Whilst at Bakewell exhibition we noticed something we had not seen
before. It turned out to be a 1960's Diesel Brake Tender !
What a typically British idea ( I assume ? ). You have a fleet of
diesel loco's who's brakes can't cope with the workload so you design
and build a 'wagon' with a powerful set of brakes to correct the
I will be looking out for one of these on our next few visits to
railway open days.
They must have obstructed the drivers view somewhat but as I
understand it they were used primarily on slow coal trains.
They were an everyday sight on the line next to our school from the
withdrawal of steam until the Class 40's were released from mainline
passenger duties. A Class 40 was heavy enough to halt an unfitted coal train
without braking assistance.
It' s been my experience that the things I saw most often on the rail
network have been the last things to be produced in RTR form.
On my Guards course I asked about brake tenders, as they's not been
mentioned when dealing with brake force calculations. Our
instructor/Inspector confirmed that they were indeed obsolete,
and mentioned that they were not really a WR thing
(courtesy or Mr. Brunel's "Billiard Table"). Their original intended use
was to provide extra brake force when descending particular banks.
Normally these banks would be opetated on the "stop - appply hand
brakes- proceed - stop - let off handbrakes" principle which is
obviously somewhat cumbersome. Almost as soon as they were introduced
though, fitted heads started appearing (only a few fitted wagons would
match the brake force supplied by a tender) so their use was modified
to general purpose, often on high-speed (45 mph!!!) services. They were,
however, to some extent, redundant right from introduction. They did
however highlight how inefficient the brakes were/are on some diesels
- causing light engines to be only allowed to travel at 2/3 of line
speed (and even that could be a tad optimistic, as I found out when
going light from Tiverton to Exeter with a 33 once...) - I've no idea
if the same applied to steam.
I have become... comfortably numb
It was one of idosynchronies of railways in the UK that continuous
braking was not made mandatory for freight trains when it was made
mandatory for passenger trains. The private owners and the railways them
selves did not want the expense and British Railways was still building
unfitted wagons into the 1950's. The brake tenders were needed because
the light weight diesel locomotives did not have the brake force of the
heavier steam locomotives that they replaced, excepting the peaks and
the 40's. Interestingly the Q1 steamers on the Southern had the same
problem in the 1940's a very high power to weight ratio which meant they
had difficulty stopping the heaviest unfitted freight trains that they
You could also have interesting discussions about sticking with the
vacuum brake for so long.
It probably made sense at the time slow freight trains and relatively
short distances and inertia kept it going. It probably made more sense
in the US with longer distance freights than typical in the UK at the time.
In the UK, the actual running time of a goods train from A to Z was
a relatively small proportion of the total transit time. Most time
would be spend re-marshalling at B, C, D, etc en-route. Even in the
early 80's trains such as the Carlisle-Eastleigh spent more time
being shunted at Westbury that it did travelling from there to Eastleigh,
and if anything was for Sailsbury the ratio just got worse. Obviously
with the demise of wagon load and almost all freight now being block
trains travelling A to Z with no intermediate stops, speed/carrying
capacity have become the key factors.
I have become... comfortably numb
The reason for sticking with vacuum against air was largely cost- a steam
loco could provide a vacuum with a simple ejector with no moving parts,
whilst air-braking required a pump, and the payment of a licence fee to the
A large scale vacuum-fitting programme was instituted as part of the
Modernisation Plan of 1955. Most unfitted 'merchandise' wagons were
retro-fitted with vacuum gear, but when they came to start fitting mineral
wagons, a problem became apparent. Most of these wagons would, at some time,
encounter either a rotary tippler (used in industrial premises such as power
stations and steel works) or an end-tipper (as used in docks). Both types of
installation were found to be incompatible with the various cross-shafts of
'fitted' gear- 'incompatible' meaning 'ripped off' in some cases- and so a
large pool of unfitted wagons had to be retained, as BR were unable to
compel the owners of the installations to modify them. This situation lasted
into the 1980s for the anthracite export traffic from Swansea Docks.
As regards brake-force itself- part of the problem was that trains were
initially loaded for what the new diesels would pull, and not what they
would stop. I witnessed several runaways in the late sixties/early
seventies, as my bedroom overlooked the bottom part of the Llanelli and
Mynydd Mawr line- the continuous horn before they became visible was not
easily forgotten. For some reason, brake tenders never made it down there,
though after I left, I'm told that a short rake of redundant banana vans
were used as a fitted head.
My old boss started his career as a cleaner at Tunbridge Wells shed in the
1960s- being permanently short-handed in the south-east, he rapidly found
himself firing as a 'passed cleaner. They were meant only to work with a
fully- qualified driver, but on occasions he was sent out firing for a
'passed fireman'. They almost came to grief on one turn with a Q1 somewhere
in the Weald, working a heavy, largely unfitted freight- coming down-bank
towards a small station where the porter also worked as crossing keeper,
they saw the signals protecting the crossing were still on, and the gates
were shut against their train. Worse, their brake applications were
ineffective...The signalman was busy carrying out his platform duties, but
was alerted by the whistle- fortunately, he was able to run to the gates and
open, but not secure, them as the train passed through at something above
its normal speed. Over the next few days, they waited for a 'Form 1' to
arrive, but nothing did- when they next saw the 'bobby' in question, he
simply said 'what run-through?- you were a bit fast, I'll admit,..You owe me
a pint for the white paint to touch up the gate, though.'
He's full of them- still insists that the railway runs on tea and gossip,
so gives me a shout when he's on his way on night shift.
Another classic was finding himself on the outside of the van door when he
was a guard- he'd blown 'right away', and the driver had started to pull
off, when Tony realised the van door (which was on the other set to the one
he'd worked in on) was secured by a chain on the inside. He stood on the
footboard, clinging on to the door handle with one hand and reaching round
to try and release the chain with the other- just managed it before the
train went under a restricted-clearance bridge.
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