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BRAKE. (1) A term for rough-tangled undergrowth, connected, according to the New English Dictionary, with "break," to separate. The "brake-fern" (Pteris aquilina) is the common "bracken," and is a shortened form of that northern Eng. word, derived from a Scand. word for "fern" (cf. Swed. bräken), though often confused with "brake," undergrowth. (2) A term applied to many implements and mechanical and other appliances, often spelled "break." Here there are probably several words, difficult to separate in origin, connected either with "break," to separate, and its derived meanings, or with the Fr. braquer (appearing in such expressions as braquer un canon, to turn or point a gun), from O. Fr. brac, modern bras, an arm, Lat. bracchium. The word is thus used of a toothed instrument for separating the fibre of flax and hemp; of the "break-rolls" employed in flour manufacture; of a heavy wheeled vehicle used for "breaking in" horses, and hence of a large carriage of the wagonette type; of an arm or lever, and so of the winch of a crossbow and of a pump handle, cf. "brake-pump"; of a curb or bridle for a horse; and of a mechanical appliance for checking the speed of moving vehicles, etc. It is noteworthy that the two last meanings are also possessed by the Fr. frein and the Ger. Bremse.

Brakes, in engineering, are instruments by means of which mechanical energy may be expended in overcoming friction. They are used for two main classes of purpose: (1) to limit or decrease the velocity of a moving body, or to bring it completely to rest; and (2) to measure directly the amount of frictional resistance between two bodies, or indirectly the amount of energy given out by a body or bodies in motion. Machines in which brakes are employed for purposes of the second class are commonly known as dynamometers (q.v.). The other class is exemplified in the brakes used on wheeled vehicles and on cranes, lifts, etc. Here a body, or system of bodies, originally at rest, has been set in motion and has received acceleration up to a certain velocity, the work which has been done in that acceleration being stored up as "actual energy" in the body itself. Before the body can be brought to rest it must part with this energy, expending it in overcoming some external resistance. If the energy be great in proportion to the usual resistance tending to stop the body, the motion will continue for a long time, or through a long distance, before the energy has been completely expended and the body brought to rest. But in certain cases considerations of safety or convenience require that this time or distance be greatly shortened, and this is done by artificially increasing the external resistance for the time being, by means of a brake.

A simple method of obtaining this increased resistance is by pressing a block or shoe of metal or wood against the rim of a moving wheel, or by tightening a flexible strap or band on a rotating pulley or drum. In wheeled road vehicles, a wheel may be prevented from rotating by a chain passed through its spokes and attached to the body of the vehicle, when the resistance is increased by the substitution of a rubbing for a rolling action; or the same effect may be produced by fixing a slipper or skid under the wheel. Other forms of brake depend, not on the friction between two solid bodies, but on the frictional resistance of a fluid, as in "fan" and "pump" brakes. Thus the motion of revolving blades may be opposed by the resistance of the air or of a liquid in which they are made to work, or the motion of a plunger fitting tightly in a cylinder filled with a fluid may be checked by the fluid being prevented from escape except through a narrow orifice. The fly used to regulate the speed of the striking train in a clock is an example of a fan brake, while a pump brake is utilized for controlling the recoil of guns and in the hydraulic buffers sometimes fitted at terminal railway stations to stop trains that enter at excessive speed. On electric tramcars a braking effect is sometimes obtained by arranging the connexions of the motors so that they act as generators driven by the moving car. In this way a counter-torque is exerted on the axles. The current produced is expended by some means, as by being made to operate some frictional braking device, or to magnetize iron shoes carried on the car just over, but clear of, the running rails, to which they are then magnetically attracted (see Traction).

The simplest way of applying a brake is by muscular force, exerted through a hand or foot lever or through a screw, by which the brake block is pressed against the rim of the wheel or the band brake tightened on its drum. This method is sufficient in the case of most road vehicles, and is largely used on railway vehicles. But the power thus available is limited, and becomes inadequate for heavy vehicles moving at high speeds. Moreover, on a train consisting of a number of vehicles, the hand brakes on each of which are independent of all others, either a brakesman must be carried on each, or a number of the brakes must be left unused, with consequent loss of stopping power; while even if there is a brakesman on every vehicle it is impossible to secure that all the brakes throughout the train are applied with the promptness that is necessary in case of emergency.

Considerations of this sort led to the development of power brakes for railway trains. Of these there are five main classes: -

Railway power brakes

(1) Mechanical brakes, worked by springs, friction wheels on the axle, chains wound on drums, or other mechanical devices, or by the force produced when, by reason of a sudden checking of the speed of the locomotive, the momentum of the cars causes pressure on the draw-bars or buffing devices. (2) Hydraulic brakes, worked by means of water forced through pipes into proper mechanism for transmitting its force to the brake-shoes. (3) Electric brakes. (4) Air and vacuum brakes, worked by compressed air or by air at atmospheric pressure operating on a vacuum. (5) Brakes worked by steam or water from the boiler of the engine, operating by means of a cylinder; the use of these is generally limited to the locomotive. Of this kind is the counter-pressure or water brake of L. le Chatelier. If the valve gear of a locomotive in motion be reversed and the steam regulator be left open, the cylinders act as compressors, pumping air from the exhaust pipe into the boiler against the steam pressure. A retarding effect is thus exercised, but at the cost of certain inconveniences due to the passage of hot air and cinders from the smoke box through the cylinders. To remedy these, le Chatelier arranged that a jet of hot water from the boiler should be delivered into the exhaust pipe, so that steam and not the hot flue gases should be pumped back.

Power brakes may be either continuous or independent - continuous if connected throughout the train and with the locomotive by pipes, wires, etc., as the compressed air, vacuum and electric brakes; independent if not so connected, as the buffer-brakes and hand-brakes. Continuous brakes may be divided into two other great classes - automatic and non-automatic. The former are so arranged that they are applied automatically on all the coaches of the train if any important part of the apparatus is broken, or the couplings between cars are ruptured; in an emergency they can be put on by the guard, or (in some cases) by a passenger. Non-automatic brakes can be applied only by the person (usually the engine-driver) to whom the management of them is given; they may become inoperative on all the coaches, and always on those which have become detached, if a coupling or other important and generally essential part is broken. Many mechanical and several hydraulic and electrical continuous brakes have been invented and tried; but experience has shown them so inadequate in practice that they have all practically disappeared, leaving the field to the air and the vacuum brakes. At first these were non-automatic, but in 1872 the automatic air-brake was invented by George Westinghouse, and the automatic vacuum-brake was developed a few years later.

Those respects in which non-automatic brakes are inadequate will be understood from the following summary of the requirements most important in a train-braking apparatus: (1) It must be capable of application to every wheel throughout the train. (2) It must be so prompt in action that the shortest possible time shall elapse between its first application and the moment when the full power can be exerted throughout the train. (3) It must be capable of being applied by the engine-driver or by any of the officials in charge of the train, either in concert or independently. (4) The motion of the train must be arrested in the shortest possible distance. (5) The failure of a vital part must declare itself by causing the brake to be applied and to remain applied until the cause of failure is removed. (6) The breaking of the train in two or more parts must cause immediate automatic application of the brakes on all the coaches. (7) When used in ordinary service stops it must be capable of gradual and uniform application (followed, if necessary, by a full emergency application at any part of the service application) and of prompt release under all conditions of application. (8) It must be simple in operation and construction, not liable to derangement, and inexpensive in maintenance.

Simple air-brake

The Westinghouse non-automatic or "straight" air-brake, patented in 1869, consists in its simplest form of a direct-acting, steam-driven air-pump, carried on the locomotive, which forces compressed air into a reservoir, usually placed under the foot-plate of the locomotive. From this reservoir a pipe is led through the engine cab, where it is fitted with a three-way cock, to the rear of the locomotive tender, where it terminates in a flexible hose, on the end of which is a coupling. The coaches are furnished with a similar pipe, having hose and coupling at each end, which communicates with one end of a cylinder containing a piston, to the rod of which the brake-rods and levers are connected. The application of the brakes is effected by the engine-driver turning the three-way cock, so that compressed air flows through the pipe and, acting against one side of the brake-cylinder piston, applies the brake-shoes to the wheels by the movement of this piston and the rods and levers connected to it. To release the brakes the three-way cock is turned to cut off communication between the main reservoir and the train-pipe, and to open a port permitting the escape of the compressed air in the train-pipe and brake-cylinders. This brake was soon found defective and inadequate in many ways. An appreciable time was required for the air to flow through the pipes from the locomotive to the car-cylinders, and this time increased quickly with the length of the trains. Still more objectionable, however, was the fact that on detached coaches the air-brakes could not be applied, the result being sometimes serious collisions between the front and rear portions of the train.

Fig. 1. - Westinghouse Air-Brake.
Section through Triple-Valve and Brake-Cylinder.

Automatic air-brake

In the Westinghouse "ordinary" automatic air-brake a main air reservoir on the engine is kept charged with compressed air at 80 lb per sq. in. by means of the steam-pump, which may be controlled by an automatic governor. On electric railways a pump, driven by an electric motor, is generally employed; but occasionally, on trains which run short distances, no pump is carried, the main reservoir being charged at the terminal points with sufficient compressed air for the journey. Conveniently placed to the driver's hand is the driver's valve, by means of which he controls the flow of air from the main reservoir to the train-pipe, or from the train-pipe to the atmosphere. A reducing-valve is attached to the driver's valve, and in the normal or running position of the latter reduces the pressure of the air flowing from the main reservoir to the train-pipe by 10 or 15 lb per sq. in. From the engine a train-pipe runs the whole length of the train, being rendered continuous between each vehicle and between the engine and the rest of the train by flexible hose couplings. Each vehicle is provided with a brake-cylinder H (fig. 1), containing a piston, the movement of which applies the brake blocks to the wheels, an "auxiliary air-reservoir" G, and an automatic "triple-valve" F. The auxiliary reservoir receives compressed air from the train-pipe and stores it for use in the brake-cylinder of its own vehicle, and both the auxiliary reservoir and the triple-valve are connected directly or indirectly with the train-pipe through the pipe E. The automatic action of the brake is due to the construction of the triple-valve, the principal parts of which are a piston and slide-valve, so arranged that the air in the auxiliary reservoir acts at all times on the side of the piston to which the slide-valve is attached, while the air in the train-pipe exerts its pressure on the opposite side. So long as the brakes are not in operation, the pressures in the train-pipe, triple-valve and auxiliary reservoir are all equal, and there is no compressed air in the brake-cylinder. But when, in order to apply the brake, the driver discharges air from the train-pipe, this equilibrium is destroyed, and the greater pressure in the auxiliary reservoir forces the triple-valve to a position which allows air from the auxiliary reservoir to pass directly into the brake-cylinder. This air forces out the piston of the brake-cylinder and applies the brakes, connexion being made with the brake-rigging at R. The purpose of the small groove n which establishes communication between the two sides of the piston when the brakes are off, is to prevent their unintended application through slight leakage from the train-pipe. To release the brakes, the driver, by moving the handle of his valve to the release position, admits air from the main reservoir to the train-pipe, the pressure in which thus becomes greater than that in the auxiliary reservoir; the piston and slide-valve of the triple-valve are thereby forced back to their normal position, the compressed air in the brake-cylinder is discharged, and the piston is brought back by the coiled spring, thus releasing the brakes. At the same time the auxiliary reservoir is recharged.

Quick-acting air-brake

With this "ordinary" brake, since an appreciable time is required for the reduction of pressure to travel along the train-pipe from the engine, the brakes are applied sensibly sooner at the front than at the end of the train, and with long trains this difference in the time of application becomes a matter of importance. The "quick-acting" brake was introduced to remedy this defect. For it the triple valve is provided with a supplementary mechanism, which, when the air pressure in the train-pipe is suddenly or violently reduced, opens a passage whereby air from the train-pipe is permitted to enter the brake-cylinder directly. The result is twofold: not only is the pressure from the auxiliary reservoir acting in the brake-cylinder reinforced by the pressure in the train-pipe, but the pressure in the train-pipe is reduced locally in every vehicle in extremely rapid succession instead of at the engine only, and in consequence all the brakes are applied almost simultaneously throughout the train. The same effect is produced should the train break in two, or a hose or any part of the train-pipe burst; but during ordinary or "service" stops the triple-valve acts exactly as in the ordinary brake, the quick-acting portion, that is, the vertical piston and valve seen in fig. 1, not coming into operation. When the handle Z is turned to the position X the quick-acting mechanism is rendered inoperative, and when it is at Y the brake on the vehicle concerned is wholly cut out of action.

A further improvement introduced in the Westinghouse brake in 1906 was designed to give quick action for service as well as emergency stops. In this the triple-valve is substantially the same as in the ordinary brake. The additional mechanism of the quick-acting portion is dispensed with, but instead, a small chamber, normally containing air at atmospheric pressure, is provided on each vehicle, and is so arranged that it is put into communication with the train-pipe by the first movement of the triple-valve. As soon, therefore, as the driver, by lowering the pressure in the train-pipe, causes the triple-valve in the foremost vehicle of the train to operate, a certain quantity of air rushes out of the train-pipe into the small chamber; a further local reduction in the pressure of the train-pipe in that vehicle is thereby effected, and this almost instantaneously actuates the triple-valve of the succeeding vehicle, and so on throughout the train. In this way, on a train 1800 ft. long, consisting of sixty 30-ft. vehicles, the brake-blocks may be applied, with equal force, on the last vehicle about 2 seconds later than on the first.

High-speed air-brake

Brake-blocks can be applied, without skidding the wheels, with greater pressure at high speeds than at low. Advantage is taken of this fact in the design of the Westinghouse "high-speed" brake, invented in 1894, which consists of attachments enabling the pressure in the train-pipe and reservoirs to be increased at the will of the driver. The increased pressure acting in the brake-cylinder increases in the same proportion the pressure of the brake-shoes against the wheels. Attached to the brake cylinder is a valve for automatically reducing the pressure therein proportionately to the reduction in speed, until the maximum pressure under which the brakes are operated in making ordinary stops is reached, when this valve closes and the maximum safe pressure for operating the brakes at ordinary speeds is retained until a stop is made.

Fig. 2 - Automatic Vacuum-Brake, showing its general arrangement.

Automatic Vacuum-Brake

In the automatic vacuum-brake, the exhausting apparatus generally consists of a combined large and small ejector (a form of jet-pump) worked by steam and under the control of the driver, though sometimes a mechanical air-pump, driven from the crosshead of the locomotive, is substituted for the small ejector. These ejectors, of which the small one is at work continuously while the large one is only employed when it is necessary to create vacuum quickly, e.g. to take off the brakes after a short stop, produce in the train-pipe a vacuum equal to about 20 in. of mercury, or in other words reduce the pressure within it to about one-third of an atmosphere. The train-pipe extends the whole length of the train and communicates under each vehicle with a cylinder, to the piston of which, by suitable rods and levers, the brake-shoes are connected. The communication between the train-pipe and the cylinder is controlled by a ball-valve, one form of which is shown in fig. 2. The release-valve is for the purpose of withdrawing the ball from its seat when it is necessary to take off the brakes by hand; it is made air-tight by a small diaphragm, the pressure of which, when there is vacuum in the pipe, pulls in the spindle and allows the ball to fall freely into its seat. When air is exhausted through the train-pipe it travels out from below the piston direct, and from above it past the ball, which is thus forced off its seat, to roll back again when the exhaustion is complete. In this state of affairs the piston is held in equilibrium and the brake-blocks are free of the wheels. To apply them, air is admitted to the train-pipe, either purposely by the guard or driver, or accidentally by the rupture of the train-pipe or coupling-hose between the vehicles. The air passes to the lower side of the piston, but is prevented from gaining access to the upper side by the ball-valve which blocks the passage; hence the pressure becomes different on the two sides of the piston, which in consequence is forced upwards and thus applies the brakes. They are released by the re-establishment of equilibrium (by the use of the large ejector if necessary); when this is done the piston falls and the brakes drop off. The general arrangement of the apparatus is shown in fig. 2. To render the application of the brakes nearly simultaneous throughout a long train, the valve in the guard's van is arranged to open automatically when the driver suddenly lets in air to the train-pipe. This valve has a small hole through its stem, and is secured at the top by a diaphragm to a small dome-like chamber, which is exhausted when a vacuum is created in the train-pipe. A gradual application destroys the vacuum in the chamber as quickly as in the pipe and the diaphragm remains unmoved; but with a sudden one the vacuum below the valve is destroyed more quickly, and with the difference of pressure the diaphragm lifts the valve and admits air. A rapid-acting valve (fig. 3) is sometimes interposed between the train-pipe and the cylinder on each vehicle. In the normal or running position, a vacuum is maintained below the valve A and above the diaphragm B, while the chamber below B and above A is at atmospheric pressure. For an emergency application of the brake, air is suddenly admitted to the train-pipe and thus to the lower side of A, and the pressure acting on the under side of B is sufficient to cause it to lift the valve A, and to admit air from the atmosphere, both to the brake-cylinder and the train-pipe, through the clappet-valve D, which also rises because of the difference of pressure on its two sides. In a graduated application, neither D nor A rises from its seat, but air from the train-pipe finds access to the brake-cylinder by passing around the peg C, which is so proportioned as to allow the necessary amount of air to enter the brake-cylinder, and so obtain simultaneous action of the brake throughout the train. When the handle E is turned so as to prevent the clappet D from rising, the rapid action is cut out and the brake acts as an ordinary vacuum automatic brake. A modification of the device for obtaining accelerated action, described above in connexion with the Westinghouse brake, is also applicable. Accelerating chambers, again containing air at atmospheric pressure, are provided on each vehicle and are connected with the train-pipe by valves which open as the vacuum in the latter begins to decrease with the operation of the driver's valve. The air thus admitted into the train-pipe effects a still further local reduction of the vacuum, which is sufficient to actuate the accelerating valve of each next succeeding vehicle and is thus rapidly propagated throughout the train.

Brake trials

Famous tests of railway brakes were those made by Sir Douglas Galton and Mr George Westinghouse on the London, Brighton and South Coast railway, in England, in 1878, and by a committee of the Master Car Builders' Association, near Burlington, Iowa, in 1886 and 1887. The object of the former series (for accounts of which see Proc. Inst. Mech. Eng., 1878, 1879) was to determine the co-efficient of friction between the brake-shoe and the wheel, and between the wheel and rail at different velocities when the wheels were revolving and when skidded, i.e. stopped in their rotation and caused to slide. These experiments were the first of their kind ever undertaken, and for many years their results furnished most of the trustworthy data obtainable on the friction of motion. It was found that the co-efficient of friction between cast-iron shoes and steel-tired wheels increased as the speed of the train decreased, varying from 0.111 at 55 m. an hour to 0.33 when the train was just moving. It also decreased with the time during which the brakes were applied; thus at 20 m. an hour the co-efficient was at the beginning 0.182, after ten seconds 0.133, after twenty seconds 0.099. Generally speaking, especially at moderate speeds, the decrease in the co-efficient of friction due to time is less than the increase due to decrease of speed, although when the time is long the reverse may be true. When the wheels are skidded the retardation of the train is always reduced; therefore, for the greatest braking effect, the pressures on the brake-shoes should never be sufficient to cause the wheels to slide on the rails. The Burlington brake tests were undertaken to determine the practicability of using power brakes on long and heavy freight trains. In the 1886 tests there were five competitors - three buffer-brakes, one compressed-air brake, and one vacuum-brake. The tests comprised stops with trains of twenty-five and fifty vehicles, at 20 and 40 m. an hour, on the level and on gradients of 1 in 100. They demonstrated that the buffer-brakes were inadequate for long trains, and that considerable improvements in the continuous brakes, both compressed-air and vacuum, would be needed to make them act quickly enough to avoid excessive shocks in the rear vehicles. In 1887 the trials of the year before were repeated by the same committee, and at the same place. Trains of fifty vehicles, about 2000 ft. long and fitted with each brake, were again provided, and there were again five competitors, but they all entered continuous brakes - three compressed-air brakes, one vacuum and one electric. The results of the first day's test of the train equipped with Westinghouse brakes are shown in Table I., the distances in which are the feet run by the train after the brakes were set, and the times the seconds that elapsed from the application of the brakes to full stop.

Fig. 3 - Rapid-acting Vacuum-Brake Valve.

Table I. - Stops of a Train of Fifty Empty Cars, 1887 - Automatic Air-Brakes.

Speed in
Miles per
Hour. Distance in
Feet. Time in
Seconds. Equivalent Distance
at 20 m. and 40.
19 186 9 196 · ·
19 215 11 233 · ·
36 588 17 · · 693

The remarkable shortness of these stops is the more evident when they are compared with the best results obtained in 1886, as shown in Table II.

Table II. - Stops of a Train of Fifty Empty Cars, 1886 - Automatic Air-Brakes.

Speed in
Miles. Distance in
Feet. Time in
Seconds. Equivalent Distance
at 20 m. and 40.
23.5 424 17 307 · ·
20.3 354 16 340 · ·
40 922 22 · · 922
40 927 22 · · 927

The time that elapsed between the application of the brakes on the engine and on the fiftieth vehicle was almost twice as great in 1886 as in 1887, being in the latter tests only five to six seconds, and in 1887 the stops were made in less than two-thirds the distance required in 1886. Still, violent shocks were caused by the rear vehicles running against those in front, before the brakes on the former were applied with sufficient force to hold them, and these shocks were so severe as to make the use of the brakes in practice impossible on long trains. When the triple-valves were actuated electrically, however, the stops were still further improved, as shown in Table III.

Table III. - Stops of a Train of Fifty Empty Cars - Electric Application of Air-Brakes.

Speed in
Miles. Distance in
Feet. Time in
Seconds. Equivalent Distance
at 20 m. and 40.
21 160 7 139 · ·
23 183 8 138 · ·
38 475 14 · · 519
36 460 14 · · 545

Although the same levers, shoes, rods and other connexions were used, there were no shocks in the fiftieth car of the train on any stop, whether on the level or on a gradient. The committee in charge reported that the best type of brake for long freight trains was one operated by air, in which the valves were actuated by electricity, but they expressed doubt of the practicability of using electricity on freight trains. The Westinghouse Company then proceeded to quicken the action of the triple-valve, operated by air only, so that stops with fifty-car trains could be made without shock, and without electrically operated valves; and they were so successful in this respect that, towards the end of the same year, 1887, with a train of fifty vehicles, stops were made without shock, fully equalling in quickness and shortness of distance run any that had been made at the trials by the electrically operated brakes.

In 1889 some further tests were made by Sir Douglas Galton with the automatic vacuum-brake, on a practically level portion of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire railway (now the Great Central). The train was composed of an engine, tender and forty carriages, the total length over buffers being 1464 ft., and the total weight 574 tons, of which 423 tons were braked. At a speed of about 32 m. an hour this train was brought to a standstill in twelve seconds after the application of the brakes, in a distance of 342 ft.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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