Cold War to Coal Trains

A lecture by Jonathan Aylen



Tuesday 9 April

Visitor Information




Free admission, no booking required. 

A public talk in partnership with Newcomen North East


TOPS, British Railways' first computer-based train operating system

TOPS was a computer system implemented by British Railways (BR) from 1973 to control its freight traffic.
It allowed BR to keep tabs on rolling stock across the network using IBM 370 mainframe computers in London.  A major step forward in the operation of railways in the UK, it was strongly influenced by Geordie managers.

The software originated as a system intended to give early warning of Soviet bomber attacks on the USA.  So TOPS was not so much ‘swords into ploughshares’ as ‘Cold War to Coal Trains’.

The research is a collaboration between Bob Gwynne, of the Railway Museum in York, and Jonathan Aylen to understand the history of computerisation on BR.  It shows how railways shaped society and their contribution to modern management.

Jonathan is President of the Newcomen Society and a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Manchester.