The BR 20 Ton Brake Vans are a standard type of goods brake van. They are added to the back of goods trains and a guard ride in them. 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.
A van attached to a goods train once waited on a siding to let Henry and the Flying Kipper pass while the Engine's crew were enjoying cocoa in the brake van. As snow had forced the signal down and the points were frozen towards the siding, Henry collided straight into the train at full speed. The crew had just left the train and avoided the crash.
One of these brake vans (along with the Troublesome Trucks) broke away from their engine Edward, and chased Duck down Gordon's Hill. The trucks had bumped their guard off his brake van, and left him far behind after he had whistled a warning. Duck and his crew bravely attempted to take control of the train, but crashed through a barber shop.
The Spiteful Brake Van, another van of this design, caused grief for James and Donald and Douglas. In an attempt to cause trouble for James, he urged the Troublesome Trucks to hold the train back. Douglas was able to help James' train up Gordon's Hill. However, the van found himself wedged between Douglas and the rest of the train. The guard jumped clear before the van was crushed by Douglas..
When Percy's train of Troublesome Trucks barged forward and push him down the line and into a train of stone trucks, he destroyed a stationary brake van and perched himself on the remains of a truck.
Bill and Ben took a party of railway enthusiasts in a "brake van special" for a tour of the China Clay Works.
A majority of brake vans are non-sentient. However, there are at least three known vans depicted with faces. They are spiteful, elderly, and troublesome respectively.