Click on this image to see info on Epochs. Please note that Epoch V1 extends from 2005 until present or until another Epoch is created. Click on back to return here.


I-II: The change from many local railway companies ("Laenderbahnen") to one german "Reichsbahn".

II-III: War was over. New company "Deutsche Bundesbahn". Diesel and electric becoming important.

III-IV: UIC-numbering introduced. End of steam locos.

IV-V: Germany reunited. German railways reunited. Once again new color schemes.

by Peter Loeffler

Epoch 0. 1835 - 1875. (also called Epoch Ia)

The development of railways in the individual German States.
By the 1870s most major cities were connected by the rail network.

Epoch I. 1875 - 1920.

Following the Franco-Prussian war (1870) there was additional funding to expand the German rail system.
Prussia made strenuous efforts to unify the various railway administrations and standards.

Landerbahn notes:

The State railroads of Germany before 1920 were:

K.P.E.V. Koeniglich Preussische Eisenbahn-Verwaltung
K.Bay.Sts.B. Koeniglich Bayerische Staatseisenbahnen
K.Saechs.Sts.E.B. Koeniglich Saechsische Staatseisenbahnen
K.W.St.E. Koeniglich Wuerttembergische Staatseisenbahnen
Baden Grossherzoglich Badische Staatseisenbahnen
G.M.F.F.E. Grossherzoglich Mecklenburgische Friedrich-Franz Eisenbahn
Oldenburg Grossherzoglich Oldenburgische Eisenbahn
Pfaelz.B. Pfaelzbahn. (K.Bay.Sts.B. from 1909)
E.L. Reichseisenbahnen, Elsass-Lothringen. 1870-1918
Kgl.Mil.E. Koeniglich Preussische Militaereisenbahn
MITROPA "Mittel Europa" Sleeper and Restaurant Co. formed 1916

Koeniglich = Royal
Pfaelz. = Palatine
Staatseisenbahnen. = State Railroad
Grossherzoglich = Grand Duchy

Epoch II. 1920 - 1945/49.

- The Deutsche Reichsbahn was formed 1/4/1920 as a State department.
The (8) Eisenbahnen combined into two groups and operated as separate administrations within the Deutsche-Reichsbahn until 1925.
P.St.B. - Preussische Staats Bahn.
(Only K.P.E.V. stock was relettered to P.St.B.)
Bayern. - Gruppenverwaltung Bayern.

- The US "Dawes plan" of 1923 imposed reparation payments and independent status on the Deutsche Reichsbahn.

- The standard numbering plan for rolling stock was begun in 1923. This was revised in 1925.

- Act of 30/8/1924 implemented 11/10/1924 made Deutsche Reichsbahn-gesellschaft (D.R.G.) independent of Government.
"Deutsche Reichsbahn" normally spelled out fully. (no "G" or "gesellschaft")
This was the largest railway in the world.
(Route length / Rolling stock / Book value)

- Deutsche Reichs Post formed 1925, by amalgamating the Prussian Postal service with the Bavarian/Wuerttemberg/Baden service.

- Passenger 4th class eliminated 1928.

- Act amended 13/3/1930.

- State control returned 30/1/1937. Deutsche Reichsbahn. ( D R )
(Private railways such as LAG, LBE integrated.)

- During WW II. the railroads were operated by 3 different organisations, the "Deutsche Reichsbahn" for "greater" Germany, another for occupied neighbours, and the Wehrmacht for areas designated as being at war.

- 1945. The German railways were divided into 4 sectors under Allied military control. (French, British, Russian and USA sectors)

- The French and British sectors were quickly combined. (1946?)

Epoch III. 1949 - 1969.

- 7 Sept.1949. Hand-over of US and British/French control to civilian operation.

- Deutsche Bundesbahn formed by act 13/12/1951.
(Epoch IIIa.)

- Passenger 3rd class eliminated (1956?)
(Epoch IIIb.)

Epoch IV. 1970 - 1990.

- Computer renumbering from 1968-70.
End of D.B. steam locomotive usage 1977.
(Epoch IV.)

- Standardised green/blue liveries changed to more colourful liveries 1969.

- "IC 79". (InterCity) scheme of regular 200Km/hr connections between cities.
(sometimes called Epoch V.)

Epoch V. 1990 (1994) - 2005.

- East and West reunited 1990.
Co-operative operation quickly introduced.

- DBAG formed 1/4/1994 from DB and DR.

Epoch VI. 2005 to Present.

It is more logical in hindsight to date Epoch V as beginning in 1990 and to rename 1977-1989 as Epoch IVb.

1920 to 1923/25 and 1945 to 1949 remain between awkwardly between Epochs, depending on whether politics or appearance takes precedence.

by Greg Proctor

An engine with a type number and engine number.
Classification of German Locomotives

European engines are named and numbered in different ways. A German BR 42 engine signifies that it is a lok meant for heavy-goods consists while a Swiss Ae 8/14 signifies the maximum engine speed and the fact that it is an electric lok with 14 axles of 8 are traction or driving axles.

Consider the BR 42 designation for a DB engine. BR=Baureihe, the word meaning BUILDING SERIES. It was used mainly era 2, before WWII, in the DRG (not by local companies before that). In 1950 the DB was founded and started a new numbering system, but using mainly the same numbers. Many steamers just became a zero before the BR number. DB numbers are three digits, with the first meaning: 0=steamer, 1=electric lok, 2=diesel.

The Baureihe concept was introduced when standardizing the loks and became reality in the 1920s.

Any single Baureihe meant a specific type of loco (with only little variations when new decisions were made).

The DRG had a scheme:

BR 1 .. BR 19 = loks for high-speed express trains (BR 1, BR 3)
BR 20 .. BR 39 = loks for passenger trains,
BR 40 .. BR 49 = loks for heavy goods trains (example: BR 44)
BR 80 .. BR 89 = shunting loks etc.

This was for steam loks.

However, even loks of different BR's were designed to share common parts (boiler !) in the interest of easier maintenance.

When electric and diesel loks were introduced, they got an E (see E 18, E19; post-war E 03) and a "V" (= Verbrennung, "burning") as part of their BR identification.

Then came the "Triebwagen" (railcar) which got an additional "T": "ET" = Electric railcar, "VT" = Diesel railcar. "Beiwagen" (railcar wagons without engine) got a "B" instead, so "EB" and "VB".

Within each BR, the loks are numbered sequentially, originally using three digits.

When a major change was introduced, they might start a sub-BR (in print indicated by an exponent figure) which looks like a high serial number, leaving a huge gap. This often lead to a four-digit serial number.

The DB (and DR, East Germany) kept using the old scheme and its numbers. However, with the introduction of computers in the administration they wanted to get rid of the letters and transformed these into leading digits:

- an additional "0" for steam (so 001, 044, 050 etc.),
- a "1" replacing the "E": E 03 103,

- a "2" replacing the "V": V 60 260, V 200 220,

- a (new) "3" for "small loks" (the "Koef", some V 60 361) mostly in shunting service

- a "4" replacing the "ET" (hence some Berlin S-Bahn are BR 427, the ICEs are BR 401 .. 403),

- a "6" or "7" replacing the "VT" (BR 624, 628 current Diesel railcars, BR 798 the old red one)

- a "8" replacing the old "EB" and/or "VB".

An engine with a class number, an engine number and a control number.
Additional information:


ERA's IV and V trains have "control numbers" after the engine class number and the actual engine number. See the picture of the Class 111 above. It has the numbers 111 148-3. The 111 is the class, the 148 is the engine number and the 3 is the control number. It is usually preceded by a dash and is a single digit. The Class 111 engine pictured above has a control number of "3". It provides a computer check to ensure that the correctness of the train being handled.

To calculate this number you do the following:

  1. Begin at the right with the last digit of the engine number and working toward the left;

  2. Multiply this last number by 2 then the preceeding number by 1 then the number preceeding this number by 2 then the preceeding number by 1 then the number preceeding this by 2 then the first number by 1;

    The result is: 1 2 1 2 4 16

  3. Add the digits that result and if the result of a multiplication is a double digit number, i.e., 16, add the 1 and the 6;

    The result is: 1+2+1+2+4+1+6 = 17

  4. Subtract the resulting number from the next highest multiple of 10;

    The result is: 20 - 17 = 3

  5. The result, "3", is the control number for that engine.

The DR used the "1" and "2" with opposite meaning, so their "243" was an electric loco now being numbered "143", and their "13_" were Diesel loks now in the "23_" range (the "Taigatrommel").

It has become common to drop the "BR", so an ICE 1 is just a "401" etc.

Although the extra ++++ numbers show rather complex assignments to the BR 52, the 1st so-called 'War Locomotive' and BR 42, the 2nd 'War Locomotives', they were used.

Because of the forseeable transport crisis it was agreed in August 1942 to build 8000 of the BR 42 type, a number which was revised already in September 1942 to 5000. All major lok companies were involved and groups of numbers were assigned to the companies:

42 0001 - 0500 Henschel
42 0501 - 1000 Schwartzkopf
42 1001 - 1500 Schichau
42 1501 - 1800 Esslingen
42 1801 - 2300 Borsig
42 2301 - 2800 Floridsdorf (near Vienna)
42 2801 - 3300 Krauss-Maffei

In 1943, the BR 42 0001 and 0002 were delivered by Henschel, in January 1944 Schwartzkopf delivered BR 42 0501, in summer 1944 Floridsdorf delivered the BR 42 2637. Esslingen delivered 42 1501 - 1520 in 1944. By the end of the war in May 1945 843 loks had been built.

The numbers for the "Baureihe" had some meaning:

BR01 - BR19 steam locomotives with tender for express trains
BR20 - BR39 steam locomotives with tender for passenger trains
BR41 - BR59 steam locomotives with tender for freight trains
BR60 - BR79 steam tank locomotives for express and passenger trains
BR80 - BR96 steam tank locomotives for freight trains

This scheme was basically developed by the DRG between 1923 and 1925. Within a given "Baureihe" one could further differentiate by adding an index to it, i.e.,

BR03 two cylinder engine
BR03^10 three cylinder engine

This diagram of a working cylinder is from the excellent web-site of Klaus Krami. Click on the image below to go to that web-site.

Click on this image to see (in German only) how steam loks work. Click on back to return here.
Diese Funktionsstudie wurde mit dem relationalen CAD System ObjectD erstellt. © 1997 Klaus Kraml

Click on this image to see (in German only) terms about steam loks. Click on back to return here.

"BR" is for steam locomotives, whereas the "E" stands for electro locomotive.

For example:

BR03 E03
BR41 E41
BR80 E80

The old scheme for the "Baureihe" of locomotives was updated in 1968 by the Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB) with the advent of computerized numbers.

For example:


Old BR03 - New 003
Old BR41 - New 041


Old E41 - New 141
Old E03 - New 103

The new first digit tells what kind of loco is meant: 0 = steam, 1 = electric, 2 = internal combustion engine (incl. gas turbines), etc.

The BR 80 was taken out of service in 1965 so the number didn't appear in the new scheme any more (same with E80).

(Info taken from pocket books from "H.J.Obermayer").

The codes Bo-Bo and Co-Co refer to the wheel arrangement of the locomotive.

The axle arrangement of engines in Germany counts axles, not wheels as they do in the US. Powered axles are designated by capital letters: B = 2 axles (4 wheels), C = 3 axles (6 wheels), etc.

The 'o' means "individual drive" (motor + gear) as opposed to rod drive.

Officially, the "independent truck" is designated by an apostrophe: ' - An ' (apostrophe)

The difference to frame mounting lies in the BB: Four powered axles ...

- ... in the frame, with rods, are designated D

- ... in the frame, separate motors, are designated Do

- ... in two bogies, with rods, are designated B'B'

- ... in two bogies, separate motors, are designated Bo'Bo'

Non-powered axles are indicated by digits: 1, 2, ... again with the ' if they can move (turn with curve) with respect to the frame.

A four axle loco with two bogies, only one powered, with rods, would be 2'B' (or B'2' , depending on what is "front"). The DR / DRG had steam and Diesel railcars with this scheme in the 1920s.

If a bogie contains both kinds of axles, it is in parentheses: (A1A)'(A1A)' is a six-axle loco, grouped into two bogies, which each have a non-powered middle axle. (No invention - there is such a type.)

Officially: 2'C1' (non-powered bogie with two axles, three rod-coupled axles in the frame, one non-powered movable axle). This is a common axle scheme for steam engines, but there were also some early rod-coupled electric locos with the same scheme. So the axle scheme does not tell anything about the power source.

The first loco in Germany, "Adler" (1835): would be classified as 1A1 (one-A-one) because the non-powered axles are in the main frame, not movable.

A Pacific steam engine with 4 leading wheels, 6 powered wheels followed by 2 more trailing wheels is known in the US as a 4-6-2. In Germany it would be a 2C1.

Information found on tenders:

Tenders have information on them concerning their capacity to hold coal (kohle) and water (wasser). This information is given in cubic meters (m3) for Wasser and in tons (t) for Kohle, e.g., '34m3 Wasser' and '10t Kohle'.

Information supplied by:

Joerg Bruehe

John McVeigh

Lars Westerlind

Heinz Brockmann

Axel Hagel

Tom Orle

Greg Proctor's Home Page has a great deal of information about the classification of loks. Click on the titles below to visit this section of his home page. Be sure to visit the other sections as well. His home page is an excellent source of information about German trains, Märklin, and model railroading. Click on "Back" to return here.


Click here to go to Greg Proctor's home page.

You sometimes see a classification of German engines written 2'C1'h4v.(Click here for an explanation.) John Oxlade has assembled a very comprehensive home page filled with information on German Railways including an explanation of this method of identification. Also included are the history of German Railways, an explanation of Epochs, and a dictionary of German words associated with railroads.

The Bavarian electric engine for passenger service is an EP 3/6 but can also be described as 1'C2' which means a single small axle is in front and movable (1'), with three traction axles in the center and not movable (C) and a double axle in the rear which is also movable (2'). The smokestack is above the single axle, hence front. The loco has the letters "V" and "H" at the corners. In early years, "V" was used for "vorne" (= front) and "H" for "hinten" (= rear). Nowadays, "V" is replaced by "1" and "H" by "2". This is not to be confused with the "h" and the "v" in the first example above 2'C1'h4v. The "h" means that the engine is super-heated, the "4" means that it has four cyclinders and the "v" means that the expansion is not simple. See John Oxlade's dictionary (Click here for dictionary.) for a more detailed discussion of this.

Click here to go to John Oxlade's home page.
Click here to see the nomenclature of German loks by wheel configuration on Christoph Ozdoba's home page.
Are American loks classified by wheel arrangement?

Between 1830 and the 1950s, hundreds of American steam locomotive designs were created, each seeking to be bigger, better, faster, or more powerful than those before. In 1900, a New York Central mechanic named Frederick Whyte developed the modern system for classifying steam locomotives.

In the Whyte system, locomotives are designated by wheel arrangements, with the number of wheels on the lead truck, drive wheels, and trailing truck wheels separated by hyphens. Engines with the same wheel arrangements also shared many running characteristics and were assigned similar jobs. Most arrangements also received nicknames reflecting the first appearance of the designs.

For example, a 4-6-2 has four wheels behind the cowcatcher, six drivers, and two wheels under the firebox.

Why are loks called "Pacifics?

An early (1902) order of 4-6-2s was made for the Missouri Pacific railroad, and the type became known as the Pacific. Pacifics were smooth-riding at high speed and pulled most passenger trains until the 1930s.


An engine with a type number and engine number.
Classification of Swiss Locomotives

Originally, locomotives in Switzerland were given names (mostly cities and towns), allowing to distinguish them from each other. As the railroads became bigger and the number of engines in operation became larger, this was no longer a practical method. Already in 1859 the "schweizerische Centralbahn" and other Swiss private railroads developed a universal, practical classification system. The basic system was used until a few years ago when a new international valid system was introduced.

Classifications used in 1859:

A - Locomotives used for express passenger trains

B - Locomotives used for regular passenger trains

C - Locomotives used for freight trains

Later, in the year 1887, each one of these letters represented a certain maximum speed. Additional letters were added for locomotives used in the mountains and for shunting locomotives.

Increasing operational needs required that even more information about the locomotive type and its capabilities was included in the classification. The number of driving axles (not wheels) gave indication about the size and capabilities of the locomotive.

First Letter = maximum speed of the locomotive; for railcars = passenger compartment class

R - Locomotives and railcars with maximum speed over 110 km/h (Railcars: this letter precedes the letter for the passenger class)

A - Locomotives with maximum speed over 80 km/h or railcars with 1st Class passenger compartment.

B - Locomotives with maximum speed between 70km/h and 80km/h or railcars with 2nd Class passenger compartment

C - Locomotives with maximum speed of 65km/h

D - Locomotives with maximum speed of 50km/h, railcars with baggage compartment

E - Shunting locomotives or tank engines, whereby Eb = maximum speed of 75 km/h.

DZ - Railcars with baggage and mail compartment

T - Tractors

Second Letter = Type of operation

a - Battery operated locomotives
e - Electrical locomotives with pantograph
m - Locomotives using fuel burning engine
t - Pilot cars
- Steam locomotives with a tender (no special designation)

Third position = axle designation

Number preceding "/" = number of driving axles
Number after the "/" = total number of axles

Fourth position = type of construction

If multiple types of locomotives exist within the same series, Roman numerals ( I, II, III) are used to distinguish them from each other.

The following examples will demonstrate the use of the designation system:

The type Ae 4/7 is an electric locomotive (e) with a maximum speed of 100 km/h (A) and with a total of 7 axles, where 4 are driving axles.

The type BDe 4/4 is an electric (e) railcar with a 2nd Class passenger compartment (B) and a baggage compartment (D). The maximum speed is 100 km/h. Total 4 axles, all of them powered.

The RABDe12/12 is a multiple unit electric (e) commuter train, comprised of three cars. The maximum speed is 125km/h ( R ). The train holds 1st and 2nd Class passenger compartments (AB) as well as a baggage compartment (D). All 12 axles are powered which give it an impressive acceleration.

The Bm6/6 is a diesel-electric (m) shunting locomotive with a top speed of 75km/h (B), a total of 6 axles, all of them powered.

The Re 4/4 II is a multipurpose electric locomotive with a maximum speed of 140km/h ( R ). This is the second type of Re 4/4 locomotive built for the SBB. The first series, the Re 4/4 I, first introduced in 1946 with a maximum speed of 125km/h, was primarily used to pull light express trains.

The A 3/5 is a steam locomotive with a maximum speed of 100km/h. A total of 5 axles (without the tender), 3 of them powered.

And finally a Tem is a tractor, capable of running under electric power as well as by a diesel engine where no caternary is provided.

In addition to the classification, each locomotive is given a consecutive number. With the numbering system used by the SBB, the expert easily can identify the type of locomotive. For example the locomotives of the series Ae have the numbers from 10201 to 12000, the Be series the numbers from 12001 to 14 000, the Ce series the numbers 14001 to 15000.

Today, this old classification system is no longer practical. As more and more locomotive types are built with the same basic configuration (today mostly four axles locomotives with a maximum speed over 110km/h) every one would be classified as an Re 4/4 type and separating them from each other becomes increasingly difficult.

To reduce the time consuming locomotive changes at the borders, more and more locomotives and railcars are now crossing the borders into neighboring countries, some without even stopping. These are reasons why a new international numbering system has been introduced a few years ago.

New locomotives being put into service receive the new classification (e.g. Re 460) and older locomotives are reclassified when they receive a major overhaul. Some of the oldest locomotives and railcars still in service but with a limited lifetime will probably not be reclassified.

Information supplied by:
Bruno Walser Merrimack, NH

An SSB 460 with a type number, engine number, and control number. Note the one lamp is lit on the right side looking toward the lok. This is the rear lamp configuration for SBB loks.