The following events were reported in "Computers Working On The Railroad," IBM News, June 24, 1966, p. 3.


At any given time, thousands of freight cars are standing and rolling on the 5,600 miles of track of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. (L&N). The cars are either filled with freight and rolling, and thus making money for the L&N, or they are empty, and not earning their keep.

Knowing where these cars are at all times and how to keep them producing revenue is a job for a crystal ball or an electronic data processing system. That's because the average freight car makes money for its owners only about 1¼ hours a day (or five percent of the time), a very low figure. The obvious way to increase profits is to increase the use of the freight car fleet. But in order to accomplish that, management must have a very accurate picture of where every freight car is -- and, for the L&N, that means tracking 58,000 such cars.

Now, in an industry showcase in 1966, IBM equipment has been harnessed to provide that detailed picture for the L&N in Louisville, Ky.

The L&N is no stranger to data processing. Along with most railroads, it was an early user of unit record (tabulating machine) equipment. Its first mechanical punched card machine [probably a Type 1], bought in 1914, is still lovingly preserved in the L&N headquarters less than a 100 feet from the computer complex.

Working for the railroad

Purchased in 1914 for $45, this key punch machine...

Purchased in 1914 for $45, this key punch machine...
Purchased in 1914 for $45, this key punch machine, used in the accounting department, was the L&N's first data processing machine. It was made by The Tabulating Machine Co., one of IBM's predecessor companies.

Says IBM's Sam Alward, an industry representative-transportation in the Data Processing Division's headquarters in White Plains, N.Y.: "We were handed a challenge in 1963 . . . in Louisville. It was, simply, to come up with a complete and economically justified car control system. We, the L&N and IBM study group, looked at the railroad and we designed a system and a schedule to best meet their needs."

And so on July 1, 1964, the L&N embarked on a five-year plan, at the end of which virtually every data-collecting function will be part of an online, real-time system.

Today, while awaiting delivery of two IBM System/360 Model 30s and one Model 50 , the L&N is busily humming along with its present equipment.

The heart of that installation is an IBM 1448 transmission control unit hooked up to a 1460 data processing system. Feeding information into the 1448/1460 is a network of IBM 1050 data communication system terminal units. In addition to the 1448/1460, the L&N is currently employing a 7010 computer.

Working for the railroad

Sam Alward (center) of IBM demonstrates the 1460 data processing system for Lisle W. Adkins (left)

Sam Alward (center) of IBM demonstrates the 1460 data processing system for Lisle W. Adkins (left)
Former L&N account representative Sam Alward (center) of IBM demonstrates the 1460 data processing system for Lisle W. Adkins (left), L&N vice president-accounting, and John E. Harmon, director of data processing for the railroad.

One of the primary functions of these machines is to keep the ubiquitous freight car rolling, filled with revenue-producing goods as much of the time as possible. The nerve ends of the L&N's systems are 67 IBM 1050s in yards and superintendents' offices, feeding constant information into the 1448/1460. For example, when a list of a freight train's cars is ready in a yard, the IBM 1050s feed it to Louisville, where the 1448/1460 sends it ahead to the next yard on the train's route. There, the local yard crew prepares for the train's arrival, knowing ahead of time what cars must be dropped off, which added, and which sent straight through.

Working for the railroad

 Frank Dale (left) and Field Manager Jack Hoover

 Frank Dale (left) and Field Manager Jack Hoover
IBM customer engineer Frank Dale (left) and Field Manager Jack
Hoover, go over a day's schedule in one of the L&N's switching yards.

At the same time, the train's make-up is transferred to a disk memory unit. From there, it is transferred to tape and entered into the 7010, the basis of the L&N's central files. These files are periodically tapped to provide management with the current data it needs: daily forecast of cars available, cars overdue for loading, cars arriving at home pool points; semimonthly pool and car performance; and monthly special equipment series performance records.

Working for the railroad

The L&N's modern computer center in Louisville.

The L&N's modern computer center in Louisville.
The L&N's modern computer center in Louisville.
The System/360 equipment now on order will carry out the functions of both the 1448/1460 system and the 7010 computer.

All of this, Sam Alward says, is "a good example of a railroad taking a phase of a longer-range program and making its implementation pay off." Kenneth Snyder, IBM advisory systems engineer at the Louisville office, gives one example of payoff: "Railroad officials estimate that with the help of computerized controls, they have at times been able to exceed a return of 200 percent on the L&N's special freight-carrying equipment."

By the time the five-year program ends in 1969, the railroad hopes to have a full online, real-time data collection system. That will put the L&N as far advanced from its first data processing machine as that Type 1 key punch was from a quill pen and ledger.