Braking trains on steep gradients

Normally, diesel and electric locomotives of today have methods of braking while going downhill.

In the days of steam, other methods were used. In the Indian subcontinent have the heavily trafficked ghat sections to the south-east and north-east of Mumbai. These were electrified in the mid-1920s.

Here is a picture of a downhill goods train on one of these routes before electrification:

Here it is mentioned that there are three “special weighted brake vans” after the two locos to comply with regulations. Perhaps the idea was to have higher adhesion on the tracks to prevent them from moving too quickly on the downgrade.

This line had a maximum gradient of 1 in 37. This picture seems to be taken from a catch siding.

Elsewhere in undivided India, there was a BG line with even steeper gradients of 1 in 25, on the line leading up the Bolan Pass to Quetta and beyond. Here, the regulations specified of having “skeleton” brake vans of low tare weight and no cargo which were added to downwards goods trains to provide extra braking power but with less weight than regular brake vans.

Here is an example of these wagons, taken from a video from Pakistan shot in 1982:

This was supposed to be at a place between Quetta and Bostan. The gradients are not so severe here, but these must have been destined for a goods train going down the Bolan.

3 thoughts on “Braking trains on steep gradients

  1.  I dont know what the practice was in India but elsewhere such additional brake vans would carry water tanks filled at the top of the grade to make them heavy for braking adhesion on the descent then have them emptied at the bottom to make them as light as possible to haul them back up again. In this regard the frames may have been of special light  construction to minimise the dead weight being hauled up grade. I can’t see that the photo shown illustrates this, but perhaps I’m missing something. This comment is made from basic principle, not from any prior knowledge of Indian practice. Nick

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