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  • [an error occurred while processing this directive]
    Lettering of German freight wagons

    Author: Martin Silz, Essen, Germany

    Lettering of wagons and coaches is always fascinating.
    A secret language, only known to experts. Only known to experts?
    There are many books, describing the different meanings of the letterings. Especially for German freight cars I advice to have a look at

        Anstrich und Bezeichnungen von Güterwagen
        Das äußere Erscheinungsbild deutscher Güterwagen von 1864 bis heute
        by: Wolfgang Diener
        Abend Verlag, Stuttgart 1992
        ISBN: 3-926243-11-2

    Good advice?
    Not really.
    The book is written in German, which might be difficult to understand for most of the readers here. Even more, there is quite some history in this book, things understandable only to those, who have been into German history a bit. Another problem: the book is out of print.

    So I will start with a short series of descriptions of the lettering of freight cars. Perhaps I will give some introduction into the lettering of coaches and locos later.

    Let's start with freight cars from era 3. The time before and after that will be covered in later editions.
    Let me first give a warning. Letterings of waggons change from time to time. You can see at small details, a dot here, a grid there, that the waggon was photographed after a special day, or before a special year. To give all these tiny details would surely be beyond the scope of such an article here. For full details I recommand to have a look at Diener's book.

    Let's step back in time.
    Somewhen in the early 1960s. A railway station somewhere in Germany. A large hopper is standing in front of us, flaps at the top. We are walking along, gazing at the inscriptions.

    At the upper part of the waggon next to the ladder there is a flash sign. Quite easy to understand, isn't it: Pay attention. Life wires come in reach. Don't get to close to the catenary.
    But the other signs are more obscure. Let's explain them, starting left, ending at the right side of the waggon.

    click to enlarge the picture

    At the very left edge and at the right edge, too, there are the so called Bremsecken. John already explained them on his page "What do the white squares and trapezoids mean on the corners of goods wagons?". These are signs to tell, what kind of breaking equipment is fitted to the waggon. This is important, because the driver has to know,

    • how fast the breaks will start to work,
    • how long it needs to release them,
    • whether it's possible to release breaks partialy
    • etc...

    Next there is a whole column of different inscriptions. At the top there is the Lastgrenzenraster, a table which tells, how much load can be put to the waggon. The letters at the top of the table refer to different track classes. Basically A stands for tracks, that allow 16t per axle, B for 18t per axle and C for 20t per axle. Nowadays there is also a D for 22.5t per axle.
    The letters may be followed by numbers like B1 or C3. These refer to different loads per unit length of the waggon.
    The load given underneath the letters are normally rounded to full 100kg, often to full tons or full 500kg.
    There might not be a single row of loads underneath the letters, there may be more. In these cases there will be either a s or an ss in the first column. These loads must be observed if the waggon is to run either 100km/h (s) or 120km/h(ss).

    Underneath the grid there is an inscription: 75m³. This gives the total volume of the waggon.

    Next we have: LüP 11,5m. LüP stand for Länge über Puffer. So the waggon has a total length from the tip of one buffer to the tip of the buffer at the other end of 11.5m.

    Then there is once again a small table. The upper part of this table gives the empty weight of the waggon. The lower line, normally written in red, gives the breaking weight of the hand brake.

    Next we have a black and white shackered field. This is a flap, which can be opened to put a sheet of paper in it. This sheet of paper tells: where this waggon will go, where it started, who sent the waggon, who will receive it, what is the load, how much load is in it etc. This flap is only covered by a wire network, so the sheet of paper is not really protected, but this works very fine.

    The black field next to this flap is for chalk inscriptions, e.g. in which train the waggon is to run.
    The small table at the lower edge of this black field is for short-term stickers, stickers, which are only used by the sender or the receiver of the waggon for his own use. Often you can read the inscription Nur für Übergangszettel (Only for temporary slips) on top of this table.

    Now we come to the "name" of the waggon.
    DB of course denotes the owner of the waggon: Deutsche Bundesbahn. When we have a privately owned waggon, the DB shows the railway administration, who registered the waggon.
    Next we have a 6digit number, the number of the coach. If the first digit would be a 5, we would have a privately owned waggon. Let's stick to privartely owned waggons for a moment: In few cases we have 7 digits, the first two of them being 55. And a privately owned waggon will always have a P surrounded by a square at the end of the number.
    From the first or first two digits of the 6digit number you can tell the main type of the waggon. Here you might have a look at

        volume 1
        Gedeckte Güterwagen
        by: Stefan Carstens, Rudolf Ossig
        W.Tümmels, alba Publikationen, Nürnberg 1989
        ISBN: 3-921590-07-8, 3-87094-461-7
        (re-released in 2001 by miba Verlag)

    Then we have a lettering code. This code is described in detail by Viktor Schiffer. So I will not repeat this here.

    Slowly we have come to the right side of the waggon. First we see two arrows pointing at each other: →6,10m←.
    This gives the distance between the pivots of the bogies. If we would have a waggon without bogies, this inscription would give the distance between the outer axles.
    Then there is again a black field. Here one can (hardly) read Knorr Br.KE(G). This denotes the type of the break, a Knorr type break, sub type Knorr break with normalised usage (Einheitswirkung) for freight trains (Güterzüge).

    Next we see the letters RIV in a box. These letters indicate, that the waggon complies with the standards given by the Reglemento International de Vehiculi.

    Last not least a the lower right corner we have another table. REV stands for Revision (revised). The date at the right edge gives the day, when this inspection took place, here at the 1. July 1950 (strange: the first waggon of this type was delivered in 1954).

    At waggons, that have a visible frame, most of the inscriptions written on the box are repeated on the frame.

    Of course there will be more inscriptions on freight cars. And it has be written above, that the inscriptions may differ from period to period. But the basics of the descriptions given here are valid from the mids of the 1950s to the end of the 1960s. Even today the basics of the inscriptions haven't changed.

    To be continued.

    [ last updated 31st Dec 2003 ]