Eddy current brake

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
An eddy current brake of a German ICE 3 in action.

An eddy current brake, like a conventional friction brake, is responsible for slowing an object, such as a train or a roller coaster. However, unlike electro-mechanical brakes, which apply mechanical pressure on two separate objects, eddy current brakes slow an object by creating eddy currents through electromagnetic induction which create resistance, and in turn either heat or electricity.

Construction and operation[edit]

Circular eddy current brake[edit]

Circular eddy current brake on 700 Series Shinkansen
Adjustable permanent magnet eddy current brake in a 1970s electricity meter
Principle of the linear eddy current brake
Eddy current brakes on the Intamin roller coaster Goliath at Walibi Holland (Netherlands)

Electromagnetic brakes are similar to electrical motors; non-ferromagnetic metal discs (rotors) are connected to a rotating coil, and a magnetic field between the rotor and the coil creates a resistance used to generate electricity or heat. When electromagnets are used, control of the braking action is made possible by varying the strength of the magnetic field. A braking force is possible when electric current is passed through the electromagnets. The movement of the metal through the magnetic field of the electromagnets creates eddy currents in the discs. These eddy currents generate an opposing magnetic field (Lenz's law), which then resists the rotation of the discs, providing braking force. The net result is to convert the motion of the rotors to heat in the rotors.

Japanese Shinkansen trains had employed circular eddy current brake system on trailer cars since 100 Series Shinkansen. However, N700 Series Shinkansen abandoned eddy current brakes in favour of regenerative brakes since 14 of the 16 cars in the trainset used electric motors.

Linear eddy current brake[edit]

The principle of the linear eddy current brake has been described by the French physicist Foucault, hence in French the eddy current brake is called the "frein à courants de Foucault".

The linear eddy current brake consists of a magnetic yoke with electrical coils positioned along the rail, which are being magnetized alternating as south and north magnetic poles. This magnet does not touch the rail, as with the magnetic brake, but is held at a constant small distance from the rail (approximately 7 mm).

When the magnet is moved along the rail, it generates a non-stationary magnetic field in the head of the rail, which then generates electrical tension (Faraday's induction law), and causes eddy currents. These disturb the magnetic field in such a way that the magnetic force is diverted to the opposite of the direction of the movement, thus creating a horizontal force component, which works against the movement of the magnet.

The braking energy of the vehicle is converted in eddy current losses which lead to a warming of the rail. (The regular magnetic brake, in wide use in railways, exerts its braking force by friction with the rail, which also creates heat.)

The eddy current brake does not have any mechanical contact with the rail, and thus no wear, and creates no noise or odor. The eddy current brake is unusable at low speeds, but can be used at high speeds both for emergency braking and for regular braking.[1]

The TSI (Technical Specifications for Interoperability) of the EU for trans-European high speed rail recommends that all newly built high speed lines should make the eddy current brake possible.

The first train in commercial circulation to use such a braking system has been the ICE 3.

Modern roller coasters also use this type of braking, but in order to avoid the risk of potential power outages, they utilize permanent magnets instead of electromagnets, thus not requiring any power supply, however, without the possibility to adjust the braking strength as easily as with electromagnets.

Lab experiment[edit]

In physics education a simple experimental configuration is sometime used to illustrate Lenz's law. When a magnet is dropped down a conducting pipe, eddy currents are induced in the pipe, and these retard the descent of the magnet. As one set of authors explained

If one views the magnet as an assembly of circulating atomic currents moving through the pipe, [then] Lenz’s law implies that the induced eddies in the pipe wall counter circulate ahead of the moving magnet and co-circulate behind it. But this implies that the moving magnet is repelled in front and attracted in rear, hence acted upon by a retarding force.[2]

Laboratory work ranges from comparison of time-of-fall with a magnet in a cardboard tube, to oscilloscope reading of current in a loop wound around the pipe,[3] to use of multiple magnets.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Wirbelstrombremse im ICE 3 als Betriebsbremssystem hoher Leistung" ("Eddy-current brake in the ICE 3 as high-efficiency service brake system", by Jürgen Prem, Stefan Haas, Klaus Heckmann, in "electrische bahnen" Vol 102 (2004), No. 7, pages 283ff
  2. ^ M.H. Partori & E.J. Morris (2006) "Electrodynamics of a magnet moving through a conducting pipe" Canadian Journal of Physics 84:253–71
  3. ^ C. S. Maclatchy, P, Backman, L. Bogan (1993) "A quantitative magnetic braking experiment", American Journal of Physics 61:1096
  4. ^ G. Ireson & J. Twidle (2008) "Magnetic braking revisited: Activities for the undergraduate laboratory", European Journal of Physics 29:745–51


  • K.D. Hahn, E.M. Johnson, A. Brokken, & S. Baldwin (1998) "Eddy current damping of a magnet moving through a pipe", American Journal of Physics 66:1066–66.
  • M.A. Heald (1988) "Magnetic braking: Improved theory", American Journal of Physics 56: 521–2.
  • Y. Levin, S.L. Da Silveira & F.B. Rizzato (2006) "Electromagnetic braking: A simple quantitative model", American Journal of Physics 74:815–17.
  • Sears, Francis Weston; Zemansky, Mark W. (1955). University Physics (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. 
  • Siskind, Charles S. (1963). Electrical Control Systems in Industry. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. ISBN 0-07-057746-3. 
  • H.D. Wiederick, N. Gauthier, D.A. Campbell, & P. Rochan (1987) "Magnetic braking: Simple theory and experiment", American Journal of Physics 55:500–3.

External links[edit]