Vacuum Braking System

A vehicle brake is a brake used to slow down a vehicle by converting its kinetic energy into heat. The basic hydraulic system, most commonly used, usually has six main stages. The brake pedal, the brake boost (vacuum servo), the master cylinder, the apportioning valves and finally the road wheel brakes themselves.

The vacuum brake was, for many years, used in place of the air brake as the standard, fail-safe, train brake used by railways. Pneumatic braking systems use compressed air as the force used to push blocks on to wheels. The vacuum brake system is controlled through a brake pipe connecting a brake valve in the driver's cab with braking equipment on every vehicle. A vacuum is created in the pipe by an ejector or exhauster. The ejector removes atmospheric pressure from the brake pipe to create the vacuum using steam on a steam locomotive, or an exhauster, using electric power on other types of train. With no vacuum the brake is fully applied. The vacuum in the brake pipe is created and maintained by a motor-driven exhauster. The exhauster has two speeds, high speed and low speed. The high speed is switched in to create a vacuum and thus release the brakes. Slow speed is used to keep the vacuum at the required level to maintain brake release. Vacuum against small leaks in the brake pipe is maintained by it.

DRIVER’S BRAKE VALVE -The means by which the driver controls the brake. The brake valve will have (at least) the following positions: "Release", "Running", "Lap" and "Brake On". There may also be a "Neutral" or "Shut Down" position, which locks the valve out of use. The "Release" position connects the exhauster to the brake pipe and switches the exhauster to full speed. This raises the vacuum in the brake pipe as quickly as possible to get a release.

In the "Running" position, the exhauster keeps running but at its slow speed. This ensures that the vacuum is maintained against any small leaks or losses in the brake pipe, connections and hoses.

"Lap" is used to shut off the connection between the exhauster and the brake pipe to close off the connection to atmosphere after a brake application has been made. It can be used to provide a partial release as well as a partial application, something not possible with the original forms of air brake.

"Brake On" closes off the connection to the exhauster and opens the brake pipe to atmosphere. The vacuum is reduced as air rushes in.

Some brake valves were fitted with an "Emergency" position. Its operation was the same as the "Brake On" position, except that the opening to atmosphere was larger to give a quicker application.


Each vehicle has at least one brake cylinder. Sometimes two or more are provided. The movement of the piston contained inside the cylinder operates the brakes through links called "rigging". The rigging applies the blocks to the wheels. The piston inside the brake cylinder moves in accordance with the change in vacuum pressure in the brake pipe. Loss of vacuum applies the brakes, restoration of the vacuum releases the brakes.