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The brake van (also known as the guard's van or caboose in the US narration) is an important part of every goods train.
A brake van is added to the back of a goods train and a guard rides in it. Each brake van is equipped with a strong brake to assist with slowing and stopping the train. From here, the guard can keep an eye on the train in case of problems, such as hot axle boxes, or trucks becoming uncoupled while running.
Several different types of standard gauge brake vans have been seen on the North Western Railway: BR Standard 20 Ton vans, NER 20 Ton vans, Southern Railway 25 Ton "Pillbox" vans, LMS 20 Ton vans, GWR "Toads" and narrow gauge Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway vans scaled up to standard gauge (albeit still carrying narrow gauge "chopper"-type couplings and lacking buffers).
The Sodor Line caboose is based on a North American railroad caboose.
Each brake van has a specific livery:
- The BR brake vans are painted grey, brown, blue and orange.
- The NE brake vans are painted grey.
- The SR brake vans are painted grey, cream and dark green.
- The LMS brake vans are painted dull orange.
- The W&LL brake vans are painted grey.
- The Sodor Line Caboose is painted red with white lettering.
- A few brake vans are on display; one at Drayton Manor along with a model of Toad, one at the British Museum, and a few at the Hara Model Railway Museum.
- To date, only four brake vans have been named: Beatrice, Cora, Toad and Bradford. They, along with the Spiteful Brake Van, the Elderly Brake Van and the Old Guard's Van are so far the only known brake vans to have faces. A brake van was briefly seen with a face in the second season episode, A Close Shave. Another brake van with a face appeared in the Railway Series pop-up book, James the Red Engine and the Troublesome Trucks.
- Between the eighth and fifteen seasons, brake vans were rarely seen. Since the sixteenth season, brake vans have been seen more often.
- The brake vans seen from the first to the fifth season were made out of modified Tenmille gauge one kits. These kits are still distributed by Tenmille today.
- In most of the merchandise ranges, the brake vans are portrayed as American cabooses.
- Despite the American railway term for brake vans being cabooses, the US dub only referred them as such in three episodes and one special.
- Wooden Railway (as a caboose; red, yellow, musical, Halloween, Day Out with Thomas 2007 Exclusive and Christmas/Holiday versions)
- Motor Road and Rail (discontinued outside Asia)
- Lionel Trains (as a caboose)
- Take Along (as a caboose; discontinued)
- Take-n-Play (as a caboose)
- Thomas Engine Collection Series (with Post coach; discontinued)
- Bachmann (HO and large scale)
- Hornby (two versions; brown and grey; grey discontinued)
- Pocket Fantasy (discontinued)