Locomotive and Train Brakes

There are three types of brakes used in railway operations: the Air Brake, the Steam Brake and the Vacuum Brake.

Steam Brake (steam locomotives only): steam brakes are used only on steam locomotives and their tenders. Steam brakes use the steam from the locomotive’s boiler to generate the braking force that are applied to the wheels of the locomotive and tender.

Automatic Vacuum Brake (heritage trains only): developed in the UK in the second half of the 19th century, the automatic vacuum brake was widely used in the UK and in other countries that adopted British technology, until air brakes became the standard in the late 20th century.  Vacuum braking is still used on heritage railways in the UK and on some main line railway systems in Africa and India.

Dominic Wells has produced an excellent PowerPoint presentation that describes in great detail the operation of the train brakes.  The first part (pages 1 to 205) focuses on Vacuum Brake operation.

Air Brakes: the most widely used brake system is the air brake which uses compressed air to generate the necessary force to apply the brakes throughout the length of a train. Air brakes are universally used on modern railway rolling stock worldwide. The second part of Dominic Well’s presentation (pages 206 to 324) describes Air Brake operation.