Rolling Stock Codes


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

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:

  1. The current head of department (Chief Mechanical Engineer or equivalent)
  2. The underlying methodology employed to date that is part of the 'culture' and acquired by passed on knowledge and observation ( "This is the way we do it ..." )
  3. The existing method of record keeping
  4. The costs associated with change or implementation
  5. External requirements for statistics and reporting

The Evolution

So, from the beginning:

Peter J. Vincent

June 2004, v5

Note: Information sourced from memorandum and written notes in files, the work done and codes in service.