing a 15ton(later 16ton) 'I' wagon. At this time there were 8t, 10t and the short wheelbase 15t 'I' wagons. To defurr maintenance, many 10ton wagons of the period were derated to 8ton as axles and bearings needed repair/replacement. From 1924 the 22ton 'I' wagons (later IY) and the 27ton capacity 'IZ' wagons were introduced. Beginning in 1927, the new production of wagons with auto coupler underframes and higher capacity began replacing the older wood and steel small capacity vehicles. The overall effect was to increase the fleet capacity whilst reducing the total stock numbers with vehicles with high tare to load ratios.
The effect of this action saw many 8t, 10t and 11t wagons placed into storage and either scrapped or used as unmarked 'Yard Trucks' in the Newport Workshops and Spotswood Reclamation Depot. It would seem that problems were occurring in the country areas. Stations ordering empty i wagons for a small 1t to 8t load were receiving the large 16t capacity wagons. As the loads were apparently billed on a vehicle capacity billed on the wagon rate, a higher tariff was being paid for the transport of small loads in these large wagons. Now 16t steel I wagons had been around since 1902. It seems that perhaps the problem stemmed from this time but given the large fleet of I wagons up to 1927, perhaps the problem was solved by utilising other smaller trucks in the yard?. As a consequence of the irate primary producers, the VR introduced a 'dual capacity' traffic rate with vehicles lettered with a small capacity over a large capacity such as 10/15 tons. Loads up to 10 tons were billed at the 10t rate and loads greater than 15 tons were billed at the heavier rate. To ensure there would be enough dual capacity vehicles in service, the ratio of small wagons to larger capacity wagons was maintained by relettering a large capacity I wagon for every small capacity I wagon withdrawn from service. This distiction was not made when introduced some time during 1927/1928. By 1929 it was apparently a problem. A capacity reclass was undertaken.
Standard 'I' wagons were to be 15 tons. Small capacity 'I' vehicles were reclassed to 'IB'. Dual capacity 'I' wagons were reclassed to 'IA'. Physically there was no difference in bodies between the 15t 'I' and 'IA' apart from body construction differences across the I wagon group in general. The 'Tommy Bent' I wagons were all classed 'IA'. The design for these wagons was simply a standard 10t steel 'I' truck with extended sides and heavier axle boxes and bearings.
The 'IG' wagons of both capacities were reclassed to 'IX'. It is presumed that this was to clear the letter 'G' for future use to denote 'Bulk Grain' ( I to G conversions: 1935, GZ: 1935, GY:1939). The existing 'G' class was recoded to 'GH' in 1935.
This year saw the introduction of a 'speed' letter for some rolling stock. From here, other rolling stock code changes were modified to provide some uniformity for the upcoming standardisation gauge. Vehicles in passenger traffic, previously not class described but indicated in special traffic notes, were reclassed. These were
It appears that there were some mistaken identities of rolling stock through the late 1960s. Most VR and SA rolling stock with identical codes were segregated within number groups. In general with the use of bogie exchange intersystem vehicles were sometimes difficult to trace to state of origin. From notes I've read it seems that the rail systems via ANZR ( rail body to oversea standards in Australia) organised a uniform 'coding system' as early as 1970. From this date only South Australia appears to adopted the system. Theirs was the first see a spate of four letter codes such as 'SFLC' et al, and something us mere observers could never understand. Some notes on a new type wagon planned for construction in 1970 but never built shows that even then four letter codes were being formalised. Although never built, the short heavy weight flat wagon was given several choices of four letter code and in keeping with the existing code system, several suitable codes for that as well.
And thus unfolds the biggest mystery of all. Why the 'FQX' and 'QMX' wagons entered service with codes that did not match the existing code methodology. Well 'QMX' sort of did, it just didn't seem right. However if we add a 'V' to the start of both those codes then it all falls into place. VR were introducing vehicles to service by utilising the last three letters of the eventual four letter code system.
But wait there's more. By the time four letter coding arrived, a new administration decided that it would be simpler to group all types together by age of the class and use the third letter ( A, B, C, etc) as an age describer. All except the hopper wagons which were lettered as far as practicable to the traffic use.
Four letter codes were a method suitable in describing vehicles owned by the then limited number of operating systems. In privatisation there have been problems with suitable letters being available. Another problem faced by NSW was the large number of vehicle types that were required to be grouped separately. This has caused the expanded use of the second letter to handle more construction types.
Peter J. Vincent
June 2004, v5
Note: Information sourced from memorandum and written notes in files, the work done and codes in service.