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Brake Vans and Brake Tenders

Break vans (this spelling was used until about 1870) appeared in the mid 1840's. The brake van served two purposes, it provided additional braking for 'unfitted' goods trains and put at man (the guard) at the rear of the train who could take action in the event of a breakdown or accident.

The early goods brake van was a heavily weighted wagon equipped with a hand operated brake acting on all four wheels. The guard was provided with a small hut on the wagon (hence the term 'van') but the open 'verandas' at one or both ends were not originally roofed in. Veranda roofs appeared in about 1870 and soon became the norm but on most vans the sides and ends of the verandas were left open. Not all vans had open verandas however, and some of those which did actually had closed ends, albeit equipped with windows. The examples shown have been chosen to illustrate a number of van designs.

The brakes on the van were normally controlled using a hand wheel which was usually mounted in the open vestibule. On some early designs the operating shaft was mounted on the outside end of the vehicle, as shown on the NSR van in the sketch.

To improve the guards visibility many vans were fitted with look-outs on the sides or roof, side look-outs (often called duckets) were the more common but the North Eastern Railway, Great Central Railway, London Brighton and South Coast Railway and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway all built some vans with a raised look-out at one end of the roof.

Fig ___ Brake Vans Sketches showingt various designs of brake van

To improve braking power some vans were built with six wheels and the Great Northern Railway built a few eight wheelers for the heavy coal trains feeding London from the North Eastern coal fields. These were the only rigid eight wheelers built in Britain but in the 1930's the London Midland & Scottish railway but three bogie vans for use on a particular branch line (where they replaced pairs of four wheeled vans) and the Southern Railway built some bogie brake vans on redundant electric locomotive chassis. The LMS vans had a central body similar to their standard van, complete with side duckets, but at each end there was a lengthened vestibule similar in appearance to those seen on GWR brake vans. The SR vans were designed for high speed operation rather than stopping power, they had a lengthened cabin similar in appearance to the Peco SR brake van kit body (including the sanding boxed on each end) mounted on a redundant electric locomotive chassis with two four wheeled bogies.

Fig ___ Great Northern Eight Wheel Brake Van Sketch of the GNR 8 wheel heavy brake van

Another way of improving the brake power was to add weight to the vehicle, typically by fitting a box under the chassis and filling this with scrap metal. Some companies experimented with metal sheeting added to the sides to increase, these were not common but I do know the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway also had some four wheeled vans clad in steel sheet metal.

The operational use of brake vans is more fully discussed in the section on Freight Operations, briefly they were attached to the tail of all goods trains until the 1970's, after which they were only used on unfitted or part-fitted trains. With increasing speeds on all air braked stock the existing vans were found to be unsuitable but as agreement had been reached with the unions on transferring the guard to the rear cab of the locomotive no new air braked vans were built. In 1985 the rail unions agreed to single man operation of some freight trains, the first time trains had not had a guard on board for over one hundred and fifty years. Brake vans were still required on trains carrying dangerous chemicals up to the late 1990's and there were quite a few still in service at that time.

Brake vans were a mixed bag and for a light railway you can get away with virtually any design you like. The models in the photograph were made using the body from a Peco SR brake van kit (I needed a chassis in a hurry and had to buy the brake van kit to get one). The outside framed van is inspired by a photograph in Peter Tatlow's book on LNER wagons (see Bibliography). It uses the body of the van with one veranda cut off, mounted on a shortened Peco wagon chassis with the outside framing added from plastic strip and veranda doors from scribe card. Its function on the layout was to accompany a rake of short end-door only wagons which ran from the colliery to the docks. The footboards used to extend to the ends of the body at the veranda end but after a couple of years being handled by youngsters they broke off and I haven't got round to replacing them. The larger van uses the left over veranda mated to the end of a cut down Peco 'standard van' body, mounted on a Peco ten foot wheelbase brake van chassis. This van has side doors, allowing it to be used to carry general goods on the line, several companies used such vans, usually calling them something like 'road vans'. Further details on this practice will be found in the section on Freight Operations. The livery is actually a darker red than appears in the photograph as the light used was not a daylight bulb.
Photo of two small brake vans in Fettling-on-sea to Tethers End Light Railway livery

Using the SR van meant that I had to cut 4mm lengths of Peco sleeper and use them to mount the couplings on the chassis before fitting the body. If making the side door brake van it is much easier to use the LMS brake van as shown in the sketch below.
Details on how to model the side-door brake van

One odd footnote to the brake van story is that in the fifties and sixties British Railways used to offer rides on trains made up of several brake vans for enthusiasts. Obviously this was confined to branch lines but a rake of vans rolling along makes a change. The enthusiasts would crowd onto the verandas so unless you have enough spare vans I suggest you tell people the rake is on its way to the pick up point. In the illustrations have seen showing this the locomotive was displaying Class A (express passenger) lamps.

Brake Tenders

The new main line diesel loco's began to appear in the 1950's but they were lighter than their steam counterparts and so offered less braking power on an unfitted train. The majority of existing goods stock was still not fitted with an automatic brake so special 'brake tenders' were produced in the early 1960's.

These consisted of a simple but sturdy chassis running on passenger bogies, equipped with vacuum brakes and loaded with scrap metal as ballast. Early versions had a rather square box shape, later versions were fitted with a streamlined casing.

They were coupled to the locomotive but could be either pushed ahead of the loco or placed between the locomotive and the wagons. From the later 1960's the latter seems to have been the most common arrangement. Particularly heavy unfitted trains were sometimes supplied with two tenders, these were usually positioned on either side of the locomotive.

Brake tenders appeared in a range of liveries, green with red ends was one common scheme followed by all-over rail blue (mostly without any yellow on the ends) under the Corporate Livery. Brake tenders were phased out in the later 1970's as unfitted trains became increasingly rare.

A whitemetal kit of a brake tender is available from Knightwing although I would suggest it is easier to mount this on two Graham Farish passenger bogies rather than struggle with the kit bogies.

Fig ___ Brake Tenders Sketches of BR brake tenders showing livery

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