Today: why the locomotives lost their “E” and their “V”.
After having graduated from high school, I started studying mathematics and computer science at THM (Technische Hochschule München – today: TUM Technische Universität München) in 1969. Computer science was a totally new subject and this was the first year it was taught. You could only take it as a minor subject. Consequently, I take the year 1969 as the official start of my “informatics” career and that means I can celebrate fifty years of personal digitalization.
However, this was only the official start. Because I had concerned myself with computer science a lot earlier than that. And I do not mean the time when I learned to read and write, although the invention of the written language is doubtless also an informatics topic. The written word made it possible to save ideas, stories and other content “digitally”. Consequently, it is informatics.
What I mean when I am talking my first contact with informatics happened when I read a children’s book. It was probably one of the “Famous Five” stories by Enid Blyton. It was always about some villains who eventually were caught by a group of children/adolescents. And in one of the books the villains were smugglers who communicated with their team of smugglers on an island through Morse signals.
So Morse symbols (Morse-Zeichen) were the first code I learned when I was still very young. From the informatics aspect, the Morse code is something special, because it does not have a fixed word length. These days, whenever I give a presentation about codes, I often start with this so pragmatic Morse code.
Playing with model railways (with my Märklin model), I also learned a lot. My father designed a control panel for my model railway. It had two plywood boards, four screws and nuts from the “Stabilo set“. It also had a distributor with three exits, four electrical outlets and one lever. This must have been before 1960.
With this control panel, you could, for instance, transfer electricity to one of the three (1, 2 and 3 in separate circles) tracks at a railway station. Simultaneously, you could switch on and off the light in the station (today, they do it with IOT). There was even a glitch we used as a feature: if the levers were not precisely arranged, you even had electricity for two tracks! Of course only for 1 and 2 or 2 and 3.
My father had designed this for me because he felt that the Märklin panels were too expensive. I also only had manually worked switch points, rather than electronic ones. Well, this limited my automation drive, but nevertheless, you could do work on a few informatics gadgets.
As early as 1962, I founded a Pfiff-Club (Pfiff-Club) with some friends. We tried lots of informatics things. And we also did some true automation on a shared model. There was also a DB newspaper with exciting topics that the Club got every other month from the Deutsche Bundesbahn. It was always very eagerly anticipated.
There are several other digital things I learned from my father. He worked at the Deutsche Bundesbahn and brought the old graphic time tables (of Swabia and Bavaria) home. They were meant to be used up as note paper (also for cutting patterns for dresses to be made) – but for me, these unique drawings of train routes, along with the actual time tables, became very exciting reading material. It was absolutely informatics.
Even better were the technological DB magazines (I forgot the titles and unfortunately none of them is still available to me) my father brought home from work, I think four times each year. It was a little like “Pfiff-Club for grown-ups”. For me, it was exciting to read because it said many things about the real railway management.
It was about new railway control centres and new switch yards, and always about future technologies. About new locomotives and railway cars. In each of the magazines, you could find a particularly important topic as a highlight. I remember the opening of the as-the-crow-flies-line (that must have been around 1963), Roll-In-/Roll-Out Ferries, new sleeping compartments, the attempt at creating twin vehicles that could move both on the street and on railway tracks, new signalling and security systems and much more that definitely had an informatics background.
And in one instalment of the magazine, they celebrated the introduction of the new data processing technology at the Deutsche Bundesbahn. Let me explain:
In Germany, they used to have only state-wide railways. Some of them had their own locomotives. The Bavarian S3/6, one of which can still be admired at the Deutsches Museum, is a famous example. With the merging of the state railways to become the Deutsche Reichsbahn, there came a uniformity. The purpose of this merging had been to make the entire system more efficient through higher numbers.
Since the beginning of the railway was the steam locomotive, they noticed that the categorization would have to be between types 0 and 99. They called these types model ranges. Famous model ranges are, for instance, the 01 and the 03 (both are express train locomotives), the 10 (incidentally, that was the old Bavarian S3/6) and the 50 (a locomotive for freight trains). To the best of my knowledge, the last steam construction that actually took up work was the BR 10, but it did not work long.
With the advent of other drive systems, they put initial letters before the names. Electric locomotives received an E and the combustion motor (diesel) was given a V in front of the number. That meant the E-locomotives were now called E10 or E18 (fast train), E44 (passenger train) or E63 (switch engine) and the Diesel locomotives were now called V200 (multiple purpose locomotive) or V60 (switch locomotive). Other vehicle types were the VT (diesel railcar), the ET (electro railcar) and ETA (electro railcar with accumulator) – and more.
AND THEN THEY INVENTED DATA PROCESSING …
The species were something like CLASSES and the individual locomotives were the OBJECTS of a class. As with all huge technological devices, each OBJECT of a CLASS had its individual distinctive features that became more as time went by. In this system, the classes were described by the first two letters, then came – with a space that we today would call “blanc” – the object classification. That was the number of the individual locomotive, mostly in the same sequence as they were built. With most of the produced units, this number was a three-digit number, if the type was very successful, you occasionally got four digits.
Various BWs and BAs were assigned to the locomotives (objects). This is where they were serviced and maintained. This information was (incrementally) documented with tags on the locomotives, the same went for technological specialties as, for instance, for the compartment temperature or the compensating air (that kept the tyres away from the brakes through air pressure).
One significant difference between individual (steam) engines of a series was, for example, how they were lighted – with coal or oil. Naturally, this was quite a determining factor for the use, because a steam engine that was powered with oil could not make use of coal. If you were a member of the Pfiff-Club and spying out locomotives, you would be able to recognize the type from a long distance. Consequently, I am not sure if the lighting of a locomotive was also documented with a tag. For me, it was self-explanatory.
And there was a central register for all locomotives. In my imagination, this is a very big collection of very thick file folders. One for each locomotives – and they become thicker and thicker with time. All those data were to be transferred to electronic data processing.
And thus, there came a day when the magazine’s highlight was the information that, with the introduction of electronic data processing, the “number tags“ on the locomotives were no longer to have letters but numbers instead. Now all the locomotives got new number tags – and the old tags became well-loved collector pieces for the Pfiff-Club and other railway friends.
The number was probably the key to the locomotive in the then perhaps still sequential database. I think that must have been around 1965 – and even then, I found it rather annoying that electronic data processing (informatics) could not process letters.
? And this is how the E10 became the 110 and the V200 became the 320. What a pity.
(Translated by EG)
After my learning years at Siemens, I had the chance to be part of the team that wrote the proposal for an X25 network based on a separate BASA cable network of the Deutsche Bundesbahn at the Munich Bundesbahnzentralamt (BZA). That must have been in the early 1980ies and it was a really great project. However, the end was not really glorious. … (but I will write more on that at another time)