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THE QUARTERLY REVIEWER OF 1825. 199

CHAPTER XIX.

THE WESTINGHOUSE BRAKE.

IN March, 1825, there appeared in the pages of the Quarterly Review an article in which the writer discussed that railway system, the first vague anticipation of which was then just beginning to make the world restless. He did this, too, in a very intelligent and progressive spirit, but unfortunately secured for his article a permanence of interest he little expected by the use of one striking illustration. He was peculiarly anxious to draw a distinct line of demarcation between his own very rational anticipations and the visionary dreams of those enthusiasts who were boring the world to death over the impossibilities which they claimed that the new invention was to work. Among these he referred to the proposition that passengers would be "whirled at the rate of eighteen or twenty miles an hour by means of a high pressure engine," and then contemptuously added,— "We should as soon expect

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the people of Woolwich to suffer themselves to be fired off upon one of Congreve's ricochet rockets, as trust themselves to the mercy of such a machine, going at such a rate; their property perhaps they may trust."

Under the circumstances, the criticism was a perfectly reasonable one. The danger involved in going at such a rate of speed and the impossibility of stopping in time to avoid a sudden danger, would naturally suggest themselves to any one as insuperable objections to the new system for any practical use. Some means of preserving a sudden and powerful control over a movement of such unheard of rapidity would almost as a matter of course be looked upon as a condition precedent. Yet it is a most noticeable fact in the history of railroad development that the improvement in appliances for controlling speed by no means kept pace with the increased rate of speed attained. Indeed, so far as the possibility of rapid motion is concerned, there is no reason to suppose that the Rocket could not have held its own very respectably by the side of a passenger locomotive of the present day. It will be remembered that on the occasion of the Manchester & Liverpool opening, Mr. Huskisson after receiving his fatal injury was carried seventeen miles in twenty-five minutes. Since then the details of locomotive construction have been simplified and improved upon, but -no great change has been or probably will be effected in the matter of velocity;—

SPEED AND CONTROL OVER IT. 201

as respects that the maximum was practically reached at once. Yet down to the year 1870 the brake system remained very much what it was in 1830. Improvements in detail were effected, but the essential principles were the same. In case of any sudden emergency, the men in charge of the locomotive had no direct control over the vehicles in the train; they communicated with them by the whistle, and when the signal was heard the brakes were applied as soon as might be. When a train is moving at the rate of forty miles an hour, by no means a great speed for it while in full motion, it passes over fifty-eight feet each second;—at sixty miles an hour it passes over eighty-eight feet. Under these circumstances, supposing an engine driver to become suddenly aware of an obstruction on the track, as was the case at Revere, or of something wrong in the train behind him, as at Shipton, he had first himself to signal danger, and to this signal the brakemen throughout the train had to respond. Each operation required time, and every second of time represented many feet of space. It was small matter for surprise, therefore, that when in 1875 they experimented scientifically in England, it was ascertained that a train of a locomotive and thirteen cars moving at a speed of forty-five miles an hour could not be brought to a stand in less than one minute, or before it had traversed a distance of half a mile. The same result it will be remembered was arrived at by practical experience in America, where both at Angola 

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and at Port Jervis,* it was found impossible to stop the trains in less than half-a-mile, though in each case two derailed cars were dragging and plunging along at the end of them.

The need of a continuous train-brake, operated from the locomotive and under the immediate control of the engine-driver, had been emphasized through years by the almost regular recurrence of accidents of the most appalling character. In answer to this need almost innumerable appliances had been patented and experimented with both in Europe and in America. Prior to 1869, however, these had been almost exclusively what are known as emergency brakes;—that is, although the trains were equipped with them and they were operated from the locomotives, they were not relied upon for ordinary use, but were held in reserve, as it were, against special exigencies. The Hudson River railroad train at the Hamburg accident was thus equipped. Practically, appliances which in the operation of railroads are reserved for emergencies are usually found of little value when the emergency occurs. Accordingly no continuous brake had, prior to the development of Westinghouse's invention, worked its way into general use. Patent brakes had become a proverb as well as a terror among railroad mechanics, and they had ceased to believe that any really desirable thing of the sort would ever be perfected. Westinghouse, therefore, had a most unbelieving audience to encounter, and

* Aute, pp 15, 119.

A PRETTY TOY! 203

his invention had to fight hard for all the favor it won; nor did his experience with master mechanics differ, probably, much from Miller's. His first patents were taken out in 1869, and he early secured the powerful aid of the Pennsylvania road for his invention. The Pullman Car Company, also, always anxious to avail themselves of every appliance of safety as well as of comfort, speedily saw the merits of the new brake and adopted it; but, as they merely furnished cars and had nothing to do with the locomotives that pulled them, their support was not so effective as that of the great railroad company. Naturally enough, also, great hesitation was felt in adopting so complicated an appliance. It added yet another whole apparatus to a thing which was already overburdened with machinery. There was, also, something in the delicacy and precision of the parts of this new contrivance,—in its air-pump and reservoirs and long connecting tubes with their numerous valves,—which was peculiarly distasteful to the average practical railroad mechanic. It was true that the idea of transmitting power by means of compressed air was by no means new,—that thousands of drills were being daily driven by it wherever tunnelling was going on or miners were at work,—yet the application of this familiar power to the wheels of a railroad train seemed no less novel than it was bold. It was, in the first place, evident that the new apparatus would not stand the banging and 

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hammering to which the old-fashioned hand-brake might safely be subjected; not indeed without deranging that simple appliance, but without incurring any very heavy bill for repairs in so doing. Accordingly the new brake was at first carelessly examined and patronizingly pushed aside as a pretty toy,—nice in theory no doubt, but wholly unfitted for rough, every-day use. As it was tersely expressed during a discussion before the Society of Arts in London, as recently as May, 1877,—"It was no use bringing out a brake which could not be managed by ordinary officials,—which was so wonderfully clever that those who had to use it could not understand it." A line of argument by the way, which, as has been already pointed out, may with far greater force be applied to the locomotive itself; and, indeed, unquestionably was so applied about half a century ago by men of the same calibre who apply it now, to the intense weariness and discouragement no doubt of the late George Stephenson. Whether sound or otherwise, however, few more effective arguments against, an appliance can be advanced; and against the Westinghouse brake it was advanced so effectively, that even as late as 1871, although largely in use on western roads, it had found its way into Massachusetts only as an ingenious device of doubtful merit. It was in August, 1871, that the Revere disaster occurred, and the Revere disaster, as has been seen, would unquestionably have been averted had the colliding

HAND-BRAKES vs. TRAIN-BRAKES. 205

train been provided with proper brake power. This at last called serious attention there to the new appliance. Even then, however, the mere suggestion of something better being in existence than the venerable hand-brakes in familiar use did not pass without a vigorous protest; and at the meeting of railroad officials, which has already been referred to as having been called by the state commissioners after the accident, one prominent gentleman, when asked if the road under his charge was equipped with the most approved brake, indignantly replied that it was,—that it was equipped with the good, old-fashioned hand-brake;—and he then proceeded to vehemently stake his professional reputation on the absolute superiority of that ancient but somewhat crude appliance over anything else of the sort in existence. Nevertheless, on this occasion also, the great dynamic force which is ever latent in first-class railroad accidents again asserted itself. Even the most opinionated of professional railroad men, emphatically as he might in public deny it, quietly yielded as soon as might be. In a surprisingly short time after the exhibition of ignorance which has been referred to, the railroads in Massachusetts, as it has already been shown, were all equipped with train-brakes.*

In its present improved shape it is safe to say that in all those requisites which the highest authorities known on the subject have laid down as

* Page 157.

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essential to a model train brake, the Westinghouse stands easily first among the many inventions of the kind. It is now a much more perfect appliance than it was in 1871, for it was then simply atmospheric and continuous in its action, whereas it has since been made automatic and self-regulating. So far as its fundamental principle is concerned, that is too generally understood to call for explanation. By means of an air-pump, attached to the boiler of the locomotive and controlled by the engine-driver, an atmospheric force is brought to bear, through tubes running under the cars, upon the break blocks, pressing them against the wheels. The hand of the engine-driver is in fact on every wheel in the train. This application of power, though unquestionably ingenious and, like all good things, most simple and obvious when once pointed out, was originally open to one great objection, which was persistently and with great force urged against it. The parts of the apparatus were all delicate, and some injury or derangement of them was always possible, and sometimes inevitable. The chief advantage claimed for the brake was, however, that complete dependence could be placed upon it in the regular movement of trains. It was obvious, therefore, that if such dependence was placed upon it and any derangement did occur, the first intimation those in charge of the train would have that something was wrong might well come in the shape of a failure of the brake to act, and a subsequent

THE ACCIDENT AT COMMUNIPAW FERRY 207

disaster. Both in Massachusetts and in Connecticut, at the crossing of one railroad by another at the same level in the former state and in the approach to draws in bridges in the latter, a number of cases of this failure of the original Westinghouse non-automatic brake to act did in point of fact occur. Fortunately they, none of them, resulted in disaster. This, however, was mere good luck, as was illustrated in the case of the accident of November 11, 1876, at the Communipaw Ferry on the New Jersey Central. The train was there equipped with the ordinary train brake. It reached Jersey City on time shortly after 4 P.M., but, instead of slacking up, it ran directly through the station and freight offices, carrying away the walls and supports, and the locomotive then plunged into the river beyond. The baggage and smoking car followed but fortunately lodged on the locomotive, thus blocking the remainder of the train. Fortunately no one was killed, and no passengers were seriously injured.

Again, on the Metropolitan Elevated railroad in New York city, on the evening of June 23, 1879, one of the trains was delayed for a few moments at the Franklin street station. Meanwhile the next train came along, and, though the engine-driver of this following train saw the danger signals and endeavored to stop in time, he found his brake out of order, and a collision ensued resulting in the injury of one employee and the severe shattering of a passenger

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coach and locomotive. It was only a piece of good fortune that the first of these accidents did not result in a repetition of the Norwalk disaster and the second in that of Revere.

It so chanced that it was the Smith vacuum brake which failed to work at Communipaw, and the Eames vacuum which failed to work at Franklin street. This, however, was wholly immaterial. It might just as well have been the original Westinghouse. The difficulty lay, not in the maker's name, but in the imperfect action of the brake; and such significant intimations are not to be disregarded. The chances are naturally large that the failure of the continuous brake to act will not at once occur under just those circumstances which will entail a serious disaster and heavy loss of life; that, however, if such intimations as these are disregarded, it will sooner or later so occur does not admit of doubt.

But the possibility that upon some given occasion it might fail to work was not the only defect in the original Westinghouse; it might well be in perfect order and in full action even, and then suddenly, as the result of derailment or separation of parts, the apparatus might be broken, and at once the shoes would drop from the wheels, and the vehicles of the disabled train would either press forward, or, on an incline, stop and run backwards until their unchecked momentum was exhausted. This appears to have been the case at Wollaston, and contributed

THE TRIPLE VALVE. 209

some of its most disastrous features to that accident.

To obviate these defects Westinghouse in 1872 invented what he termed a triple valve attachment, by means of which, if the thing can be so expressed, his brake was made to always stand at danger. That is, in case of any derangement of its parts, it was automatically applied and the train stopped The action of the brake was thus made to give notice of anything wrong anywhere in the train. A noticeable case of this occurred on the Midland railway in England, when on the November 22, 1876, as the Scotch express was approaching the Heeley station, at a speed of some sixty miles an hour, the hind-guard felt the automatic brake suddenly self-applied. The forward truck of a Pullman car in the middle of the train had left the rails; the front part of the train broke the couplings and went on, while the rear carriages, acted upon by the automatic brakes, came to a stand immediately behind the Pullman, which finally rested on its side across the opposite track. There was no loss of life. On the other hand, as the Scotch express on the North Eastern road was approaching Morpeth, on March 25, 1877, at a speed of some twenty-five miles an hour, the locomotive for some reason left the track. The train was not equipped with an automatic brake, and the carriages in it accordingly pressed forward upon each other until three of them were so utterly destroyed as to be 

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indistinguishable. Five passengers lost their lives; the remains of one of whom, together with the wheels of a carriage, were afterwards taken out from the tank of the tender, into which they had been driven by the force of the shock.

The theoretical objection to the automatic brake is obvious. In case of any derangement of its machinery it applies itself, and, should these derangements be of frequent occurrence, the consequent stoppage of trains would prove a great annoyance, if not a source of serious danger. This objection is not sustained by practical experience. The triple valve, so called, is the only complicated portion of the automatic brake, and this valve is well protected and not liable to get out of order.* Should it become deranged it will stop the working of the brake on that car alone to which it belongs; and it will become deranged so as to set the brake only from causes which would render the non-automatic brake inoperative. When anything of this

* Speaking of the modifications introduced into his brake by Westinghouse since 1874, Mr. Thomas E. Harrison, civil engineer of the North Eastern Railway Company in a communication to the directors of that company of April 24, 1879, recommending the adoption by it of the Westinghouse, and subsequently ordered to be printed for the use of Parliament, thus referred to the triple valve: "As the most important [of these modifications] I will particularly draw your attention to the "triple-valve" which has been made a regular bug-bear by the opponents of the system, and has been called complicated, delicate, and liable to get out of order, etc. * * * It is, in fact, as simple a piece of mechanism as well can be imagined, certain in its action, of durable materials, easily accessible to an ordinary workman for examination or cleaning, and there is nothing about it that can justify the term complication; on the contrary, it is a model of ingenuity and simplicity."

"A REGULAR BUG-BEAR." 211

sort occurs, it stops the train until the defect is remedied. The returns made to the English Board of Trade enable us to know just how frequently in actual and regular service these stoppages occur, and what they amount to. Take, for instance, the North Eastern and the Caledonian railways. Both use the automatic brake. During the last six months of 1878 the first ran 138,000 train miles with it, in the course of which there were eight delays or stoppages of some three to five minutes each occasioned by the action of the triple-valve; being in round numbers one occasion of delay in 17,000 miles of train movement. On the Caledonian railway, during the same period, four brake failures, due to the action of the triple-valve, were reported in runs aggregating over 62,000 miles, being about one failure to 15,000 miles. These failures moreover occasioned delays of only a few minutes each, and, where the cause of the difficulty was not so immediately apparent that it could at once be remedied, the brake-tubes of the vehicle on which the difficulty occurred were disconnected, and the trains went on.* One of these stop

* During the six months ending June 30, 1879 some 300 stops due to some derangement of the apparatus of the Westinghouse brake were reported by ten companies in runs aggregating about two million miles. Being one stop to 6,600 miles run. Very many of these stops were obviously due to the want of familiarity of the employees with an apparatus new to them, but as a rule the delays occasioned did not exceed a very few minutes; of 82 stoppages, for instance, reported on the London, Brighton & South Coast road, the two longest were ten minutes each and the remainder averaged some three or four minutes.

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pages, however, resulted in a serious accident. As a train on the Caledonian road was approaching the Wemyss Bay junction on December 14th, in a dense fog, the engine driver, seeing the signals at danger, undertook to apply his brake slightly, when it went full on, stopping the train between the distant and home signals, as they are called in the English block system. After the danger signal was lowered, but before the brake could be released, the signal-man allowed a following train to enter upon the same block section, and a collision followed in which some thirteen passengers were slightly injured. This accident, however, as the inspecting officer of the Board of Trade very properly found, was due not at all to the automatic brake, but to "carelessness on the part of the signal-man, who disregarded the rules for the working of the block telegraph instruments," and to the driver of the colliding train, who "disobeyed the company's running regulations." It gives an American, however, a realizing sense of one of the difficulties under which those crowded British lines are operated, to read that in this case the fog was "so thick that the tail-lamp was not visible from an approaching train for more than a few yards."

After the application of the triple valve had made it automatic, there remained but one further improvement necessary to render the Westinghouse a well-nigh perfect brake. A superabundance of self-acting power had been secured, but no provision was

THE MAXIMUM OF RETARDING POWER. 213

yet made for graduating the use of that power so that it should be applied in the exact degree, neither more nor less, which would soonest stop the train. This for two reasons is mechanically a matter of no little importance. As is well known a too severe application of brakes, no matter of what kind they are, causes the wheels to stand still and slide upon the rails. This is not only very injurious to rolling stock, the wheels of which are flattened at the points which slide, but, as has long been practically well known to those whose business it is to run locomotives, when once the wheels begin to slide the retarding power of the brakes is seriously diminished. In order, therefore, to secure the maximum of retarding power, the pressure of the brake-blocks on the revolving wheels should be very great when first applied, and just sufficient not to slide them; and should then be diminished, pari passu with the momentum of the train, until it wholly stops. Familiar as all this has long been to engine-drivers and practical railroad mechanics, yet it has not been conceded in the results of many scientific inquiries. In the report of one of the Royal Commissions on Accidents, for instance, it was asserted that the momentum of a train was retarded more by the action of sliding than of slowly revolving wheels; and again, as recently as in May, 1877, in a scientific discussion in London at one of the meetings of the Society of Arts, a gentleman, with the letters C. E. appended to his name, ventured 

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the surprising assertion that "no brake could do more than skid the wheels of a. train, and all continuous brakes professed to do this, and he believed did so about equally well." Now, what it is here asserted no brake can do is exactly what the perfect brake will be made to do,—and what Westinghouse's latest improvement, it is claimed, enables his brake to do. It much more than "skids the wheels," by measuring out exactly that degree of power necessary to hold the wheels just short of the skidding point, and in this way always exerts the maximum retarding force. This is brought about by means of a contrivance which allows the air to leak out of the brake cylinders so as to exactly proportion the pressure of the blocks on the wheels to the speed with which the latter are revolving. In other, and more scientific, language the force with which the brake-blocks are pressed upon the wheels is made to adjust itself automatically as the "coefficient of dynamic friction augments with the reduction of train speed." It hardly needs to be said that in this way the power of the brake is enormously increased.

In America the superiority of the Westinghouse over any other description of train-brake has long been established through that large preponderance of use which in such matters constitutes the final and irreversible verdict.* In Europe, however, and

* In Massachusetts, for instance, where no official pressure in favor of any particular brake was brought to bear, out of 473 locomotives equipped with train-brakes 361 have the Westinghouse, which is also applied to 1,363 out of 1,669 cars. Of these, however, 79 locomotives and 358 cars are equipped with both the atmospheric and the vacuum brakes. 

THE BATTLE OF THE BRAKES. 215

especially in Great Britain, ever since the Shiptonon-Cherwell accident in 1874, the battle of the brakes, as it may not inappropriately be called, has waxed hotter and hotter; and not only has this battle been extremely interesting in a scientific way, but it has been highly characteristic, and at times enlivened by touches of human nature which were exceedingly amusing.


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