Switch List using Bar codes

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

On my railway I use waybills with car card pockets. Each card car has a bar code sticker on the rear of the pocket with a unique code on it. These codes are scanned by a cheap ‘bar code scanner’ and the data is populated to the excel switch list.

Filling out Operational paperwork, in particular ‘Switch lists’ can be time consuming and cumbersome. I have devised a bar coding system to make this task less time consuming and easy. There is a little set up at the front end, but once you have set up your codes it is plan sailing.

This system is an excel spread sheet based where by the core data is entered. A special macro has been written that produces the bar codes which are then printed on Avery mailing stickers or A4 sheets.

Bar Code Scanner

The first generation of this program does not like having spaces between words or numbers. The way around this, I use a dash between the car type and number and looks as follows: I only use the last 3 digits of the road number for my barcodes. This can be changed to suit. Example: Tank car, with number 56504. Tank-504.

Obviously, you can use more characters but this means you may need to use a larger sticker or downsize the font. The stickers I use are Avery J8160 measuring 65.5mm x 38.1mm (2.61 inches x 1.5 inches). The font used is Code 128. As I found out you can-not use just the font to make your bar codes, hence macro that has been made.

Bar Code Sticker

As stated it takes a little time to add all your cars to the spread sheet to make up the inventory. From experience a little work in the front end saves a myriad time in the back end when filling out switch lists.

The easiest way to print the labels is to set up a mail merge from Excel to a Word Document. I have added a good link on how I went about doing this.


For my Switch lists, I don’t only list identification marks for the rolling stock. I also put place names, commodities, industries, CLIC or ZIP codes etc. into the excel inventory. What this does is creates these entities as a bar code. Some may not like the length of these codes, but I print these onto an A4 sheet and laminate it. I group all the industry and drop locations for a given area, industry or town. They are then just scanned across onto the switch list.

The switch list itself can be tailored in a myriad of ways. You can either use the ones I have designed or alter them or totally disregard my switch lists. The system is not dependant on the design of these. As long as you use excel for your Switch lists. The inventory portion of the spread sheet needs to stay as is. The macro working as intended is dependent on particular excel cells having code written into them.

Printed Switch list

Compiling the switch list

Filling out the switch list is very easy. Once you have the excel spread sheet open on the PC/Mac you click the mouse on column 001-Car #Type. Then you just scan all of the bar codes on the rear of the Car Cards. As you scan a new bar code, the cursor will automatically goes to the next line 002, 003 and 003 etc. My switch list only goes up to 012, but you can have as many positions as needed. Next click the mouse on the Consignee box, 001 position. As discussed above, I make Consignee bar

codes that I print onto an A4 sheet I then laminate it. These are then scanned as per what is on the waybill for that given piece of rolling stock. The example above is Barham Co-Op 06-02. You keep scanning the bar codes for all the freight wagons in your rake, until they are all completed.

Consignee List

The last step of the process is to scan the Commodities for each wagon. I have developed these as outlined above. They are scanned in the same was as previous discussed. I have listed them alphabetically on the A4 sheet, so they are easy to find.

Commodities Bar Code List

Print the Switch list and you are done.

As discussed there is a bit of work to prepare the inventory and switch lists, but scanning the barcodes only takes a matter of 60 seconds to scan an entire train.

If you have any queries send me an email. If you would like a copy, small fee, let me know.


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