British Rail locomotive and multiple unit numbering and classification

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A number of different numbering and classification schemes were used for locomotives and multiple units operated by British Railways (BR), and this page explains the principal systems. This section also covers the post-privatisation period, as the broad numbering and classification arrangements have not altered since the break-up of BR.

Locomotives and multiple units (the majority being self-propelled) have frequently had similar arrangements for classification and numbering, so are considered together here. There are also links to other pages that deal in greater depth with the particulars of individual types.

Constituent companies[edit]

In 1948, BR inherited a variety of locomotives and multiple units from the 'Big Four' railway companies and some smaller concerns. Details of the numbering and classification systems used by the 'Big Four' companies are covered in the following pages:

In the main, new locomotives and multiple units built by BR to pre-nationalisation designs were numbered and classified according to the principles applied by the relevant 'Big Four' company.

1948 numbering and classification[edit]

Immediately after nationalisation, BR had to decide how to number and classify the stock it had inherited from the 'Big Four' companies, and how newly built stock would be included. In the main, it decided to simply adapt what was already there.


The classification systems of the 'Big Four' were left unchanged for the inherited locomotives. However, BR decided to adopt the LMS power classification system as its preferred model and all inherited locomotives received a classification in this series as well as their traditional classification.

In order to remove the duplications of locomotive numbers, all locomotives were placed into a new number series as follows:

Range Description Renumbering
1-9999 Ex-GWR steam locomotives Numbers unchanged
10000-19999 Diesel and gas turbine locomotives Without reference to previous number, except pioneer mainline locos LMS 10000/10001, whose numbers were unchanged
20000-29999 Electric locomotives SR CC1-3 to 20001-3, LNER 6000 to 26000, others without reference to previous number
30000-39999 Ex-SR steam locomotives (except Isle of Wight*) Addition of 30000, except: C1 etc. to 33xxx, 21C101 etc. to 34xxx, 21C1 etc. to 35xxx, 3xxx series renumbered without reference to previous number
40000-59999 Ex-LMS steam locomotives Addition of 40000, except 2xxxx series renumbered without reference to previous number into the 58xxx series
60000-69999 Ex-LNER steam locomotives Addition of 60000, except 10000 to 60700
70000-79999 BR-design tender steam locomotives New Build
80000-89999 BR-design tank steam locomotives New Build
90000-99999 BR & War Department large freight locomotives ex-War Department locos renumbered without reference to previous number

Note: *Isle of Wight locomotives retained their existing numbers in a separate series commencing at W1, and locomotives transferred to the island by BR were renumbered into that series - and vice versa for those returned to the mainland.

This approach meant that the numbering arrangements adopted by the pre-Nationalisation companies were retained in the new system, and new locomotives built to the designs of the old companies were numbered appropriately in their series. Locomotives inherited from smaller concerns were numbered in the most appropriate regional list, e.g. ex-East Kent Railway stock utilised blank numbers in the 3xxxx ex-SR series.

The new series for diesel, petrol, gas and electric locomotives were arranged as follows:

Range Description
10xxx Mainline diesel Locomotives
11xxx Diesel mechanical & diesel hydraulic shunters (British Railways orders)
12xxx Ex-LMS shunters 300 hp (224 kW) and over
13xxx Diesel electric shunters (British Railways orders) *
150xx Ex-LNER shunters
151xx Ex-GWR shunters
152xx Ex-SR shunters
18xxx Gas turbine locomotives
20xxx Ex-SR electric locomotives
26xxx Ex-LNER electric locomotives

Note: * Number 13000 was initially allocated to a 250 hp (186 kW) ex-LMS shunter, but this locomotive was withdrawn before being renumbered.

Modern traction[edit]

Numbering of electric multiple units was undertaken on a regional basis, with each region having its own series commencing from 001. Most diesel multiple units were not allocated unit numbers, though in later years numbers were allocated on a regional basis in the Scottish and Western regions, and by individual depots elsewhere. For more details on these series, see British Rail Regional Multiple Unit Numbering.

To classify electric stock, a two-letter prefix was used to indicate what type it was, followed by a number issued sequentially from 1. This was a system adapted from that used by the LNER for its electric stock (e.g. EM1, see here). The additional prefixes used were:

  • AL: AC electric locomotive
  • AM: AC electric multiple unit

The Eastern and North Eastern Regions used a series of different classifications for diesel locomotives. The first method was also adapted from the old LNER system, and applied only to diesel shunters operating on those regions. It comprised a prefix, indicating the transmission type and wheel arrangement, followed by a number allocated sequentially from 1. The prefixes used were:

  • DEJ: Diesel-electric, 0-6-0 wheel arrangement
  • DJ: Diesel-mechanical or hydraulic, 0-6-0 wheel arrangement
  • DY: Diesel-mechanical or hydraulic, 0-4-0 wheel arrangement

The second classification system was developed in 1955 and applied to all types then in existence on British Rail. It was based on the format Dx/y, where x was the power of the locomotive in hundreds of horsepower and y was a number allocated sequentially to specific types (e.g. D1/1 would be a shunter with a 100 to 199 hp (75 to 148 kW) rating, D33/1 would be a Type 5 locomotive). The series was extensively re-arranged in 1962 in a somewhat confusing way, but following the same basic principles.

The Southern Region followed existing numbering (for its multiple units) and classification systems (for both multiple units and locomotives) inherited from the SR. The EMU classification system (e.g. 4SUB, see here) system was also extended to include their diesel-electric multiple units, but with a single letter. Locomotives were given a two-letter code, with the second letter indicating detail differences within the main type. For instance, what were to become Class 33 locomotives from 1973, were Class KA or KB depending on whether they were the standard design or that fitted for push-pull working with 4TC units.

1957 numbering and classification[edit]

In the early period of British Railways, steam locomotion had continued to be of prime importance. Apart from a growing selection of diesel shunters, there had been almost no development of mainline diesel or electric traction beyond the few locomotives ordered by the 'Big Four' companies.

The 1955 Modernisation Plan heralded big changes in this situation, and from 1957 a new numbering system was used for diesel and electric locomotives ordered by British Railways, including those shunters ordered before 1957, which were renumbered into the new system. All steam and gas-turbine locomotives, and diesel and electric locomotives built to pre-nationalisation orders retained their existing numbers under the 1948 arrangements, though some had a 'D' or 'E' prefix added to their number in error.

Diesel locomotives[edit]

The numbering system matched up the new 'Type' classification that had been adopted for diesel traction, and which was based on the power of the locomotive. The broad categories were as follows:

Range Type Engine power
D1-D1999 Type 4 2000 to 2999 hp
D2000-D2999 Shunters Under 300 hp
D3000-D4999 Shunters 300 to 799 hp
D5000-D6499 Type 2 1001 to 1499 hp
D6500-D7999 Type 3 1500 to 1999 hp
D8000-D8999 Type 1 800 to 1000 hp
D9000-D9999 Type 5 Over 3000 hp

Of the shunters that were renumbered, the only transparent renumbering was for those that had been numbered in the 13xxx series, for which the '1' was simply replaced with a 'D'. All the others were completely renumbered to separate out the different classes.

As always, there were some oddities. The 650 hp diesel hydraulic locomotives later Class 14 were numbered from D9500 upwards. When the Type 2 series got too crowded later on, new Sulzer Type 2 locomotives (later British Rail Class 25) were numbered from D7500 upwards. Some experimental locomotives carried D0xxx numbers.

When the last mainline steam locomotive was withdrawn in August 1968 (leaving only three on the self-contained narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway), the 'D' prefix was dropped.

Electric locomotives[edit]

The numbering system was divided into two series, one for AC locomotives and one for DC locomotives. DC locomotives were numbered from E5000 upwards, and DC electro-diesel locomotives, with a diesel generator for working off electrified lines, were numbered from E6000 upwards.

For AC locomotives, the first number was to be an indication of power. For example, if the power was in the range 2000 to 2999 hp, it would be numbered between E2000-E2999, and so on. In fact, apart from E2001 (the prototype AC locomotive, converted from a gas turbine locomotive, later Class 80), all AC locomotives were numbered from E3001 upwards. When new 5000 hp locomotives were under construction (later Class 87), these were allocated numbers from E3201 upwards, though they never carried these numbers as the 1973 arrangements were already in place by the time the first one was built.

1973 numbering and classification - TOPS[edit]

At the end of the 1960s, British Railways adopted the Total Operations Processing System (TOPS), a computerised system developed by the Southern Pacific Railroad in the United States. All types of locomotive received a TOPS classification,[1] and multiple units were later included according to this broad division:

Class Allocation
(0)xx Locomotives and Ships (leading zero was ignored)
1xx Diesel-Mechanical (including hydraulic) Multiple Units
2xx Diesel-Electric Multiple Units
3xx AC and Multi-Voltage Electric Multiple Units
4xx Southern Region DC Electric Multiple Units
5xx Other DC Electric Multiple Units
9xx Departmental (non-revenue earning) Multiple Units

From late 1970, British Railways started to apply new numbers to locomotives and multiple units based on the TOPS classification system, the first classes to be dealt with being the LNER-design EM1 type (TOPS class 76) and the AL3 and AL4 types of AC electric locomotives (TOPS classes 83 and 84). The format of these numbers is xxxyyy, where xxx is the class number and yyy the unique identifier for that locomotive or unit. All locomotive classes have unique identifiers that commence at xx001, except classes 43 (High Speed Train power cars, originally classified as multiple-unit vehicles), 97 and 98 (departmental and steam locomotives). Multiple unit classes are treated differently, because an attempt has been made to give units working within the same region or sector unique identifiers (for more information see British Rail Regional Multiple Unit Numbering). In recent years, unit numbers have also been tied in with the numbers of the carriages within a unit (e.g. 150201 is formed of carriages 52201 and 57201). As a result, very few multiple unit classes commence from xxx001.

Where there are variations within a class, subclasses are used in the format xxx/y. When the main renumbering scheme was published in 1973, many sub-classes were redesignated to better align the locomotives to be numbered in that sub-class with the sub-class number. Thus, class 47 was originally divided into sub-classes 47/1 (locomotives fitted with steam-heating equipment), 47/2 (not fitted with train-heating equipment) and 47/3 (fitted with electric train-heating equipment), but in 1973 these sub-classes were redesignated 47/0, 47/3 and 47/4. Usually, the subclass is connected to the first digit of the unique identfier, so that the first locomotive in subclass 47/3 was 47301. However, some caution is required on this point for the following reasons:

  • Where there are more than 100 examples in a subclass the identifier becomes obscured, e.g. 31201 is in subclass 31/1, which runs from 31101 to 31327.
  • Some classes renumbered from the 1957 arrangements simply had consecutive numbers from xx001, which ignored the subclasses identified, e.g. 25033 was in subclass 25/1.
  • Where numbers within a class became congested, it wasn't always possible to make the connection, e.g. locomotives in subclass 47/2 were fitted with Green Circle multiple-working equipment but retained their original numbers. In other cases it wasn't possible to start from xxxy01, e.g. subclass 08/9 started from 08991 because subclass 08/0 ran from 08001 to 08958.
  • Because of the different arrangements for numbering multiple units (see above), subclasses may have no link to the unique identifier at all; this is especially true on the Southern Region. Sometimes, where there is a principal run of units and a small variant subclass, the majority will be subclass xxx/0 whatever their identifier, but the variant's subclass does reflect the identifier, e.g. Subclass 302/0 for the standard passenger units (302201-312) and 302/9 for the postal units (302990-302993).

So far as renumbering from the 1957 arrangements was concerned, most locomotives retained the last two digits of their number, though some classes were renumbered without reference to their previous numbers. This was usually where sub-classes had already been or were in the process of being created (for example Classes 45, 47 (as some members were being fitted with steam heating) and 86 (various modifications, mainly to the suspension). The other exception was the first locomotive of each class, which had usually carried Dxx00 numbers under the 1957 arrangements, since TOPS could not handle numbers ending in '000'. These were often renumbered to the end of the class (e.g. D400 became 50050), or took the number of another class member that had already been withdrawn (e.g. D5000 became 24005).

The situation was different for multiple units. Where unit numbers were carried, they were usually three-digit already. TOPS simply prefixed these existing unit numbers with the newly allocated TOPS class number. The process was more complicated on the Southern Region, which used four-digit unit numbers and where a more general unit renumbering was required so that the first number of the unit coincided with the last digit of the class number. Many diesel multiple units were not kept in regular formations, so did not have existing unit numbers, and this situation was not changed under TOPS (except following refurbishment).

The TOPS system has been perpetuated by the privatised railway, though the allocation of classes and numbers appears to have become more random and less governed by the rules followed by British Railways (but even they made exceptions). See British Carriage and Wagon Numbering and Classification for an explanation of how TOPS applied also to carriages and wagons.

Please Note: This section explains the successful application of TOPS to multiple unit stock, the arrangement that persists today. However, there was an earlier attempt to apply TOPS that differed from the arrangement set out below. More details about the first arrangement may be found here.


The series of locomotive classes were allocated according to the following pattern:

Class Allocation
01-69 Diesel locomotives (Excluding Class 70)
70-79 DC electric and electro-diesel locomotives
80-96 AC and multi-voltage electric locomotives
89 Heritage diesel and electric locomotives (second use of class)
97 Departmental (non-revenue earning) locomotives
98 Steam locomotives
99 Ships

The following table shows in more detail how the classification of diesel locomotives was overlaid on the 1957 classification by Type:

Class Type Horsepower Previous number range
01-07 Shunters Under 300 D2000-D2999
08-14 Shunters 300 – 799 D3000-D4999/D9500-D9999
15-20 Type 1 800 – 1000 D8000-D8999
21-32 Type 2 1001–1499 D5000-D6499/D7500-D7999
33-39 Type 3 1500–1999 D6500-D7499
40-54 Type 4 2000–2999 D1-D1999
55-69 Type 5 Over 3000 D9000-D9499

AC electric locomotive classes AL1 to AL6 became 81-86 in order.

Multiple units[edit]

The multiple unit series were divided up as follows:

Class Type
100-114 Diesel-Mechanical 'Low Density' passenger units (i.e. few doors per carriage) - mostly short (57'0") frame, but Class 114 are long
115-127 Mixture of 'High Density' (i.e. doors to every seating bay) and 'Cross-Country' (long distance) passenger units - long (63'6") frame
128-131 Parcels units - mostly long frame, but Class 129 are short
140-144 Second generation railbus (4-wheel) units ('Pacer')
150-199 Second generation bogie units ('Sprinter', 'Networker', 'Turbostar', 'Coradia')
200-207 Diesel-Electric First generation units
210-249 Second generation units
250-299 Express units
300-312 AC Electric First generation units
313-369 Second generation units
370-399 Express units (since the privatisation of British Rail, this series has included other second generation units)
920-935 Departmental units Southern Region departmental units
936-939 Other departmental electric multiple units
950-960 Other departmental diesel multiple units (since the privatisation of British Rail, this series has included electric multiple units)

AC electric multiple units AM1-AM11 became 301-311 in order (in fact the AM1 units had already been withdrawn, so Class 301 was never actually used). The 1xx and 2xx series were originally arranged so that driving motors, driving trailers and trailer cars all had their own individual class numbers (presumably because these units were more prone to being reformed), but this was subsequently revised so that each type of unit had a single class number, as allocated to the driving motor car.

Whereas within most ranges class numbers were allocated sequentially as new types were constructed, the Southern Region adopted a more complicated system for their electric multiple units, with the second and third digits indicating in more detail the type of unit. Second digits were allocated as follows:

Class Type
40x Southern Railway-designed units
41x 1950s British Railways-designed units
42x 1960s British Railways-designed units
43x 1967 Bournemouth Electrification units
44x 1970s British Railways-designed units
45x 1980s British Railways-designed units
46x 1990s Networker units
48x Underground ('Tube'-sized) units
(also temporary formations and, later, 'Gatwick Express' units)
49x Unpowered trailer units (later 4x8)

Third digits were allocated as follows:

Class Type
4x0 Express units with buffet (later 4x2)
4x1 Express units
4x3 Four-car outer-suburban units
4x4 Two-car outer-suburban units
4x5 Four-car inner-suburban units
4x6 Two/three-car inner-suburban units
4x7 Special purpose units (e.g. first 'Gatwick Express' units)
4x9 Single car units

Of course, many exceptions arose over time. One major change was to change the classification of unpowered trailer units from 49x numbers to 4x8 numbers (which involved reclassifying Class 491 to Class 438). When Southern Region unit numbers were changed to fit with the TOPS classification system, former 4x0 classes were all reclassified to 4x2. This was necessary because Southern Region units only displayed the last four digits of their six-digit TOPS number, and it was decided that no painted unit number should commence with a '0'. It is worth noting that despite only showing the last four digits, the actual number of the unit was still the six-digit TOPS number. This often causes confusion both to enthusiasts and those outside the field alike.

2011 numbering and classification alterations and extensions - TOPS[edit]

In September 2011, the UK Rail Safety and Standards Board issued Railway Group Standard GM/RT2453 (issue two),[2] which made some alterations to the TOPS classes allocated to various types of locomotive and multiple unit. This extended the number ranges for certain types of locomotive or multiple unit where there was otherwise a danger of available class numbers running out. The document also confirmed that British locomotives and passenger rolling stock operating on domestic routes only, need not display their full 12-digit European Vehicle Number.

The new locomotive number ranges allocated were:


Class Allocation
01-09 Diesel shunting locomotives
10-79 Diesel locomotives (this validated the use of Class 70 which was previously anomalous)
80-96 Electric locomotives
73 Existing electro-diesel locomotives
98 Heritage locomotives

Footnotes to the relevant table in the document stated that class numbers for electric shunting locomotives "shall be selected from the diesel shunting locomotive or the electric locomotive ranges". There was no mention of Class 97 or 99.

The new multiple unit / fixed formation set number ranges allocated were:

Multiple units / fixed formation sets[edit]

Class Allocation
100-199 Diesel mechanical / hydraulic multiple unit sets
200-299 Diesel-electric multiple unit sets
600-699 Diesel multiple units sets
400-599 d.c. electric multiple unit sets
300-399 a.c. and a.c. / d.c. electric multiple unit sets
700-799 a.c. and a.c. / d.c. electric multiple unit sets
800-899 High speed multiple unit / fixed formation sets
900-999 Infrastructure maintenance / non-passenger multiple unit / fixed formation sets

See also[edit]

For further information on individual classes of locomotive or multiple unit, see these pages:

Related pages on BR numbering and classification include:


  1. ^ Cooke, B.W.C., ed. (September 1968). "Reclassification of B.R. locomotives". Railway Magazine. Vol. 114 no. 809. London: Transport & Technical Publications. p. 565. 
  2. ^ [1], Railway Group Standard GM/RT2453 issue 2, September 2011.