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Icons of Progress

The Optimization of Global Railways

IBM has been developing innovative technology for use in the railway industry since before it became IBM. In 1896, New York Central & Hudson River Railroad was the first to adopt the Hollerith system to audit freight accounts and compile statistics relating to freight traffic. This was actually the first business application of the Hollerith Machine. By 1928, when IBM Italy installed the system for Ferrovie dello Stato, nearly all of the railroads in the United States were using Hollerith tabulating machines, and railways in England, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico and other countries were beginning to realize the benefits of the system as well. The Hollerith Machine provided railways with a new, more efficient data management system using punched cards.

Asset management

IBM developed the Total Operating System (TOPS) for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the United States in the early 1960s. This system computerized all locomotive and railroad car data—maintenance history, allocation to division, depot and duty, status, location and much more. The data could be constantly updated by terminals located at the maintenance facilities. TOPS enabled the railroad to keep better track of its assets, and to utilize them more efficiently.

Beginning in 1969 in the United States, IBM implemented the Transportation Control System (TCS) at Missouri Pacific Railroad. This computer-based management information and control system provided pinpoint control of 400 trains moving 70,000 cars over the railway’s 12-state, 12,000-mile system. TCS provided more efficient and reliable freight transportation and distribution service, maximum utilization of equipment, reduced paperwork and better communication with customers.


In the early 1960s, IBM and American Airlines developed Sabre (Semi-Automated Business Research Environment), the first online reservation system. In 1991, Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français (SNCF) upgraded to a new computerized reservation system based on Sabre. This system, called RESARAIL 2000, enabled the French National Railways to manage reservations for the TGV, their high-speed rail service. At the time, the TGV covered southeast and southwest France, as well as bordering areas of Switzerland. Today, the network carries more than 90 million passengers per year, many of whom use RESARAIL to make their reservations.