Robot-assisted rehabilitation of gait still faces many challenges, one of which is improving physical human-robot interaction. The use of pleated pneumatic artificial muscles to power a step rehabilitation robot has the potential to meet this challenge. This paper reports on the development of a gait rehabilitation exoskeleton with a knee joint powered by pleated pneumatic artificial muscles. It is intended as a platform for the evaluation of design and control concepts in view of improved physical human-robot interaction. The design was focused on the optimal dimensioning of the actuator configuration. Safety being the most important prerequisite, a proxy-based sliding mode controller (PSMC) was implemented as it combines accurate tracking during normal operation with a smooth, slow and safe recovery from large position errors. Treadmill walking experiments of a healthy subject wearing the powered exoskeleton show the potential of PSMC as a safe robot-in-charge control strategy for robot-assisted gait training.