Click here for main LTSV index
Home Profiles Photos Reference Resources

Reference Menu
BR Wagon Numbering
This page is not yet complete!
The numbering of wagons by BR has been a fairly complicated business. There have been no fewer than 11 different number series used over the years, most of them concurrently. A six-digit number could therefore potentially appear on up to 6 different wagons, albeit with different prefixes.

One helpful factor is that, within each series, numbers are (almost) never re-used. So at least we don’t have to contend with referring to B123456 (1st issue), etc!

With the greatly reduced stock of wagons in use today, an understanding of all the series is not essential. However, there are some cases where you need to look beyond the number. For example, DS61953 and ESSO61953 are two very different wagons, as are DR92521 and GMC92521, DB460506 and DC460506, 900118 and ADB900118. On the other hand, 201003 and KDC201003 are the same wagon, as are BSSP4032 and VTG4032.

It does get very confusing, with part, all or none of a wagon’s prefix being a part of its unique identity. Modifications and rebuilding of wagons only add to the mix, with many such vehicles being renumbered while others retain their original numbers, while yet others are renumbered or reprefixed without any visible changes.

This page attempts to outline each of the numbering series that have been used, with additional notes on prefixes, renumberings and some of the oddities that have occured since privatisation.

Table 1: numbering series used on UK wagons

Series Sample Numbers Qty @ 12/05
Former LNER wagons E261356, DE341054, ADE230935 8
Former LMS wagons M152134, LDM700370, DM723292 8
Former SR wagons S56286, ADS56303, DS61953 4
Former GWR wagons W42355, DW17273, KDW101222 3
Former Private Owner wagons P339463, DP101453 0
B-prefix series B462748, KDB786966, DB993711 1813
Air Braked series 112051, DC461022, KDC950179 16883
Private Owner wagons PDUF3025, PR58114, F93100 6666
RIV wagons 83-70-2795-300-4, 24-87-4438-060-6 1396
CEPS DR72201, DRC78225, LDRC81533 900
Internal User vehicles 024866, 042217 289

Precursor series
Each of the Big Four railway companies had their own (often complicated) numbering system for their wagons. Upon its formation, BR retained the existing numbers and simply added a single letter prefix to indicate the vehicles origin. For example, GWR wagon 107103 became W107103 while LNER Lowmac 260871 became E260871. LMS and SR wagons gained M or S prefixes accordingly.

BR also took over almost 400,000 wagons from private owners, the vast majority of which were open or hoppered mineral wagons. The numbering schemes varied enormously from one company to another and there were very many duplicated numbers. Under BR control, new numbers with a P prefix were allocated although details of the exact range used are not available.

The P-series wagons were the first to dissappear, particularly the huge quantities of wooden-bodied coal wagons. A few metal-bodied hopper wagons survived into the 1970s, while at least one was transferred to the Isle of Wight for departmental duties and lasted until the late 1980s.

By the 1980s, any wagons built before nationalisation would have been getting long in the tooth. The last major fleet of such vehicles in revenue use were probably former LNER 21ton coal hoppers used in the North East, although most would have been rebodied at least once.

Departmental fleets, such as those of the Signal & Telegraph engineers, often made use of elderly wagons cascaded down from the revenue fleet. This process extended the life of many pre-nationalisation wagons and, as the table above shows, almost two dozen remained in stock at the end of 2005.
Although primarily used for wagons built before 1948, additions to each of the four main precursor series were made after this date. Firstly, batches that were in construction or ordered before nationalisation were often delivered with their planned numbers, although some were given new B-prefix numbers.

Secondly, a variety of wagons bought second-hand (primarily from the Ministry of Defence) were given numbers in the M and W prefixed series. Some coil wagons rebuilt from Warflats and numbered in the W160xxx range remained in revenue use into the 1980s.

Finally, departmental coaching stock conversions (until 1971) and track machines (until 1967) were numbered in a variety of series that fall within this category. They generally used distinct blocks of numbers (such as DM395001 to DM396007) and are usually quite easy to distinguish from pre-nationalisation wagons.

B-prefix series
This series was used for the majority of wagons built for BR up to the mid 1960s. It covered both revenue and departmental wagons, and was also used for departmental locos, coaching stock and track machines.

Numbers were assigned in blocks with, for example, up to B279999 being reserved for 16ton minerals, B280000 to B31999 for larger minerals, B333000 to B349999 for hoppers, and so on. Less common types were fitted into gaps (such as the tank wagons that took B749xxx), while later additions were fitted in wherever there were gaps. The 16ton mineral fleet eventually spilled over into the B55xxxx range, while the numerous Conflat wagons built in the 1960s took used various ranges.A look at the numbering ranges listed on this site will show how this was applied to the fleet.

Numbers between B950000 and B964121 were dedicated to brake vans and these formed the barrier between the revenue and departmental fleets, the latter being numbered from DB965000 upwards. Most of the departmental wagons were originally in the DB98xxxx and DB99xxxx series, either consecutively regardless of type, or grouped together (as with the DB994xxx Sturgeons and DB996xxx Salmon). Later additions saw most of the DB97xxxx range used as well, although the DB975xxx and DB977xxx ranges were already in use for converted coaching stock (the DB976xxx range was a short-lived attempt to group wagons modified for departmental use). Most of the numbers between DB965000 and DB969119 were used for track machines (later renumbered in the CEPS series), departmental locos and items such as snowploughs.
Prior to the adoption of RIV numbers, wagons passed for use to the continent were allocated secondary numbers in the B500xxx series.

There were a couple of instances of numbers in the departmental range being used for revenue wagons.

Air Braked series
In the mid-1960s a whole new series was created that did away with prefix letters. This co-incided with the wide-spread adoption of air-brakes and, as all wagons in the new series were so-equipped, the series is usually referred to as such. It is not known whether the series was started to reflect this change or if it was due to the ever-decreasing amount of vacant numbers in the B-prefix series.

The series was only used for revenue wagons, new-build and converted departmental wagons staying in the B-prefix series whether air-braked or not. As with the B-prefix series, numbers were allocated in blocks. 1xxxx was for general-purpose open and flat wagons, 2xxxxx for vans, 3xxxxx for hoppers, 4xxxxx for 2-axle steel wagons, 6xxxx for bogie container flats and 9xxxxx for bogie steel wagons. The 5xxxxx range was used for 2-axle container wagons (moved from the B-prefix series) and bogie special wagons (nuclear flask carriers).
Several batches of wagons were ‘re-numbered’ from the B-prefix to the Air-braked series by the simple measure of losing their prefixes. Among these were the first few thousand MGR coal hoppers and freightliner flats, along with Conflats 511000 to 511022. Fly-ash hoppers B873978 to B874185 are often quoted as being similarly treated but these in fact retained their B prefixes until withdrawn.

Private Owner series
Very few private owner wagons remained following the formation of British Railways. Those that survived the transition were mainly specialised vehicles such as tank wagons, and these retained the numbering systems of their respective owners. (It is worth mentioning that all such wagons were registered with BR and given numbers but these were not carried).

Standardisation finally came in 1974 when all wagons were put onto the TOPS system, neccessitating the allocation of unique stock numbers. The private owner fleet, which was by then growing again, was given 5-digit numbers with a prefix of up to 4 letters to indicate the owner. The prefixes were not part of the unique number, and were changed when the ownership changed. Therefore, for example, AR14201 was the same wagon as PR14201.

The numbering was split into four distinct blocks. Numbers from 2000 up to 29999 were for general-purpose wagons and bulk carriers, 30000 to 79999 for 2-axle tanks, 80000 to 89999 for bogie tanks and 90000 to 99999 for specialised wagons.

The prefix codes were generally acronyms for the actual owners. Care had to be taken to avoid certain letter combinations that would have duplicated prefixes carried by railway-owned wagons or track machines.

The amount of owner code prefixes issued was inflated by the fact that preserved coaching stock registered to work on the mainline was included for some years. These generally carried original stock numbers on the bodywork but were required to display the TOPS number on a solebar plate. Numbers were mainly in the 99xxx range.
A couple of instances of batches being apparently numbered in the wrong range have occured. During the 1980s, two batches of powder wagons were numbered in the tank wagon range (as BAHS55531 to 55573 and STS74030 to 74044), although in both cases the wagons did resemble tanks. This also applies to SUKO50000, a former tank wagon converted into a mobile classroom.

More recently, pressure on the non-tank series has seen numbers in the 30xxx range being assigned to 2-axle hopper wagons.

RIV wagons
The RIV (or more correctly UIC) series is a European standard for numbering railway rolling stock. It is purely numeric (although letters are often shown alongside on wagon number panels) and comprises a total of 12 digits. The spacing and separation of the digits can vary somewhat but the normal written format is

The first two digits are the exchange code, these indicating the basic details of the wagon and where it can operate. Perhaps the most common code for wagons seen in the UK is 33, which indicates a privately owned bogie vehicle. Other codes are used for wagons restricted to certain countries or with different gauge wheelsets.

The third and fourth digits indicate the country. UK owned wagons are 70, French 87 and so on.The next block of four digits is the type or batch. These are grouped such that 2000-2999 are vans, 7000-7999 are tanks, etc.The next three digits are the actual wagon number, while the final digit is a computer check digit, used to confirm that the preceding digits have been correctly inputted.

Most rolling stock in continental Europe has been numbered in this series for many years. In the UK, only the small proportion of wagons permitted to travel on train ferries were so treated, this taking place some time in the 1960s (as noted above, prior to this date wagons had normal B-prefixed numbers and additional B50xxxx numbers).

With the opening of the channel tunnel in 1993, the amount of RIV wagons seen in the UK increased markedly, particularly car carriers and intermodals.

Most recently, a policy decision was made to number all new UK wagons in the RIV series. This took effect from 2008 and, so far, has applied to several batches of bogie hoppers for domestic use.

A page has been added detailing the various elements, codes and standards of RIV/UIC numbering.
Wagons with RIV numbers do seem to be more prone to renumbering than other series, often for no apparent reason. For example, in 1992, Autic wagons in the range were renumbered as, retaining their end serials.

Changes to exhange and country codes also take place fairly regularly. Of course all such renumberings also result in a change to the check digit, as this is calculated by multiplying each digit by alternate 2s and 1s, summing the digits, and subtracting the result from the next highest multiple of 10!

The Civil Engineers Plant Scheme was instigated in 1974 and was a national numbering system for items of on-track plant such as cranes and tampers. It replaced a variety of regional-based systems although for a few years, new machines were also allocated numbers in the DB96xxxx (the latter range continuing after this time for items such as snowploughs). Numbers comprised five digits, mostly with a two-letter prefix; DR for items reportable to TOPS and DX for the remainder. Cranes differed by adding another letter at the end of the prefix to indicate the manufacturer, while some also had another letter at the front of the prefix. This was to indicate the operating department for items used by other than the civil engineers. For example, LDRP96514 was a crane built by Plasser and Theurer (P) and used by the electrification engineers (L).

Prior to the 1990s, there were some wagons that gained CEPS numbers. Most were existing wagons modified with new equipment, such as a crane or viaduct insepction gantry. In such cases, a CEPS number was applied to the equipment, while the wagon usually retained its existing number.

Since the 1990s, the CEPS series has covered an increasing range of specialised equipment, which can nonetheless be classed as wagons. First up were the self-discharge ballast hoppers, numbered in the DR922xx range. Several batches of these were delivered up to 2006. Some rail handling trains converted from bogie container flats were numbered in the DR925xx range, while DR92601 onwards are sleeper-carrying wagons.
The long-welded rail trains (LWRT) introduced in the 1980s were a mixture of specialised plant and rail-carrying wagons. Most of the wagons were numbered in the DB979xxx series, apart from one wagon in each set that was fitted with a diesel engine for propulsion. These were numbered in the CEPS series as DR890xx. The gantries, which could travel along the length of the train, were similarly DR891xx. Finally, the chute wagon, which was a flat wagon with slopes to unload the rail and an operators cabin, were given numbers in the DR892xx series as well as DB9795xx numbers.

A renewal of the LWRT fleet in 2002 saw many of the DB979xxx wagons replaced by new examples numbered in the private owner series, while some of the existing wagons were given private-owner prefixes (NLU) to their railway-owned numbers (eg 979500).

To add further confusion, some privately owned wagons that are fitted with specialist equipment (such as the Balfour Beatty and Transplant rail handling trains) are numbered and coded as railway-owned revenue wagons (FEAs in the 64xxxx series).

Internal Users
The internal user series was used for vehicles (mainly wagons or coaches) that were semi-permanently static or used only within the confines of a yard or works. Special dispensation was required for these vehicles to be moved on the main line. Typical uses for such vehicles were as stores vans or crew restrooms and many of the vehicles were off-tracked or otherwise immobilised. The numbering of these vehicles was on a regional basis, with a 0 followed by a number to indicate the location. 02xxxx was for vehicles based on the London Midland region, 04xxxx for the Eastern, 06xxxx for the Western, 08xxxx for the Southern and 095xxx for Scotland. Application of the numbers was always somewhat varied, and many continued to show their original stock number. Use of this series has declined over the years and only a couple of hundred now remain nationwide. Most of the regional series started at 0x0001 but there were some exceptions. In Scotland, there were parallel 096xxx and 097xxx number ranges, while the Western also numbered vehicles as 064xxx, 068xxx and 070xxx. There were many instances of vehicles gaining incorrect or duplicated numbers.

As mentioned, few additions have been made to the internal user series in recent years. The highest known allocations to each range were 025045, 042245, 061231, 083671 and 096061.

It should be noted that many other companies had fleets of wagons for internal use, often being ones acquired from BR. Examples include British Steel works and NCB collieries. It is not intended to cover these wagons on this site, although mention may be made to examples in relevant profiles.

Apart from the air-braked series, all railway-owned wagons had a prefix to their numbers. The vast majority carried a B, while examples of pre-nationalisation wagons (prefixed E, M, P, S or W) lasted for many years. Wagons built for departmental use were generally prefixed DB and it made sense that wagons transferring from the revenue fleet would be similarly treated. There were therefore wagons prefixed DE, DM, DP, DS and DW.

When wagons in the air-braked series started transferring to departmental use there was a slight change. In all other cases, the D prefix was not adjacent to the number (i.e. there was another letter in between to indicate the wagon's origins). To allow this pattern to continue, an additional letter was added to the prefix, C being chosen apparently as it was next in line from B! Therefore, when OBA 110001 was recoded as a ZDA, it was reprefixed as DC110001. It strikes me that A would have been a better choice as it would have the additional meaning of air-braked!

In addition to the D prefix, wagons used by a department other than the civil engineers had an additional pre-prefix! A, K and L were the most common but a full list is shown on the right.

As already noted, on-track plant numbered in the CEPS series carried DR or DX prefixes, with additional letters at either end as appropriate. All other prefixes were for private owner wagons and a full list of these can be found here.
PrefixDepartmentSample Number
AMechanical & Electrical EngineerADB998537
BBritish Rail TelecommunicationsBDC950416
CBREL (British Rail Engineering Ltd) (works)CDM360337
KSignal & Telegraph EngineerKDC201003
LMechanical & Electrical Engineer, Electrification UnitLDB970851
PShipping & International servicesPDB460078
TTraffic (eg shunters match wagons)TDB745628
ZPublic Affairs and Publicity

These letters were also applied to DR-prefixed on-track plant (mainly cranes) where appropriate, often with another letter at the end of the prefix to indicate the manufacturer. For example, ADRC96701 was a crane used by the CM&EE and built by Cowans. A full list of known codes is shown below.

BBritish Rail
CCowans Sheldon/Cowans Boyd
HHap Cranes
MMarshall Fleming
PPlasser and Theurer
RRansome and Rapier
TTaylor and Hubbard

Renumbering of wagons seems to have been a fairly rare event up until the 1970s, with very few reported cases. However, it then became very fashionable. Two early examples of renumbering were the various vacuum-braked wagon types rebuilt with air-brakes and renumbered in the appropriate series (eg BDAs and VEAs), and mineral wagons that were rebodied (including MDVs, MEOs and HTO/HTV hoppers).
More text to follow.
Text to follow

Recent developments
Text to follow Text to follow

Page added: 01/10/2007 Spotted an error? Got some additional info?
Please e-mail me at tom (at)
Last edited: 29/01/2015