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Brake van and guard's van are terms used mainly in the UKmarker and Australia for a railway vehicle equipped with a hand brake which can be applied by the guard. The equivalent North American term is caboose but a British brake van and a caboose are very different in appearance because the former usually has only four wheels while the latter usually has bogies.

Many British freight trains formerly had no continuous brake so the only available brakes were those on the locomotive and the brake van. Because of this shortage of brake power the speed was restricted to 25 mph.

In the 21st century, brake vans are rare, because freight trains now have continuous air brakes, but they can still be seen on heritage railways.


Great Britain

In the UK the brake van performed a function similar to the caboose on North American railroads, being the accommodation for the train crew at the rear of the train, specifically the train guard, hence its alternative name.


In Great Britainmarker, freight trains without a continuous train braking system in either the whole train or the rearmost section of the train (unfitted or partly fitted in UK railway parlance) were still prevalent in the 1970s but mostly eliminated by the 1980s. As of 2008, they are seen rarely on the main national rail network. On these trains, the brake van had two additional functions: the guard would use the brake van's brakes to assist with keeping the train under control on downwards gradients and whenever he could see that the locomotive's crew was attempting to slow the train; second, the brakes were left set on at a low setting all the time to ensure that the loose chain couplings often used between unfitted cars were kept taut, to minimise the risk of snapped coupling chains from the locomotive "snatching" or jerking, which was particularly problematic in the days of steam locomotives. Brake vans thus had a significant amount of ballast weight built into their structure to increase the available braking effort.


In the 1970s the requirement for fully fitted freight trains to end with a guards van was lifted and the guard would ride in the rearmost locomotive cab, which, since the UK mostly uses double-ended locomotives, has a good view of the train. These days brake vans are only used in certain special cases, for example in trains with unusual cargoes or track maintenance trains, or when one of the few single cabbed locos are used such as the British Rail Class 20 and are consequently very rare. The nearest equivalent to a brake van still in use on main line British railways is the Driving Van Trailer (DVT), which is used on locomotive hauled trains to control the locomotive from the other end of the train in a push-pull configuration - removing the need for the locomotive to run around its train at termini. Although the DVT has braking capability of its own - this is incidental as the vehicle's primary purpose is to allow the train to be driven from the opposite end of the train to the locomotive, as well as providing accommodation for bulky luggage.


In Australia, brake vans (or guard's vans - both terms were in common use) were often also used for carrying parcels and light freight and usually had large compartments and loading doors for such items. Some of the larger vans also included a compartment for passengers travelling on goods services or drovers travelling with their livestock.


Indian brake van
In India, brake vans are still in use to a great extent on passenger trains and goods' trains (freight trains). The brake van in the passenger trains (usually the last coach in the train) consists of an enclosed room/cabin with two small seats faced opposite to each other, one seat having the writing table for the guard to assist writing and working his train, the opposite seat being a spare. The van also consists of a small lavatory. The speciality of the passenger brake van is a small dog box where a passenger can carry their pet along with them while they travel in the same train in a different coach. The guard generally remains responsible for the water and pet food while the train is moving and there are features to the dog box to allow the same. The brake van also consists of a stretcher, ETL box (Emergency Train Lighting), a stand to hold the lamp signal during the night. The vacuum or air pressure gauge is hosted in front of the guard's seat with a lever to operate it in case of emergency. There is another manual hand brake which can be used in case of high emergency.The goods brake van in India is less attractive, is generally the last bogie on the train, open on both sides, does not necessary consists of interior lighting/lamps but it does house a small WC lavatory seat for the guard owing to their long hours on freight trains. The van is less secure and has less features as compared to the passenger brake van.

Passenger brake van

A passenger brake van originally served the same purpose as a goods brake van but, when continuous brakes became standard on passenger trains, its use changed. The hand brake is still fitted but is for emergency use, and for when the train is parked without a locomotive present. The vehicle also provides a compartment for the guard, a luggage compartment and, sometimes, passenger accommodation as well.


Examples of British passenger brake vans include:

Support coaches

In the UK, converted British Railways Mark 1 passenger brake vans are used as the basis of preserved steam locomotive support coaches.

See also


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