Can you help? Introduction of air brakes

We have recently been contacted by Keith Halton who as well as providing us with an update on the current condition of Frankfurt 210 has asked us a question which we don’t the answer to! So we thought the best thing to do was to throw the query out to the readers of British Trams Online to see if there is an expert out there who can help Keith. It concerns the introduction of air brakes on UK trams.

Keith wishes to know when and where they were first used on trams in the UK. He is familiar with Leeds trams and aware of the Beeston Air Brakes, which date from the late 1920s and were the first application of air brakes in Leeds, even though Leeds continued to build trams without air brakes for several years after that. There seems to have been a reluctance in the UK to fit them to trams even though George Westinghouse patented an air brake in 1868, but a prolonged search by Keith has now revealed its first application. He guesses that air brakes were used in the USA first but is seen to find out any further information.

If you can help with this query please either leave a comment below or if you a feeling a little shy email gareth@britishtramsonline.co.uk and we will pass the message on to Keith.

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6 Responses to Can you help? Introduction of air brakes

  1. sjc247 says:

    When I visited the Railway on August Bank Holiday Monday, I was told that the car was actually due to be moved at some stage to the former G.E.R. Reepham station (as opposed to the M&GN one) where it is going to be converted into a cafe.
    Only problem they have is actually how to move it between the two sites……

  2. Lemmy117 says:

    Leeds 399 (at Crich) is one of the ‘Beeston Airbrakes’ built in 1925. It only has an air track, the normal service brake being the traditional handbrake.
    According to Kenneth Gandy’s book, Sheffield retro-fitted airbrakes to car 366, (a car built between 1919 and 1921) sometime before 1924. Sheffield first trams built with airbrakes from new were a batch of 25 cars from Brush built between 1924 and 1925.

  3. Mike Baron says:

    Hello there: I think that the Hill of Howth trams (Ireland) are surely contenders for being among the earliest examples of tramcars in the British Isles for the use of air brakes (although there may be even earlier examples). All ten of the Howth cars were fitted with air brakes as built in 1901; the air brakes were used almost throughout the life of the line, which closed in 1959 (although defects and spares problems caused the handbrakes to be used after 1950 on all except two cars). The air braking system at Howth was slightly different from later practice on other systems in that the Howth cars were never fitted with their own compressors, rather they carried reservoir tanks which were charged at Sutton depot by a master compressor. I hope this helps, best wishes.

  4. John Hampton says:

    I am no expert on air brakes but remember reading about air brakes on Potteries Electric trams in Tramway Review of which I still have a copy.

    In Tramway Review Issue number 27 Volume 4 of 1960 in an article written by H.G.Dibdin relating to the Tramways in the Potteries and North Staffordshire mention is made of cars 1-17 delivered in 1898 by the Brush Electrical Engineering Company with Peckham 9A trucks as having air brakes of the Standard Airbrake Company’s system. These were operated by cylinders charged by an air compressor driven directly from the car axle. The compressors automatically came into operation as soon as the air pressure fell below a fixed level. These cars towed trailers for a while and were fitted with connecting tube links railway fashion , to provide through braking.
    Clearly not the type we are more used to where the compressor is driven by its own electric motor.

    This may not be the earliest use of air brakes, but must come somewhere near the pioneering use of such a device on British trams.

    Hope this information is useful.

    John Hampton

  5. Paul D says:

    The first system-wide use of air-brakes in the British Isles appears to be the Liverpool Overhead Railway from 1893. If it survived today we would probably include this unique system in the ‘Light Rapid Transit’ Category. The nearest equivalent present day system being the Docklands Light Railway…

    • David Taylor says:

      Unfortunately the LOR was a railway and not a tramway. As a matter of interest the only remaining centre car from the LOR is up for sale and must be removed from the Coventry site before April.