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To airbrake or not?

Discussion in 'National Railway Museum' started by southyorkshireman, May 8, 2008.

  1. Crewe Hall

    Crewe Hall New Member

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    James Shuttleworth is absolutely right on this point, and a lot of the rush to air brake was either inspired by paranoia amongst those who did not understand the regulations, or those who saw commercial advantage in the promotion of fitting air brakes.

    There are hardly any of the steam lcomotives which have been fitted with air brakes, which have not suffered an air brake related failure at some point, some more than one, and there have been several instances of rough shunts when coupling up due to the inherent time lag when using the air brake valve on certain vac fitted engines. The complexity of some of these systems has to be seen to be believed, in the case of the GWR engines which have been fitted it just about doubles the amount of pipework and valves - Total - on the engines, and one in particular is an abomination, both in access and appearance terms with very little thought applied either to location of equipment or to the visual impact of fitting the system. Compared to the air equipment, the original GWR equipment is far more robust and reliable (worth noting that most of the commentary elsewhere on this website about GWR vac brakes results from poor maintenance and a complete lack of comprehension of how the system works). Anyone proposing the fitment of air brakes to the exclusion of vacuum should perhaps compare the figures for vacuum brake failures against those for air brake failures on steam locos. That is if you can find a vac brake failure.

    There is also an urban myth about recovery of vac brake trains. With the scarcity of spare diesels, a situation made worse by the allocation of large numbers of loco's to weekend engineering works, you only have to look at the B1 problem at Hutton Cranswick when it took about 5 hours to find an air braked diesel to rescue the train, to see that recovery is a problem full stop whether air or vac. Note what James says about operator's responsibilities.

    The plain fact is that Vacuum is simpler, is far more easily and cheaply maintained to the required standards, and as long as the RSSB and the HMRI are happy with the braking performance, there is no reason to displace vacuum. It does need to be remembered that the brake force on a Vac Mark 2 is basically identical to an air braked one as most of the brake gear underneath is identical, with only the arrangement of cylinders and levers differing. At the speeds which steam is permitted to run, given the installation of TPWS and the almost total installation of modern signalling systems nation-wide there is no technical reason for the rather unreasoned prejudice against vacuum that appears to exist in certain quarters. It really comes down to who you want to operate with. If you are happy to go with West Coast then there is no need for air braking a loco. If however you wish to work with EWS at some time or other, then you will have to fit air, and it might just be advisable to examine the costs of fitting and maintaining an air brake sytem, and dividing the cost of it by the number of trips which you might expect to be able to do in the next ten years before making that decision. You may just be surprised at how much per trip your decision to work with EWS will add to the amount which you need to charge for your daily hire fees!
     
  2. Ian Riley

    Ian Riley Part of the furniture Loco Owner

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    A very Neanderthal view I feel Mr Hall?, Mainline successfull operation is about integration, something vacuum braked antiques cannot achieve, and never will in our modern Railway system...one of the main reasons why B.R. moved from Air to Vacuum?.

    It has already (and again very recently been reiterated) been proved that flexibilty with braking systems allows universal operation of the locomotives and thus increased financial reward, that is of course where the loco's are being offered for use on a financial basis.

    So yes, it does, as you suggest, involve commercial advantage, but then our locomotives have to be able able to sustain valuable income to ensure their safe, reliable and consistent operation.

    James and I do differ in our view over vacuum braking, but then he, as an operator, and myself as a loco owner have slightly differing agendas ?, and, as such respect each other for those views.
     
  3. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Whilst agreeing with the theory as supported by Ian, it has to be said that a large number of recent steam locomotive failures have been involved with air-braking equipment leading to the conclusion that bonding air equipment onto a vacuum-braked steam locomotive is a hit and miss scenario with more misses than hits.

    Agreed that Ian has had little problem to date ( although I believe 34067 Tangmere had a few problems with air equipment at the beginning ) but James Shuttleworth is right to point out that there are consequences for fitting / not fitting air-brake equipment and it is for each owner to take that cost into account. As a TOC WCRC has a greater concern in order to protect both train running ( especially given the heavy costs charged for Network delays ) and reputation thus its commitment to vacuum brakes with a pool of dual-braked diesels as back-up is seen as part of its operating strategy. Ian on the other hand only hires locos to train operators and therefore his priority is somewhat different in that he only needs to provide a trouble-free working locomotive - which he does time after time.

    Its a simple case of horses for courses and Ian as loco owner runs on a different course from WCRC as Train operator - a point which needs to be remembered when comparing both enterprises.
     
  4. Crewe Hall

    Crewe Hall New Member

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    Not really neanderthal at all, it's a point of view. If you care to stop and look around, you may be able to recognise that if your air brake fails you are little more likely to be able to get an air brake diesel to rescue you than a vacuum one, but I suppose that running a considerable proportion of your work double headed does cover for the possibility of an air brake failure on one of your engines. It is an inescapable fact that there have been a vastly greater number of failures with air brake systems than vacuum and if information elsewhere on this website is to be believed, there appears to have been yet another on Saturday when a class 67 had to be used to supply air to cover for an air pump failure on a large red engine of your acquaintance.

    Please do not ever allow yourself to believe that you are being modern, progressive and non- neanderthal fitting outdated air brake equipment recovered from 40 year old diesel locomotives to a 1930's steam loco and then expecting it to be reliably powered by a superannuated air pump recovered from Eastern Europe. There are those around, engaged in the maintenance of Pendolino's and the like who consider that we are all neanderthal. In the years to come there is going to be a growing difficulty in maintaining supplies of spares for such air brake equipment due to the nature of its original design and manufacturing processes, and spares will be a damned sight harder to source than comparable parts for vacuum, to say nothing of finding suppliers who are properly qualified to repair and overhaul such equipment.

    As I said originally, by its very nature, air brake equipment on a steam loco presents a greater commercial opportunity than vacuum. Nothing wrong with that, it provides business for those who wish to do it, and an oportunity to spend money for those who wish to have it fitted. Just don't ever believe that it does the job any better, given the current operating conditions for steam loco's.
     
  5. Ian Riley

    Ian Riley Part of the furniture Loco Owner

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    In the main, I agree with your thaughts sir.

    However, I believe that supply / overhaul of the air brake components will resolve itself by default of its very requirement within the industry.

    Network Rail are much more 'at ease' with air braked formations than vacuum on sensitive routes as they (NR) can also call on other operators to assist in the event of a brakedown. Most other operators have air braked locomotives; WCR, EWS, Virgin, GBRF, etc etc etc.

    Whatever you do, please do not kid yourself that safety systems on vacuum braked locomotives do not fail, they do!

    Air or vacuum braked locos will, I hope, continue to operate on Network Rail as long as we are about to jump through the hoops.
     
  6. Crewe Hall

    Crewe Hall New Member

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    Almost in agreement then?

    Yes to an extent overhaul resources will have to develop for the kit because there are a lot of diesels that will need it, and it will probably replicate the growth of other repair activities in the steam field but always remember that it is a somewhat higher level of engineering technology compared with making, say, an LMS driver's brake valve, and may take somewhat more effort to achieve.

    There are no rose coloured spectacles on vac safety equipment; presumably you mean such things as TPWS which are basically the same as the equipment on an air brake loco.

    It is however good that we totally agree on the hope that steam of whatever brake persuasion is around for many years to come.
     

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