Telegraph codes

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Telegraph codes were used to shorten the telegraphic messages sent between the stations and offices of the railway. They were commonly painted on the side of Goods Wagons.


In the mid-nineteenth century, single and double needle telegraph machines were introduced on railways. The primary purpose was to relay information on train workings for safety purposes, but they were also used to pass messages between the staff. Code words were used to replace complicated or regularly used phrases in these messages, for reasons of brevity and clarity.

By 1922 most railways has adopted common standard code words, however the GWRGreat Western Railway continued to use an extended list of codes within its own network until 1943 when all railways were brought into a common system.

GWRGreat Western Railway Telegraph Codes

The 1939 GWRGreat Western Railway Telegraph Code Book included the following introduction: To facilitate the transmission of Telegraph Messages, a code of Phrases in common use in telegrams sent on the Company’s business has been prepared, each phrase being represented by a distinctive word, and that word only to be sent instead of the complete phrase which it represents.[1]

Codes were used for all sorts of administrative matters, for example LIMA meant "can you spare a horse for a few days". However it is the codes used to describe types of carriage and wagon that are still used on the SVRSevern Valley Railway today. Some carriage and Brown Vehicle types and most wagon types were assigned telegraph codes, although engineers’ vehicles were usually not. Wagon codes often had a suffix letter added to distinguish variants within a particular type, eg LORIOT A, LORIOT B etc. Frequently the code would be painted on the wagon, although this was not done on the most common types such as OPEN and MINK.[1]

The following examples of rolling stock on the SVRSevern Valley Railway were assigned GWRGreat Western Railway telegraph codes:

Code Rolling stock type Examples Notes
CLAY China clay wagon 94059 Diagram O (Open wagons)
CONE Gunpowder van 58725 Diagram Z (Gunpowder vans)
CONFLAT Flat wagon for containers 39860 Diagram H (Flat wagons)
FRUIT Fruit van 2303, 2424, 2815, 3429, 3467 , 92080, 92090, 134290 Diagram Y (Fruit vans)
GANE Wagons 60841, 996730 (BRBritish Rail or British Railways) Diagram J (Rail and timber bolster wagons)
LORIOT Wagons 41990, 42138, 42272, 42343 Diagram G (Flat and well wagons for carrying road vehicles, covered vehicle trucks etc)
MACAW Bolster rail and timber wagon 107291 Diagram J (Rail and timber bolster wagons)
MICA Meat van 105873 Diagram X (Meat vans)
MINK Covered goods wagon 93016, 93045, 95353, 101961, 103592, 104621, 112889 Diagram V (Covered goods and grain wagons)
MOGO Covered goods van for one motor car 65801 Diagram G (Flat and well wagons for carrying road vehicles, covered vehicle trucks etc)
OPEN Open wagon 13154, 14428, 25190, 41277, 97398, 98480, 99965, 102691, 108085 Diagram O (Open wagons)
SIPHON Milk Van 1257, 2926 Coach Diagram O (Milk vans)
SNAKE Passenger Brake 261, 1145 Coach Diagram K (Brake vans)
TOAD 20 Ton brake van 17410, 68501 Diagram AA (Brake vans)
VANFIT Covered goods van 65620 Diagram V (Covered goods and grain wagons)

War Department telegraph codes

Code Rolling stock type Examples Notes
RECTANK Tank Carrier wagon WD 4607
PILLBOX Brake van (25 ton) WD 55577
WARWELL Well wagon (50 ton) WD 314153

BRBritish Rail or British Railways Era Telegraph Codes

Use of 'telegraph codes' to describe wagon types continued into the BRBritish Rail or British Railways era. Many BRBritish Rail or British Railways era Civil Engineering wagons were allocated ‘Fish’ codes. A more formal classification system was later adopted using TOPS codes, with both codes appearing on some wagons.

Examples of codes from this era are:

Code Rolling stock type Examples Notes
DOGFISH 24T Ballast hopper wagon 9836115
FLAT Flat wagon 906811 , 906825 , 906830
HERRING 20T Ballast hopper wagon HW 410, HW 411, HW 436 Also London Underground
MACKEREL 17T Ballast hopper wagon 992329
MERMAID 14T Ballast tipper wagon 989098
PARR Bogie rail wagon 967526, 967577
PRAWN 30T S&TSignals & Telegraph Bogie bolster 997623
RUDD 21T Ballast wagon 15 x RUDD wagons
SEACOW 40T Bogie ballast hopper 6 x SEACOW hoppers
SHARK 20T Ballast plough brake 993876, 993898
STARFISH 10T Ballast open wagon 80225
TUNNY 20T Ballast open wagon 991124
WELTROL Well trolley 900760, 901010

See also


  1. 1.01.1 Atkins, Beard & Tourret (2013) p. 9.