Keeping tabs on rolling stock before computerisation

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Topgun333

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Before TOPS or computerisation how did British Rail know where a carriage or wagon was at any particular time?
 
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philthetube

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They didn't always, I seem to remember sometime shortly after privatisation an appeal being put out for any freight wagons floating about to be reported, can't remember who to though
 

Phil.

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There used to be regular telex messages out to all yards and stations looking for wagon number B............... Coaches weren't usually lost as it was always possible to trace when they were last used but goods wagons were anyone's guess. When TOPS was introduced a team of people had to spend months travelling to every location noting where each and every wagon was to get them on the location file. I seem to recall that there was something like 8% of the fleet that B.R. didn't actually know existed.
 

Philip Phlopp

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Before TOPS or computerisation how did British Rail know where a carriage or wagon was at any particular time?

They didn't know, and they didn't really know much after TOPS was introduced either. It took 5 years to get to the bottom of how many wagons British Rail actually had.

I remember one TOPS clerk telling me he used to lose wagons at one mine on a regular basis, and at the same time, wagons used to reappear at this one mine. He was an enthusiast, went onto a depot over a weekend and the rake of wagons caught his eye, he had seen them from one side coming into depot and heading out, he had seem them from the other side.

It turned out the wagons had been numbered differently on one side to the other, when they were allocated their TOPS numbers. The guys had stencilled xxx01 to xxx40 on one side of the rake, clocked off and gone home, a new gang came on duty and started at xxx41 to xxx80 on the other side of the rake.

When the composition of the train was entered into the computer it depended which side of the train the yard staff walked down and what numbers they sent through to HQ.
 

Tim R-T-C

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The Yanks had it pretty much down, essential I guess when your wagons could end up thousands of miles away from home on another company's tracks. I suppose since BR knew their stock wasn't going anywhere it didn't overly matter if a few went missing, since it was presumably still there and still working for them.

There is an old story about an NYC manager boasting that he knew where every wagon was at any time, so a friend happened to pass a boxcar sat in a siding on the West Coast with people sitting in it, noted down the number and asked later him where it was - to be told promptly that it was in a town in California, being used as accommodation for Polish workmen.
 

ac6000cw

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The Yanks had it pretty much down, essential I guess when your wagons could end up thousands of miles away from home on another company's tracks. I suppose since BR knew their stock wasn't going anywhere it didn't overly matter if a few went missing, since it was presumably still there and still working for them.

There is an old story about an NYC manager boasting that he knew where every wagon was at any time, so a friend happened to pass a boxcar sat in a siding on the West Coast with people sitting in it, noted down the number and asked later him where it was - to be told promptly that it was in a town in California, being used as accommodation for Polish workmen.

Most US freight cars now have passive RFID tags (same basic idea as track balises) on both sides to facilitate automated tracking.

But yes, in pre-computer days railways needed armies of clerks to (try) and keep track of freight vehicles, and wagons carried paper 'waybills' (which of course could get lost/damaged along the way, resulting in the wagon sitting in a yard while someone tried to work out where it needed to go next...)
 
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zn1

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For maintenance the southern had a superb card maintenance system, LOng and short term maintenance was all logged etc .. you could track the history of every major component, from wheelsets, traction motors, MG sets, major & unclassified repairs using the cards, it was a tried and tested system that worked in conjunction with the maintenance controllers

...it was all eventually transferred to the ravers system, and now gemini controls STM maintenance on majority of the UK emu fleets
 

DarloRich

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Most US freight cars now have passive RFID tags (same basic idea as track balises) on both sides to facilitate automated tracking.

But yes, in pre-computer days railways needed armies of clerks to (try) and keep track of freight vehicles, and wagons carried paper 'waybills' (which of course could get lost/damaged along the way, resulting in the wagon sitting in a yard while someone tried to work out where it needed to go next...)

lots of UK stock have RFID tags fitted
 

swt_passenger

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It's worth reading the freight section of the Beeching report to get an idea of the state of the wagon fleet at the turn of the sixties. I came away with the thought that they didn't really have much of a clue where most of the fleet was at any one time.
 

Phil.

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They didn't know, and they didn't really know much after TOPS was introduced either. It took 5 years to get to the bottom of how many wagons British Rail actually had.

I remember one TOPS clerk telling me he used to lose wagons at one mine on a regular basis, and at the same time, wagons used to reappear at this one mine. He was an enthusiast, went onto a depot over a weekend and the rake of wagons caught his eye, he had seen them from one side coming into depot and heading out, he had seem them from the other side.

It turned out the wagons had been numbered differently on one side to the other, when they were allocated their TOPS numbers. The guys had stencilled xxx01 to xxx40 on one side of the rake, clocked off and gone home, a new gang came on duty and started at xxx41 to xxx80 on the other side of the rake.

When the composition of the train was entered into the computer it depended which side of the train the yard staff walked down and what numbers they sent through to HQ.

Are you sure that TOPS clerk wasn't spinning you a line? I don't recall wagons being allocated TOPS numbers.
 

ChiefPlanner

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It's worth reading the freight section of the Beeching report to get an idea of the state of the wagon fleet at the turn of the sixties. I came away with the thought that they didn't really have much of a clue where most of the fleet was at any one time.

Basically they did not - bar specialist wagons like transformer wagons. There were several weeks of wagon census counts before cut over (1974 ?) - Southern went first. Every location was visited - including private sidings of course - and the extent of wagon misuse by the NCB (using BR wagons for internal use for maybe years - was exposed) - at one MOD depot some wagons loaded with corned beef were found which has been there for over 5 years...the NCB ended up buying ex BR wagons for internal use - often not repainted but had COLEX daubed on the side....

Coaching stock was much tighter controlled with a T card for each vehicle....and pretty good reporting - (though some did get mislaid)
 

CatfordCat

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I seem to remember that one of the railway magazines published an article shortly after TOPS came in that having numbers shown on locos / carriages was going to be phased out, and they would have a bar-code attached to the side, that could be read by static and hand held scanners.

This upset quite a few spotters.

Who then realised it was the April issue...

:lol:
 

The Crab

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I seem to remember that one of the railway magazines published an article shortly after TOPS came in that having numbers shown on locos / carriages was going to be phased out, and they would have a bar-code attached to the side, that could be read by static and hand held scanners.

This upset quite a few spotters.

Who then realised it was the April issue...

:lol:

I have seen reference to "Number takers" at important junctions whose job was to record the number of every passing wagon (refering to the 1920s). This seems a pretty impossible job to me and, if there were such people, I wouldn't think there reports would be much use.
 

edwin_m

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I have seen reference to "Number takers" at important junctions whose job was to record the number of every passing wagon (refering to the 1920s). This seems a pretty impossible job to me and, if there were such people, I wouldn't think there reports would be much use.

I've also heard of number takers, but employed at the large marshalling yards, which would make more sense.
 

30907

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ISTR that stationmasters were supposed to report total numbers of wagons on hand regularly, but not individual wagon numbers.
 

ChiefPlanner

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I've also heard of number takers, but employed at the large marshalling yards, which would make more sense.

They would have been Railway Clearing House Inspectors - there to apportion costs and revenue between the 121 Railway Companies. A fearsome amount of
p paperwork (one of the reasons why companies routed as much mileage on their own tracks to the detriment of overall journey times) - I believe this stopped in 1914 with WW1 under emergency powers - and post WW1 most wagons owned by the companies were "pooled" and treaterd as common user , saving vast amounts of shunting and empty haulage.In WW2 - even PO wagons were included , as well as "RO" railway owned wagons.
 

theageofthetra

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Not sure if true or one of the numerous railway shaggy dog stories but didn't Railtrack/Network rail lose a signal box once & an entire EMU went missing following extensive disruption due to snow?
 

ChiefPlanner

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Not sure if true or one of the numerous railway shaggy dog stories but didn't Railtrack/Network rail lose a signal box once & an entire EMU went missing following extensive disruption due to snow?

There was a "famous" occassion when BR Thameslink lost a 319 after massive snow disruption - eventually a sharp eyed member of staff found said 319 in the headhshunt at Bellingham , frozen solid - been used as a taxi by a driver wanting to get home.

You could do things like that in those days.

The old Southern Region insisted on an overnight number taking excrcise of units and report to Control , not because they really needed the information or to make staff leave a warm messroom at 0100 hours , because it was good practice ..etc - even so - there were usually messages out about 2EPB 62xx not reported - and eventually some sharp eyed signalman or railman would spot it and call in...POIS which was the TOPS scheme for passenger stock helped nail down these issues.

Done plenty of walking around yards at unsociable hours - night and day - reporting on wagon numbers to make sure TOPS was up to date.
 
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