The Global Language of Business
  1. Home
  2. Industries
  3. Technical Industries
  4. Rail
  5. Rail FAQs

Rail Industry FAQs


GS1 is a neutral, not-for-profit organisation that provides industry-independent global standards for efficient processes between companies. The GS1 standard is supported by over 116 GS1 organisations worldwide.


  • Legal entities, functional units or locations: GLN
  • Specific functional units or locations (e.g. Read Points): SGLN
  • New parts, private brands, serialised: SGTIN
  • New parts, contract manufacturing, serialised: SGTIN or GIAI from the customer/brand owner
  • New parts, not serialised: GTIN
  • Existing parts with existing SGTIN or GIAI, continued use of identification number
  • Existing parts without GS1 ID, parts to be labelled afterwards: GIAI
  • Existing parts contract processing, parts to be labelled afterwards: GIAI from the customer

Parts to be subsequently labelled by the rail operators during maintenance/reconditioning can only be provided with a GIAI (the GTIN is assigned by the supplier and not by the rail operator). If parts to be reconditioned already have a SGTIN or GIAI, this is to be used, as data on the previous use is already stored.

The current, not globally unique, internal material numbers and the GTINs will often exist in parallel, because the complete internal changeover to GTIN will still take some time at the companies. The most common procedure is to map the internal numbers with a GTIN each.

Examples of such internal material numbers:

  • A2V from Siemens

The company/manufacturer registers with GS1 and is assigned a Global Company Pefix (GCP). Based on this GCP, the companies independently allocate further GS1 IDs, such as GTIN or GIAI. The fees for the use of the GS1 system are determined by the respective local GS1 organisation and depend on the turnover and the number capacity.

The GTIN or GIAI is managed/generated by the owner (manufacturer, rail operator) of the associated Global Company Prefix (GCP), which is assigned by a national GS1 organisation. 

Ideally, all process-relevant objects should be labelled according to the GS1 standard. However, the focus is first of all on the parts that are relevant for serialisation/batch management and safety.


In Europe, the EVN (European Vehicle Number) is encoded in the GIAI. Structure of the GIAI: GCP + side indicator + EVN. The implementation corresponds to TSI CR WAG:2006 and EN 13775-1:2003.

Ideally, the GTIN should be assigned and labelled by the manufacturer and the GIAI by the rail operator. The GTIN labelling also includes outer packaging and delivery documents. In justified exceptional cases (to be agreed bilaterally), the manufacturer may also use the GIAI.

Capture (GS1 DataMatrix, EPC/RFID, GS1-128)

  • GS1 DataMatrix, EPC/RFID, GS1-128
  • Which data carrier to use depends on the application/environmental conditions
  • Direct Part Marking: GS1 DataMatrix
  • Adverse environmental conditions/outdoor area: EPC/RFID (UHF) + GS1 DataMatrix as Backup
  • Protected environment (e.g. behind a hatch): GS1 DataMatrix (GS1-128)


  • Bogie: EPC/RFID + GS1 DataMatrix
  • Wheelset: EPC/RFID + GS1 DataMatrix

EPC/RFID (optional: GS1 DataMatrix as Backup)

Mandatory is the GTIN (01), SGTIN [= GTIN + serial number - (01)+(21)] or GIAI (8004) to identify the object, all other/additional data elements/AI are optional (less is more).

Data Element = GS1 Application Identifier (AI) + Data Field [General Specifications (GS) 3.1]; GS1 Application Identifiers are a two to four digit number at the beginning of a data element to define the subsequent data fields. In the case of serialised products, the SGTIN or the GIAI should be sufficient in the future to obtain further information in associated databases by serving as an access key.

The GS1 Standard does not specify a mandatory order of the data elements. The sequence of data elements is at the discretion of the person composing the data string. The GS1 identification numbers GTIN and GIAI should come before the other data elements [GS 3.1]. Since the serial number associated with the GTIN must be processed together with it [GS 3.5.2 ], the serial number should be encoded after the GTIN.

Data Element = GS1 Application Identifier (AI) + Data Field [GS 3.1]; GS1 Application Identifiers are a two to four digit number at the beginning of a data element to define the subsequent data fields. The readers always read the data in the encoded sequence, the decoding software resolves the data string according to the GS1 Application Identifier concept into the respective data elements and the associated contents.

Examples, Human Readible Interpretation (HRI):

  • (01)+(21)
  • (01)+(21)+(10)
  • (01)+(21)+(10)+(240)
  • (01)+(10)

The HRI is the information in the direct proximity of the GS1 data carrier (GS1 DataMatrix, GS1 EPC/RFID Tag) and represents the user data encoded in the data carrier and application identifiers 1:1. In the HRI, Application Identifiers are highlighted in round brackets for better interpretation by humans.

The brackets must not encoded in the GS1 data carrier. The HRI serves as a backup for the information encoded on the data carrier. Data Element = GS1 Application Identifier (AI) + Data Field [GS 3.1].

GS1 DataMatrix: Good to know

  • For permanent marking of materials, parts, components, e.g. by lasering, engraving, etching, etc.
  • Data content: usually GTIN (01) + serial number (21) or GIAI (8004)
  • As backup for EPC/RFID applications

GS1 DataMatrix uses the Reed-Solomon ECC 200 (ECC = Error Checking and Correction) correction algorithm that enables recognition of barcodes that are up to 60% damaged. Users can not define error correction levels in GS1 DataMatrix. It is automatic.

While there are several different versions of Data Matrix that may be used by companies, GS1 has decided to use a version called Data Matrix ECC 200 together with the use of the Function 1 character to denote that these symbols encode GS1-compliant data structures. The name of the only version that the GS1 System uses is GS1 DataMatrix.

Yes, as the specifications allow for this symbol to be printed in both square and rectangular formats.

The choice will be made on the basis of the size of the symbol required, scanning environment and the space available on the object.

Yes. The GS1 version of Data Matrix, GS1 DataMatrix, always requires the use of the Function 1 (FNC1), both as the first character in the data string and as a data separator after any non-predefined length element strings. As separator, also <GS> is allowed.

Yes, as the application must be able to process data defined by the GS1 Application Identifiers. If a scanning system is not able to handle the GS1 defined data, it will not be able to extract the data it needs from any GS1 symbol presented to it.

The HRI SHOULD be printed below the symbol, if possible. In case of space restrictions, HRI can be printed above or besides the symol. In any case, the connection between HRI and the GS1 Data Matrix Code should be clear. For further info see GS 4.15.

Yes, image scanners can read the GS1 DataMatrix symbol whichever way you present it to the reader.

Yes, GS1 DataMatrix is covered by an ISO standard, ISO/IEC 16022 - Information technology - Automatic identification and data capture techniques - Data Matrix bar code symbology specification.

GS1 DataMatrix must encode, at a minimum, a Function 1 character (FNC1) and a GS1 Identification Key with its associated Application Identifier (AI). For example a GTIN with AI (01) or a GIAI with AI (8004).

​GS1 DataMatrix symbols must be read by a two-dimensional imaging scanner or vision system.

  • Space-saving, square and rectangular 2D symbology
  • Suitable for almost all printing processes
  • Use of Application Identifier (AI)
  • Use of FNC1 as first character and data separator
  • Readability in 360 degree orientation
  • Numeric & alphanumeric character sets
  • Readability even with low contrasts
  • Data security: Reed Solomon
  • Maximum number of data: 3116 digits, 2335 characters
  • GS1 DataMatrix requires a Quiet Zone of on module on each side
  • QR Code can encode web adresses (URL). These can be structured (e. g. GS1 Digital Link) or unstructured URLs
  • GS1 DataMatrix includes structured data like GTIN and serial number according Application Identifier rules

EPC/RFID: Good to know

The Electronic Product Code (EPC) is an identification scheme for universally identifying physical objects (e.g., trade items, assets and locations) via RFID tags and other data capture techniques. An EPC always relates to a serialised item.

EPCs have multiple representations, including binary forms suitable for use on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, and URI forms such as used in EPCIS suitable for data sharing among enterprise information systems.

GS1's EPC Tag Data Standard (TDS) specifies the data format of the EPC and provides encodings for numbering schemes within an EPC.

Radio frequency identification - RFID - is a technology that uses radio frequency electromagnetic fields or waves to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. An RFID system consists of RFID tags and readers. When triggered by a radio frequency electromagnetic interrogation signal from a nearby RFID reader, the RFID tag transmits digital data, usually a unique identifier like an EPC, back to the reader.

Low Frequency (LF) RFID

  • LF RFID systems operate at 125 kHz and 134 kHz. This frequency band provides a short read range of 10 to 50 cm, and has slower read speed than the higher frequencies, but is not very sensitive to radio wave interference.

High-Frequency (HF) RFID

  • Most HF RFID systems operate at 13.56 MHz with read ranges between 10 cm and 1 m. HF systems experience moderate sensitivity to interference. HF RFID is commonly used for ticketing, payment, and data transfer applications.

Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) RFID

  • Passive UHF RFID systems comply with the GS1/EPC Gen2 and ISO/IEC 18000-63 standards and use the 860 to 930 MHz band. These RFID systems are also known as RAIN RFID. UHF allows for bulk reading and reading at distances up to 10 meters (depending on the environment) and is mainly used for fast asset identification, inventory and tracking. At the time being, GS1 standards do exist for UHF and HF tags.

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. It’s an RFID technology since it allows communication between a tag and a reader by means of radiofrequency waves. Even if all kind of RFID can work in near field (definition of near field is based on the radio wave structure), NFC is a special protocol based on HF (13,56 MHz) RFID standard. Therefore, the reading distance is below 10cm.

Optical labels can easily be ripped, scraped, peeled off, soiled or otherwise become illegible. damaged. If this happens, they must be reprinted, otherwise the label is no longer automatically readable. RFID tags can be applied with strong adhesives or screwed to the carrier and protected in special coatings, plastic coverings or casings in order to withstand harsh environmental conditions such as soiling, mechanical abrasion or rough handling. In such environments, RFID technology is often a better alternative than optical data carriers.

Active RFID tags have an integrated transmitting antenna and their own power source (typically a battery). The power source is used to run the microchip's circuitry and to actively generate electromagnetic waves for communication with a reader (the way a cell phone transmits signals to a base station). Due to their own power source, they can achieve greater reading distances.

Passive tags in general have no power source. They backscatter a radio signal sent by a reader to communicate and send information. In the process of reading/writing the information from/onto the tag they are provided with the necessary energy to exchange the data. Therefore these tags have a nearly infinite theoretical lifetime.

Up to some years ago, metallic environments were challenging for RFID. Metallic objects reflect and diffract electromagnetic waves making classical RFID tags inoperant. This is not the case today as many tag manufacturers now propose tags that are dedicated to operate on metal.

EPCIS (the Electronic Product Code Information Service) is a standard interface for accessing EPC-related information. EPC identifies individual objects, enabling companies to track them independently and collect real-time data about each, as well as store and act upon that information. EPCIS enables supply-chain partners to share and exchange information efficiently, providing a standard interface for trading partners.

GS1-128: Good to know

GS1-128 barcodes always contain a special non-data character known as the Function 1 (FNC1) character, which follows the start character of the barcode. It enables scanners and processing software to recognize GS1 symbols and process relevant data.

The GS1-128 barcode is made up as follows:


  • a leading Quiet Zone
  • a start character A, B or C
  • a Function 1 character (FNC1)
  • the data (Application Identifier + data field)
  • a symbol check character
  • a stop character
  • a leading Quiet Zone


  • GS1-128 symbols shall not be used for symbols that require more than 48 data characters
  • Not suitable for Direct Part Marking (DPM)

No. The brackets around the Application Identifiers in the Human Readable field are not encoded in a GS1-128 symbol. The brackets are only used in the human readable text under the barcode. The purpose is to differentiate the separate data elements


EPCIS is used in Rail for manufacturing and MRO processes as well as for rail vehicle visibility - see documentations:

  • Exchange of components/part lifecycle data in the rail industry
  • GS1 EPCIS for rail vehicle visibility application standard

EPCIS is a GS1 Standard for Visibility Data. EPCIS data consists of events, each of which is a record of something that happened to the object in the real world. EPCIS data is used to track and trace products, assets, documents, and other things as they move through a business process, especially a business process that spans multiple physical locations and multiple organizations. With the release 2.0 EPCIS also allows for providing information on the status of an object, such as temperature, shocks or other effects. An EPCIS event records what was involved in a business process step, when the event took place, where it took place, and in which business context that answers the question it occured (why).

Detailed information about EPCIS can be found here.

EPCIS is not an application. EPCIS is a standard that defines interfaces for representation and exchange of data. The EPCIS interface standards support applications, by specifying a data and communication format. The EPCIS standard provides what is necessary to share data, but does not provide application level functionality.

No. EPCIS can be used in combination with different data carriers (optical and RFID).

The EPCIS standard provides interface specifications for a capture and query interface.

Yes. The standard is defined as a common way to express occurrences in the physical world. Because the EPCIS standard only defines interfaces, not implementations, the specification itself does not constrain implementations in any way that would affect scalability.

The EPCIS Workbench is a free, interactive tool for working with the GS1 Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard. You focus on the business context of EPCIS data instead of technical details.

You can get an account here, for free.

The Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) is an Internet-based product data pool. GDSN data synchronization enables companies to exchange standardized product data with their trading partners. In a nutshell, GDSN is one of the methods trading partners use to “speak the same language” about product data.

GDSN is used in Rail to enable a standardised data set and process for exchanging Material Master Data (MMD) in the rail industry. The GDSN platform will digitise the way MMD is managed through an agreed, standardised approach to capturing and sharing critical data about the materials that flow through the rail supply chain.

  1. Manage Material Master Data such as GTINs (barcode numbers), descriptions and other information in a single, secure, accessible location;
  2. Share data electronically across the industry in real time​​;
  3. Load data once and share with multiple operators;
  4. Maintain a high level of data quality through automated validation - avoiding duplication, errors and discrepancies​​​;
  5. Synchronise item data as a foundation for Electronic Procurement process.​​

GDSN is an industry service that helps manufacturers and suppliers enter, validate, maintain and share all their Material Master Data with their customers. It provides a single source of truth repository applicable across all categories, including orderable spare parts & components​.​ Your product content in the GS1 GDSN network will follow the GS1 Global Data Model standard, helping to create a seamless data exchange experience across every channel.

More info about how GS1 GDSN works,here.

Required product attributes, and definitions of those attributes, can vary greatly by rail manufacturer, operator and maintainer and region. This creates confusion at the supply chain level, and additional costs and complexity for businesses. In collaboration with industry, GS1 has facilitated a global effort to address data inconsistencies, particularly in a consumer-focused model.

The GS1 Attribute Definitions for Business (ADB) standard provides simplified, business-friendly names, definitions, examples and usage statements for each of the products attributes within the GS1 Global Data Model to help data senders get their content right.

Project iTRACE in Australia is an initiative undertaken by the Australasian Railways Association, the Australian Rail Sector and GS1 Australia. The National Product Catalogue (or NPC) is the local GDSN platform.

See an example here.

  1. Publishers own their data; they control access to and maintenance of their data over time;
  2. Recipients subscribe to and choose to accept Publishers’ data; they will facilitate synchronisation with supplier (publisher) data. Once subscribed, notifications/alerts to ongoing updates will ensure up to date information;
  3. Data synchronisation via GDSN platform enables the sharing and updating of quality, standardised data between suppliers and their customers. This data is ready for use to be loaded into business systems that require information about physical items (parts, components and assets) used in the daily operations of suppliers, maintainers and rail operators​;
  4. The NPC is NOT a trading platform – commercial transactions between parties occur in other enterprise/business systems that require good quality data​.