SHEILA TERRY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY SHEILA TERRY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Today, the air brake is the standard, fail-safe train brake used by railways worldwide. Early train brakes were hand operated and largely ineffective. To get higher and safe speeds, American inventor George Westinghouse brought out an air brake in 1869. Unfortunately, if a hose burst or the train broke in two the brakes on the entire train became useless. Also the brakes worked unevenly throughout the train and could cause the carriages to collide. Westinghouse introduced the automatic air brake for steam trains in 1873. Putting a quick-action triple valve and an auxiliary reservoir under each vehicle ensured independent braking power and the automatic application of the brakes on the whole train. The pump governor shown in this late 19th c illustration acts as an automatic throttle valve to maintain the desired system air pressure.
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