ÖBB Loco Numbering

ÖBB Loco Numbering

Making sense of Austrian class numbers

By Ernest H. Robl

People have asked me, both here and elsewhere, how the Austrian (primarily ÖBB) locomotive numbering scheme works. I thought I had written an overview Blog post about this subject before – but apparently not.

So, here’s the scheme that was adopted during the 1950s reorganization of the Austrian Federal Railways as Austria prepared to become and independent country again. (After WW II, Austria had been occupied by the Allies and divided in four zones, each of which was administered by a different country.) At that time Austria also formalized the name Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB), leaving behind the pre-war name Bundesbahnen Österreich – going from Federal Railways Austria to Austrian Federal Railways.


During WW II, the Austrian railways had been merged into the German Railways – and Austrian locomotives mostly given new class numbers to match the German numbering scheme.

After the war, Austria not only got back most of its pre-war locomotives but also ended up with some German locomotives which were left behind at the end of the war – and even some U.S. Army Transportation Corps locomotives.


Austria reclassified the heavy Co-Co German E94 electrics as its series 1020, one of the cases where the new Austrian number had nothing to do with the older German number.

To avoid having to renumber absolutely everything, and as steam locomotives were still the predominant form of power at that time, Austria decided on a scheme that, for the most part, did not require any renumbering of steam locomotives. In other cases, parts of the class numbers applied to electric locomotives by the Germans were merged into the new Austrian scheme.

By the 1950s, it was already clear that the future lay largely with electric traction, with diesel power being used on non-electrified branch lines and for some switching. Austria has abundant cheap hydro-electric power, with water coming down from its mountains. At the same time, it has never had much in the way of domestic coal or oil production, with the latter fuels having to be imported at considerable expense.

But, as the Austrian economy picked up after WW II, the ÖBB was struggling to keep up. It had limited financial resources – and most of those went to reconstruction of war-damaged lines, expanding electrification, and purchasing new electric locomotives. So, many steam locomotives that still had useful life in them lasted into the 1970s. (Austria even applied new boilers to many steam locomotives that were in otherwise good shape – a reason that many of these steam locomotives are still operable as preserved historic items.) However, by the 1970s, most remaining steam locomotives – with the exception of those on narrow gauge lines – were designated as reserve units and saw little actual use.


The basic Austrian classification system consists of a four digit class number followed by a three digit operating number. Initially these were written with a decimal point between the class and operating number.


An Austrian class 1042.5 switching at Semmering.  The loco has the Era 4 logo and number format, without a check digit.

In Era 5, a common European standard was introduced for applying locomotive numbers, with a space replacing the decimal point and the operating number being followed by a computer check digit.

In Era 6, another new European standard made the numbers longer by preceding the class number with country and ownership (railroad within a country) code. However, normally only the class and operating numbers are applied to the front of the locomotive. Some countries insist that locomotives from other countries that cross their borders conform to their numbering scheme. That’s why you will find some Austrian locomotives having two different numbers – the “official” Austrian one and that for another country.

The basics

The first digit of the class number indicates the type of equipment. The second digit is normally a zero, but can be used as a “relationship” indicator, for a major variation within a series. Minor variations were usually taken care of by having a new starting number in the operating number section, such as the 1042.5xx, locomotives, which were an improved version of the 1042.

0xxx Steam locomotives

1xxx Electric locomotives

2xxx Diesel locomotives

3xxx Steam railcar (obsolete)

4xxx Electric railcar (Triebwagen in German)

5xxx Diesel railcar (Triebwagen in German)

6xxx Driving trailer (cab control car for dedicated train sets)

7xxx Other (intermediate) trailers for dedicated train sets

8xxx (not used)

9xxx (not used)

Leading zeros are not normally written, so, technically a class 52 steam locomotive is actually a class 0052, and a class 152 (a variation of the class 52) is actually a class 0152.

In the above scheme, a railcar (Triebwagen in German) is a powered piece of equipment that not only provides tractive effort by also carries either passengers or baggage (or both). It is typically capable of MU operation with other units of its series and can pull one or more unpowered trailers.

Steam loco scheme (0xxx)

Remember that the leading zero(s) were not normally applied to the actual equipment. So, for steam locomotives, the following sub categories are provided:

0xx0-0xx39 Passenger tender locomotives

0×40-0×59 Freight tender locomotives

0×60-0×79 Passenger tank locomotives

0×80-0×96 Freight and mixed service tank locomotives

0×97 Rack locomotives, standard gauge

0×98-0×99 Narrow gauge locomotives


In the late 1970s, Austria was still using steam locomotives in normal revenue service on narrow gauge lines.  This class 399 loco fits into the 0×99 stem loco scheme.

Of course, during the post-war locomotive shortage, many locomotives that were officially designated for freight service (the class 50 and 52, for example) were also used in passenger service. And, today some of the preserved “freight” locomotives continue to be used in passenger excursion service.

Electric loco scheme (1xxx)

1×01-1×19 High-speed locomotives

1×20-1×39 Heavy freight locomotives

1×40-1×59 Mixed service locomotives

1×60-1×69 Shunters (switching locomotives)

1×70-1×89 Misc. older pre-WW II locomotives

1×90-1×99 Narrow gauge


18xx was intended for dual-system electric locomotives, able to operate off both AC and DC systems. However, as far as I know, it was used only a few times, most notably for the 1822 Brenner locomotives, described in another Blog. 1822 would, of course, designate these locos as multi-system freight locomotives — though they ended up being used primarily in passenger service

Diesel loco scheme (2xxx)

2×01-2×19 Passenger locomotives above 2000 hp

2×20-2×39 Freight locomotives above 2000 hp

2×40-2×59 Mixed service locomotives 1000-2000 hp

2×60-2×69 Shunters

2×70-2×89 Misc. older pre-WW II locos

2×90-2×99 Narrow Gauge locos

(For all practical purposes, all post-WW II diesels have been either mixed service or shunters.)

Railcar scheme (steam, electric, and diesel — 3xxx, 4xxx, and 5xxx)

xx01-xx19 High speed passenger

xx20-xx59 Passenger

xx60-xx79 Baggage and/or freight carrying

xx80-xx89 Railbuses (lightweight equipment)

xx90-xx99 Narrow gauge


A 6010 cab control car used at the end of the 4010 electric railcar sets.  The 4010 was classified as a Triebwagen, because the power car had a baggage compartment and office for the conductor.


The above information was compiled from several of my reference books.

It’s important to note that there are further subdivisions of some categories, such as for AC, DC, and multi-system electric locomotives and the number of axles of diesel locomotives (older three and four-axle locomotives with side-rod jackshaft drive). To keep this within reasonable length, I’ve left off the subdivisions for intermediate cars and driving trailers in dedicated train sets.

Of course, exceptions have been made for various reasons of convenience. The most recent include the use of 1016, 1116, and 1216 for the Siemens Taurus family of electric locomotives (The two latter ones are actually multi-system locomotives) and 2016 for the Siemens diesel locomotives that share many parts with the 1×16 electric locomotives. The 2016 locomotives are actually mixed service locomotives, used on both freight and passenger trains.

Some smaller Austrian railroads and private locomotive leasing companies follow the above scheme, usually putting their locomotives in the xxxx 9xx numbers for the same equipment used by the national railroad. The 9xx numbers within the class keep these numbers from conflicting with the numbers of the national system, as there will never likely be 900 locomotives of a particular class.


Why did the Austrians end up with so many locomotive classes during the second half of the 20th century? Because of both technical and political reasons. Technology, particularly for electric locomotives, was changing very quickly, so, often only a small number of locomotives were procured before technology offered something better for the next purchase.

Some locomotives produced in only small numbers served as test beds for new technology that was later incorporated into other following series.

At the same time, before European Union rules and market conditions dictated that equipment be purchased from the best available source, regardless of country, Austria tried to parcel out locomotive orders among its heavy industries. A good example of this can be found in the orders for the 2043 and 2143 diesel locomotives — essentially similar units produced by two different manufacturers with different diesel prim movers.


I hope that’s useful. Now you can look at how your favorite Austrian locomotives fit (or not) into the above scheme.


As always, comments are welcome.


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