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Rail Data > Articles > Articles list > Article 3: Stock Numbering - Coaches
Title:Stock Numbering - Coaches
Summary:Details of the numbering of coaching stock from 1948 to the present
Added:31st Dec 2019

The early BR period
When it was formed in 1948, British Railways inherited a large fleet of coaches from each of the four main constituent companies (GWR, LMS, LNER and SR). Each of these companies had had its own way of numbering rolling stock, and the combined fleet contained many instances of two or more coaches carrying the same number. Some way of distinguishing these was needed. Rather than a wholesale renumbering exercise, the new organisation chose to differentiate vehicle numbers by the addition of letters. At first, single letter prefixes were applied, based on the company from which each coach came. For example, GWR 9111 became BR W9111, LNER 9111 became BR E9111 and so on.
The first new-build coaches ordered by British Railways appeared in 1951 and this led to a change in the numbering system. A new numbering series was started but, rather than using a prefix letter to indicate the build origins, the prefix was instead to show to which region the coach was allocated to. Letters used were E, M, S, Sc and W for the Eastern, Midland, Southern, Scottish and Western regions respectively. The prefix NE was used for the North Eastern Region during its short period of independence from the Eastern Region in the 1960s, while GE was used for some coaches working on the Great Eastern section.
The policy of using prefix letters to show regional allocation was also extended to include the inherited fleets from 1951 by making the origin indicator a suffix instead. So, for example, ex-GWR W9117 became W9117W, ex-LNER E9117 became E9117E etc. Most coaches from the big-four remained allocated to their 'home' lines, so most of them had the same letter as a prefix and a suffix. Exceptions were coaches allocated to the Scottish Region, which were given Sc prefixes (example Sc9140E). Changes to prefix letters were not common but would take place if a coach was transferred to a different region, or in cases where the region boundaries were changed. For example, the narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol line in Wales was controlled by the Western Region until 1964 when changes saw it come under the London Midland Region. The rolling stock was suitably re-prefixed, for example W4149W became M4149W.
There were a couple of well-known cases of erroneous suffix letters being carried. The LNER-designed class 506 EMUs came under London Midland Region control from 1958 and had their regional allocation prefixes changed to M but also lost their E origin suffixes. They later gained incorrect M origin suffixes. The Two-Tier Car Transporter vans 96286-96299 were built for BR in 1961 and carried E allocation prefixes and incorrect E origin suffixes.
The pre-nationalisation number series did continue to see some use under BR. Coaches and multiple units ordered by the previous companies were delivered to BR with their originally planned numbers (albeit now with an origin suffix letter). EMUs to Southern Railway design continued to be built for some years, often at the same time as equivalent trains to BR designs.
Most coaches built by (or for) British Railways, including those formed into multiple-units, were numbered in the new series, with regional allocation prefixes and no suffixes. The number series was organised into blocks for different groups of coaches, as follows:
  • 1 to 39999 for gangwayed, loco-hauled coaches
  • 40000 to 59999 for non-gangwayed, loco-hauled coaches
  • 60000 to 79999 for multiple-unit coaches (diesel and electric)
  • 80000 to 99999 for non-passenger carrying loco-hauled coaches
Each of these blocks was further divided into particular types, generally starting at numbers ending in 00. For example, numbers from 3000 upwards were for Open First coaches, 3500+ for Open Seconds and 3700+ for Open Thirds. As an aside, second class was something of a rarity by this time, being mainly used only on boat trains. In 1955 it was abolished, and third class was renamed second class. Most references to coach types on this website use the post-1955 designations, even if the coach was built before then.
Changes in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s
The first major change to the numbering policy took place in 1955. Diesel Multiple Units were being introduced and were initially numbered in the 79xxx range. When the decision was made to build up a large fleet of these vehicles, the 5xxxx number series was allocated. Only a couple of batches of non-gangwayed coaches had been built with 5xxxx series numbers and these were amended to 4xxxx to make space.
The numbering system remained largely the same throughout the 1960s, with new builds of coaches continuing to use the existing series even as the designs progressed from Mk1s into the various Mk2 models. When the HST (High Speed Train) and its Mk3 coaches was introduced in 1972 a new series was started using numbers in the 10xxx (catering), 11xxx (first class) and 12xxx (second class) ranges.
Loco-hauled Mk3 coaches followed from 1975 onwards and made use of the same series, although at about the same time the original HST was reclassified as a multiple-unit and its coaches were renumbered in 40xxx, 41xxx and 42xxx ranges. The power cars were originally classified as locomotives with numbers 41001 and 41002, but were renumbered as 43000 and 43001. Note that numbers ending in 000 are allowed for coaching stock but not for locos. Also, many of the 4xxxx numbers had previously been used on non-gangwayed coaches, since withdrawn. The production HSTs built from 1976 onwards continued the use of 4xxxx numbers. Ironically the change of power car categorisation was reversed sometime in the 1980s, after which they were considered to be locos of class 43. No changes to numbers were involved this time.
Apart from the changes from 5xxxx to 4xxxx for non-gangwayed coaches in the mid-1950s (as already mentioned), renumbering of coaches was very rare until the 1960s. During that decade and those that followed, lots of coaches were modified or reclassified and this usually entailed a change of number. The Bournemouth electrification scheme of 1966/1967, the 'new' 4-REP and 4-TC multiple units were mainly formed from rebuilt loco-hauled coaches. These were all given new numbers in the 6xxxx and 7xxxx EMU series. Also during the 1960s there were a number of conversions to new types such as Griddle Cars and Lounge Corridor Firsts, these being given new numbers in the loco-hauled ranges. Many more renumberings followed in the 1970s and 1980s, ranging from major rebuilds (such as Mk1 Corridor Seconds converted into Post Office Sorting vans, and Mk2f Brake Open Seconds fitted with driving cabs for Edinburgh-Glasgow push-pull duties) to simple reclassifications (such as Mk1 First Opens becoming Restaurant Seconds and later Second Opens). In most of these renumberings, the new numbers bore no relation to the old ones, most being renumbered in the order in which they were converted.
The introduction of TOPS in the 1970s had little immediate effect on coach stock numbering, the exception being the introduction of a new numbering series for privately-owned coaches. This featured 5-digit numbers and a prefix of up to four letters to indicate the owner. The prefix was not part of the unique identity, while the numbers were in the same series as those allocated to private owner wagons. Privately owned coaches were mainly preserved items that were still permitted to work on the mainline network, though there were also a few coaches used in weed-killing trains. Coaches were allocated numbers in blocks in the 99xxx range, though a few were in the 95xxx range. Among the first to appear were BLM99200-99205 (owned by Bullmers) and GWS99500-99507 (owned by the Great Western Society) in 1974. Coaches were allowed to carry their original stock numbers in the traditional bodyside positions but had to display the new private-owner number on a yellow oval plate mounted on the solebar. The number series remained in use until the privatisation of BR in the 1990s, after which all coaches were privately owned. Subsequently many of the coaches simply reverted to their previous/original numbers, though a handful (including some used by the West Coast Railway Company) still display their private-owner numbers.
By the mid-1970s, the ranks of pre-Nationalisation stock had been reduced significantly. There were still numerous multiple-units formed of coaches with numbers in precursor series (although many were actually built after the formation of BR), but loco-hauled stock was becoming scarce. The last passenger-carrying coaches were a pair of LNER-built buffet cars (SC1705E and SC1706E) withdrawn in 1979. Apart from the narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol coaches, all other survivors were non-passenger carrying (i.e. parcels vans or exhibition vehicles), of which about 1250 remained at the start of 1980 [1]. At some point in the mid-1970s these coaches had their suffix letters removed, thus leading to a few cases of duplication of numbers.
Changes in the 1980s and 1990s
The next significant change came in 1983 when it was decided that all locos and coaching stock should have a unique number, regardless of any prefix or suffix letters. This led to a large quantity of renumberings, as summarised below.
  • Mk1/2 Corridor Brake Firsts in the range 14000-14172 became 17000-17172 to avoid conflicts with SR-designed 4-EPB coach numbers
  • Mk1 Corridor Composites in the range 15626-15996 became 7626-7996 to avoid conflicts with SR-designed 4-EPB coach numbers
  • Mk1 Corridor Composites in the range 16000-16266 became 7000-7266 to avoid conflicts with SR-designed 2-EPB and 2-HAP coach numbers
  • Mk1 Corridor Seconds in the range 25005-26217 became 18005-19217 to avoid conflicts with class 25 and 26 locos
  • Mk3 (HST) Buffets 40001-40037 became 40401-40437 to avoid conflicts with class 40 locos
  • DMU coaches in the range 50001-50987 became 53001-53987 to avoid conflicts with class 50 locos
  • Class 210 DEMU coaches 53000/1, 54000/1, 57000/1 and 58000 became 60200/1, 60300/1, 60400/1 and 60450 respectively, this being to clear the 53xxx/54xxx ranges and to standardise the numbers with older DEMU coaches in the 60xxx range
  • DMU coaches in the range 56001-56504 became 54001-54504 to avoid conflicts with class 56 locos
  • Mk1 Gangwayed Brakes in the range 81000-81628 became 84000-84628 to avoid conflicts with class 81 locos
  • Mk1 Newspaper Vans 85500-85534 became 94000-94034 to avoid potential future conflicts with class 85 locos
  • Mk1 General Utility Vans in the range 86078-86984 became 93078-93984 to avoid conflicts with class 86 locos
Note that locomotive numbers were given priority (for example, hundreds of 81xxx vans had to be renumbered due to the presence of just 22 existing loco numbers 81001-81022), and an effort was made to keep locomotive class blocks clear (the exception being that HST catering cars were allowed numbers in the 40xxx block, presumably since the class 40 locos were expected to be withdrawn soon). There was no renumbering resulting from the remaining parcels vans numbered in the pre-nationalistion series, presumably because there were only around 100 of these still in service, they were not expected to last very long, and there were in any case only a handful of actual duplications (for example BR Mk1 Restaurant Buffet W1644 and SR Parcels & Miscellaneous Van S1644).
It should also be mentioned that, although all the official records were changed in May 1983, it took a few years for the actual numbers carried by the coaches to all be changed. In many cases, coaches were withdrawn without ever carrying their new allocated numbers.
Some further renumberings took place later on for similar reasons.
  • In 1984 and 1986, some private-owner coaches numbered in the 996xx range were changed to the 993xx and 995xx ranges to avoid conflicts with BR exhibition vans also numbered in the 996xx range.
  • Narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol coaches M4994W-M5000W were renumbered to 4734-4740 in about 1987, when it was realised that their numbers duplicated those on Mk1 coaches.
  • When the Mk3 modular restaurant cars were introduced in 1987-1989, numbers 10239/10243/10244 were skipped. Number 10239 was already in use in the preserved 4-SUB EMU but the reason for the other two is not known.
  • To make way for class 60 locos, a handful of surviving DEMU coaches were renumbered in 1989 (60014/60015/60100/60101 becoming 60152-60155).
  • To make way for class 92 locos, rebogied gangwayed brake vans in the range 92001-92099 were renumbered 92901-92999 in 1991/1992.
One other change introduced in the 1983 renumbering exercise was a new number series to identify gangwayed brake vans that had been refitted with B4 bogies to allow 100mph operation. Up until then, there had been a fairly strict policy of not re-using numbers within any given series (the only major exception being the HST coaches given 41xxx numbers previously carried by non-gangwayed coaches). However, over 200 new numbers were needed for the rebogied vans and the only suitable number range in the non-passenger carrying series was from 92000 upwards. The numbers 92000-92114 had already been used for Fruit D vans built in 1957/58, but these had all been withdrawn by 1974 and it was decided that the numbers could be re-used. The official policy became that any number series that had been defunct for at least 7 years could be re-used, though it was not until the 1990s that this became common. First was the 94100-94922 range, originally used for CCT (Covered Carriage Truck) vans which were all withdrawn by 1989. Somewhat pushing the seven-year rule, many of these numbers were re-used from 1993 onwards for high-security mail van conversions. Later in the 1990s, new builds of DMUs featured coaches with re-used numbers from the 50xxx, 56xxx and 79xxx series, while the 2000s saw many more ranges reused in new DMUs and EMUs.
In 1985, some coaches allocated to the Inter-City sector had their regional allocation prefix changed to IC, though all prefixes were dispensed with from 1987, coaches just carrying the actual number. As with other changes, it took a few years for all coaches to be physically amended.
A new type of renumbering took place from 1985 onwards when several Mk2 Corridor Firsts were downgraded to Corridor Seconds. These were renumbered from the 13452-13560 range simply by changing the second digit from a 3 to a 9, so that they followed on from the Mk1 Corridor Seconds renumbered in 1983 (18005-19217), albeit with large gaps in the series.
Changes in the 2010s
A major change to new coach numbering took place in the 2010s. With increasing amounts of new multiple units being ordered, and a desire for unit side numbers to relate to the end (set) number, there were fewer suitable blocks of numbers available for use. In September 2011 the numbering policies were redrafted. This opened up new class number ranges (e.g. class numbers in the 7xx and 8xx blocks) and extended the range for side numbers to include 6-digit numbers. It was also intended that all new stock would be allocated 12-digit European Vehicle Numbers (EVNs), though this was not to have any impact until later on (q.v.).
The first stock to appear with 6-digit side numbers were the class 387/1 EMUs built in 2014. The first of these was set number 387101, formed of coaches 421101+422101+423101+424101. It will be noted that the third digit of each side number indicates the coaches position in the set, while the last 3 digits are the same as those in the set number. Most new DMUs and EMUs built since have followed a similar pattern, although it has not always been possible to have such a neat arrangement.
A further change of policy from December 2017 stipulated that all new rail vehicles receiving authorisation for operation after 1st January 2018 should carry their full EVNs. Coaches new with 6-digit numbers (since 2014) were probably also allocated EVNs but, as these were not carried and details have not been published, this cannot currently be confirmed. Newer coaches do display their EVNs and these are based on the 6-digit number with additional digits before and after to make numbers that are compliant with the TSI (Technical Standards of Interoperability). Types known to carry EVNs include the Caledonian Sleeper Mk5s and the class 777 EMUs being built by Stadler for Merseyrail. In each case, the full EVN is displayed on the coach side but the 'domestic' part of the number is highlighted by use of an underline or different font size or colour. For example, Caledonian Sleeper 15202 carries the number 967000 15202 5, with the 15202 in a larger font and black lettering (the remainder being white). The EVN is therefore 96.70.0015.202-5. Similarly, Merseyrail 430003 (from unit 777003) carries 94 70 0430003-6 GB-MRE, with 430003 underlined. In the conventional format, this EVN is 94.70.0430.003-6. For more details about the structure and content of EVNs, see this article.

[1] British Rail Coaching Stock 1980 (Mallaband, Bowles, 1980), Page 122-127

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