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Air Brakes on the NYC

I was reading on another forum about the different air brake valves used on some railroads. This is what I remember in the fifties through 1992 when I retired. This is not to say that this is all of the types used but that I came in contact with.

The early 2-8-2 up to the H-10, 0-8-0, 0-6-0 all had the 6 ET brake system. There were variants of this brake used into the diesels. The H-10 had the 8 ET and by the way the ET stands for engine and tank. Next came the 24RL and this was a brake valve made for the long trains that were starting to be handled by the larger engines. I never saw a 24RL on an NYC steam locomotive but other railroads used this brake valve on their steam locomotives. The 14EL was used on some of the early Gp-7s.

When I started, the K control valve was still around although 99%, or better, of the control valves on the cars were AB series. The K control valve was where the old saying he ran out of air came from. If you applied and released the air or the leakage was allowed to equalize between the trainline and the equalizing reservoir you could not get an emergency application of the brakes on the cars in the train with the K control valve. With the AB control valve on the cars the emergency position was always available.

To prove this point, one time we were coming down the hill at Bellefontaine, O and after making a reduction I noticed it was very slow. After making another reduction it was still very slow and as we say on the railroad, I reached up and got a hand full of air, and then the air started going down on the rear end, the speed started down and everything was ok. Several miles down the track the air set up and stopped the train and inspecting the train an angle cock on a car 17 deep had vibrated closed and this was why the air was slow. The valve had only been part way open at that time.

This is the point I wanted to make .I asked the conductor if he started to get nervous when the train did not start to slow down from 50 mph to 30 mph and his answer was, I started to but I thought, “Naa he has one more position.” He knew I could still go to emergency. However as moving and changing as the railroad is, about 8 years later an engineer did the same thing I did but the angle cock had closed and he only had brakes on 7 cars and he could not get the train under control and they went around the 30 mph curve at 60 mph. Nothing happened as for derailment but I bet they were short winded. This is why today he could have set the air on the rear end from the head end. Also with a K brake in your train you could only have 40 cars.

Now back to the brake valves. On the 6 brake you had a holding position that really did not do much with the distributing valve they had and that position was blocked out and could be used for lap. Most of the 6 brakes, the 8 ET and the 24RL had release positions. The other 6 and the 14 EL had this position blocked out. What the release position did was let main reservoir air into the trainline to help charge the brakes. This also is how the engineers helped to get around a kicker, an uncontrolled emergency application of the train brakes. The 8 brake could be set up for freight or passenger operation but on the division I worked on the engineers used passenger position.

On the 24 RL you had a release position but due to the improved AB control valves on the cars over the years and the improvements of the control valves on the engines it was made dormant on the 24 RL with a larger capacity feed valve. If you had used the brakes and brought your train to a stop, when you released the brakes you could place the brake valve handle in release for about 20 seconds and then it was mute as to the help you would have from then on except making much noise. The feed valve was such that it would supply as much air as could be handled by the trainline because by this time the AB control valve was letting air from the car reservoir help charge the trainline.

Then came the 26 brake and I think this did more for train handling then anything. It did away with trainline leakage from the engineer's point of view if not in reality, because you still had the leakage but the brake valve compensated for most of this leakage. With this brake valve the feed valve became a control valve because with a brake valve that had a lap position you cut off the supply of air to the trainline but with the 26 which is self lapping it maintained the pressure that you had reduced the trainline to. I had read about this brake valve but had not used one. I was called to pilot a PRR train from Greensburg to North Vernon with 3 nice long grades to practice on. I think we had 80-100 cars and I asked the engineer if what I had read was correct about this brake valve and he said yes.

Well I was like a kid in a candy store. The power was two GP-9 and the train was just right to play with. Of course this was just like using the feed valve to brake with except I now had a handle to play with. The trip was perfect and proved what I thought and I knew It was my kind of brake valve. The # 30 brake valve came out with the wide body diesel and was nothing more than a 26 brake laid on its side. Of course there were improvements not visible but the operation was the same to the engineer.

The brake from the 6,8 and 24 were basically the same valve with all of the improvements made to the basic 6 brake. The 26 and 30 were a completely new operation based on a concept beyond the 6 through the 24, based on what the old brake valves could not do and what does the new valve need to do. I think they did a fine job but now they need to let the engineers use this brake to its fullest and then learn when to use the air and when to use the dynamic brake.

Maurice Lewman


Maurice worked the Michigan Division from 1947-1981. He then worked on the Bee Line from 1981-1992. From 1947 until august 1950, he worked on the section at Shirley and Markleville. In 1950 he started firing on steam and then on through the diesels. Maurice said, "I had the pleasure of working with C. C. Staley and Ron Buser many times."


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