Running Numbers on Locos

Hi again all
just wondering if the running numbers on steam locomotives are in some sort
of code or are they simply chronological order of manufacture, with a
maker's number at the start?
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The numbers were allocated to locomotives by the companies owning them, mainly for asset identification for audit purposes. In pre-grouping times, they could be in a numerical series, but more often the numbers of scrapped locomotives would be allocated to new builds so giving very haphazard lists of numbers for classes of locomotives. I know that the Midland had a locomotive renumbering session in the early 1900s to tidy up the numbering of classes, and when locomotives were taken over at the Grouping, they were again renumbered. Yet again, with nationalisation, BR re-numbered the acquired locomotives, but in most cases by adding a number to the front of the previously owned number ( all the foregoing except for the GWR/WR which seemed to keep its numbering system through Grouping and nationalisation)
The Southern Railway did have a method of numbering introduced by Bulleid which did contian a code for the class of locomotive, but that disappeared with nationalisation.
In Victorian times, the accountants seemed to have had a field day with loco numbering as they shuffled locos from one asset list to another, and you could find a loco having several numbers in its Victorian lifetime. Companies like the Midland also had an 'A' list for locos, and locos moved to that list would have an 'A' suffix added to the number, then these locos might be moved back from the 'A' list and get another number since their original non-'A' number had been allocated to another loco, and this could happen more than once!! I suspect that the re-numbering schemes in the early 1900s were a case of someone saying "enough is enough", and demanding some order in the chaos :-)
Reply to
Jim Guthrie
great explanation, thanks Jim
It seems there was a "no-system" system then
But it simply adds to my pleasure of our wonderful hobby!
Thanks again
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Mainly because their loco numbers were in the form of large brass castings, and not just painted on.
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Actually the Midland numbering scheme of 1907, most definitely did have a *system* .
The lowest of numbers were given to passenger tender locos with the lowest numbers allocated to the least powerful examples. Next came passenger tank locos, again least powerful first. Then came freight tank locos and finally freight tender locos.
So there were 4 groups, passenger tender, passenger tank, freight tank & freight tender. Each group had least powerful numbers as the lowest within the range.
This system continued into LMS (& indeed BR days) with the group locos of 1923 becoming incorporated into the system.
There were 2 main weaknesses with the system. Primarily there were insufficient gaps left for new construction, which continually led to the remaining members of once large classes over the years getting renumbered to leave a batch of numbers large enough to be of use.
Secondly, there was no provision for rebuilt locos to be renumbered into a more appropriate number range. An example being rebuilt 2F 0-6-0's to 3F 0-6-0's but retaining their old numbers amongst the unrebuilt varieties. In some cases locos got "un-rebuilt" to from 3F's to 2F's and still kept the numbers.
Very confusing until BR adopted the German system of giving each class a number, then providing sub class numbering within that class i.e. 37/1 & 37/4, with numbers like 37 001 and 37 401. This is better known as TOPS.
This is by nature a very simplistic summary of an extremely complex subject.
Reply to
Kevin Martin
In earlier times, some railways didn't number engines at all. The Great Western identified its engines by name only for many years.
Later they adopted a system whereby each class was allocated its own series, and the class was known by its numbering series. Thus there was a class of tank engines known as the 57XX class because it first member was No.5700.
The oddity of the Great Western system was that when they had built No.5799, the next one wasn't 5800, it was 6700. It was the *second* numeral that was characteristic of the class. Because the 57XX class was so numerous, it eventually utilised all the available X7XX series and they had to use 36XX, and 46XX as well.
The London and North Western Railway, on the other hand, had a system whereby the all gaps were supposed to be filled, so that the number of the highest-numbered loco was equal to the total number of locos.
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Did I say it was a *good* system?
For a *different* system of numbering locos, the Victorian Railways in Australia once numbered passenger locos with even numbers & freight locos with odd numbers. Eventually it was abandoned, mainly due to the fact that, like most railways, they had significantly more freight locos than passenger. In other words it was getting rather silly.
Reply to
Kevin Martin
The 19th centrury GWR started numbering each type of carriage starting at 1. So the train could consist of a third, a second, a first and a guard's van all with the same number
Reply to
Christopher A. Lee
The VR electric suburban trains had that scheme up until the 1970's, with Motors labelled ###M, Trailers ###T, Driver (cab) ###D, Trailers (General) that could be used on Country (non electric) trains ###G & Brake Trailers (I think that was the correct term) as ###BT.
With new sets in the 1970s and beyond, differential numbers came into being by starting the motor numbers at 1 again and trailers continued in sequence. The other classifications are now obsolete.
I hope this link shows what I mean.
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Reply to
Kevin Martin
Initially, most railways numbered their locos in sequence. Fairly early on, they devised different systems, usually assigning a block of numbers to a class (type). Sometimes these blocks of numbers were consecutive, sometimes not. And so on.
IOW, you will get different answers for different railways in different countries at different times in their history. So if you really want to know, you'll have to become obsessive about it. Have fun! :-)
Example: CNR numbered its 4-8-4 locos in the 6200 series, grouped by subclass. Each batch of locos built was a different sub-class. So in a sense the numbers were a code for the type of engine. CNR continues to use this system with its diesels, BTW.
The maker's numbers (serial numbers) are different thing entirely. Most makers just numbered the locos as they were ordered. If you ordered three 2-6-0s, for example, you might get #23456, #23457, #23458. Some builders numbered them as they were built, which meant that if two orders were on the erecting floor at the same time, the builder's numbers for your locos might not be consecutive.
Er, did I say that interest in loco numbering tends to become an obsession? Um, er, ....
Reply to
Wolf Kirchmeir
I had already made the assumption that folks can be obsessed with railway systems numbering - sorta like the numerical alternative to rivet-counting.
Thanks so much for everyone's explanations .... my quest to discover why my Stirling Single should be Number 1 is at an end - they named it that because they named it that because they named it that because........ it was the first? I imagine there may have been further Stirlings that were named concurrently, mind you after the information I have now received, they may have done what I once saw in a musical where the lunatics literally ran the asylum - they put everyone into two groups: Group 1, and Group A. Needless to say, it caused some confusion.
Steve ps. There are only three types of people in the world - those who can count, and those who can't
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On 14/05/2006 00:46, mindesign said,
There are only 10 types of people in the world - those who understand binary and those who don't :-)
Reply to
Paul Boyd
Up till about the mid 1920,s the Japanese Govt. Rlys. used blocks of numbers for their loco classes. One such block was 9600, for a class of 2-8-0s. Up to 9699, all was well, but the next loco was not 96100, but 19600, and so on. In the same period, a class of 2-6-0s started at 8620. Again, up to 8699, all tickety boo, but the next loco was, no, not 18600, but 18620, so each number block only covered eighty locos, not one hundred! Ah, the Mysterious Orient! Regards, Bill.
Reply to
William Pearce
Hmm,'ve got to have a system, though, haven't you? "Cadbury's Dairy Milk = Acker Bilk"; that's how I remember it....
David Belcher
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Ah well, what do you expect? They only have five notes in their musical scale and they drive on the wrong side of the road (left). It is a nice place to visit though.
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Doesn't everybody? If not, they should make the change sooner rather than later. Perhaps the change should happen in stages: start with the buses and lorries first - any other vehicles should make the change when the bus drivers have got used to the idea.
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David Jackson
In message , Arthur Figgis writes
I thought the Swedes hadn't changed. They still drive down the middle of the road.
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Jane Sullivan

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