The Brakeman Uncouples the Cars
Steam-powered passenger or freight trains are operated by train
crews, each consisting of at least four mena conductor,
a brakeman,* a locomotive engineer and a fireman. The brakeman
is the conductor's assistant, just as the fireman is the locomotive
engineer's assistant. On many trains two or more brakemen are
employed. When a baggageman is employed on a passenger train,
he also is considered a member of the train crew.
The brakeman must be thoroughly familiar with the rules of
train operations. He must know the meaning of all hand, lantern,
flag and road signals. He must also know the meaning of road signs
and other devices used to communicate train service information
and to facilitate and safeguard train operations.
Before a train starts on its run, the brakeman sees that the
required tools and equipment are in their designated places on
the train and that the proper lights or flags are displayed on
the rear of the train. He tests the air-brakes to see that they
are working properly.
If there are two brakemen on a freight train, one is assigned
to the front end and the other is assigned to the rear end of
the train. If the train stops where there is any danger of another
train approaching from either direction on the same track, the
rear brakeman, with a flag by day or a lantern at night, takes
a position on the track some distance behind the train, while
the brakeman at the front end takes a position ahead of the locomotive,
to protect the train against a possible accident.
When switching is done at stations, sidings or industry tracks,
the brakeman helps to couple and uncouple cars, signaling the
engineer when to go ahead, back up slow down or stop.
He also assists the conductor and the station employees in
loading and unloading package freight at small stations along
In the picture the brakeman has pulled the rod which uncouples
the two cars, and with his right hand he is signaling the engineer
to go ahead. During the run of a freight train, many signals or
"messages" are exchanged between the trainmen and the
locomotive engineer in stopping and starting the train, in taking
on and dropping off cars, in shifting cars, in coupling cars together
and in making other necessary moves in the operation of the train.
In big freight yards, train crews are engaged exclusively in switching
cars and in breaking up and making up trains. If signals are given
on the left side of the train, the fireman, who sits in the left
side of the engine cab, relays them to the engineer.
There is a signal for every movement of the train. For illustration,
a hand, flag or lantern swung across the track means stop;
held horizontally at arm's length, reduce speed; raised
and lowered vertically, proceed; swung vertically in a
circle at half arm's length across track, back up; swung
horizontally above head, when train is standing, apply air-brakes;
held at arm's length above head, when standing, release
When safety or his work requires, the brakeman on a freight
train rides on top of the cars.
Brakemen employed on passenger trains look after the lighting,
air-conditioning, and heating (and ventilation if the cars are
not air-conditioned). They open and close the car doors, assist
the conductor in announcing stations, and, when necessary, they
assist the conductor in collecting tickets and fares. Trainmen
employed in passenger service wear regulation uniforms. They must
be neat and clean in appearance, and they must be polite and attentive
Every train service employee must be physically sound and must
pass periodical tests for eyesight, color sense and hearing.
Every conductor has served his apprenticeship as a brakeman.
Thus, the competent brakeman with a record of faithful service
who shows fitness to assume greater responsibilities may reasonably
expect, in due time, to become a conductor in charge of a train.
* On some railroads, men who assist the conductor are called
flagmen or trainmen, but the most common designation is brakemen.
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