The brake shoe

12. 10. 2022

When you think of shoes, you think of human footwear. But did you know that trains wear them too? We will explain what this device is all about and how we use it on a day-to-day basis.

It’s made of metal, weighs several kilos and is mainly used for shunting railway wagons. Its name? The brake shoe. The wedge-shaped device is mostly used in push-off and roll-off operations and is placed between the wheel and the rail to bring vehicles to a standstill. The construction of the device is reminiscent of an actual shoe: it has a sole with a tongue flattened towards the “toes” as well as two guide rails on the sides. The block is attached to the top of the sole together with a handle to allow the device to be transported easily.

The right fit is essential

What makes a good brake shoe? The right fit: the underside has to perfectly fit the profile of the rail, as being too wide will make the brake shoe prone to tilting. This is why different types of brake shoe are used for different rail profiles. For a few years, ÖBB has been using a new type of brake shoe developed by an employee. It contains reflective parts that increase visibility.

Laying it takes skill

When shunting, the brake shoe is laid on a rail on the track in front of the approaching wagon. It must be the right distance in front of the point where the wagon is supposed to stop. This means that correctly estimating the braking distance requires a lot of experience and a good feel for it. The wheel of the wagon then rolls over the tongue onto the sole and bumps against the trestle with the cap interchangeably attached to it. The wheel should continue to turn on the brake shoe sole - the more it turns, the better the braking effect, which is generated by friction. The braking effect is significantly lowered in the presence of two brake shoes, which is why a shoe is usually only applied on one side. Brake shoes can also be used to secure parked wagons or groups of wagons against rolling away. It is also important to remove the device after use, as leaving it in place can increase the risk of derailing.

Do you want to delve even deeper into the world of railways and find out what single wagonloads and industrial sidings are? Click here for more blog posts in our “Railways simply explained” series!