Research Output
The British Rail Total Operations Processing System And the Birth of Telematics
  Contemporary mobility is almost universally supported by telecommunications networks and computing facilities known collectively as telematics. This has allowed closer integration of freight logistics into supply chains, and supported the growth of the on-demand economy. From a passenger perspective it has allowed real-time journey tracking, planning and re-planning in response to disruption. We examine the design and implementation of the British Rail (BR) Total Operations Processing System and make the case that it pioneered the field of Telematics. When introduced in 1971 TOPS was the first computer system that created a digital model of a complex transportation network, updated in real-time, supporting operation and management activities. Although based on an earlier IBM system, BR expanded TOPS and implemented it into a scenario that was significantly more complex than previous usage in the USA. We argue that the fundamental principles that underpin contemporary telematics systems were established through TOPS.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    25 April 2024

  • Publication Status:

    In Press

  • DOI:


  • ISSN:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Urquhart, N. (in press). The British Rail Total Operations Processing System And the Birth of Telematics. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing,



Rail Transportation, Telematics, Communication, Vehicle Routing, Logistics

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