Title:
Railcar bridge plate
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A bridge plate for interconnecting two railcars and supporting the weight of a vehicle moving between the railcars. The bridge plate includes a substantially continuous top surface and is formed as a composite of a plurality of materials. The bridge plate includes a plurality of longitudinal sections extending from a bottom surface of the bridge plate, the sections formed by combining glass fibers and resin that enclose a foam plastic core, resulting in a lighter weight bridge plate than industry standard bridge plates. A traction surface can be integrally formed on the top surface. The bridge plate can include at least one handle. The assembly can also include a pin assembly for rotatingly engaging the bridge plate assembly to a railcar. The pin assembly can include a handle portion accessible from a top surface and/or the bottom surface of the bridge plate.



Inventors:
Larsen, Hugh W. (Milford, MI, US)
Mantela, Ralph F. (White Lake, MI, US)
Marks, George E. (Commerce Township, MI, US)
Popovczak, Robert M. (Novi, MI, US)
Application Number:
10/991790
Publication Date:
05/18/2006
Filing Date:
11/18/2004
Assignee:
Michigan Scientific Transportation Products, L.L.C (Milford, MI, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E01D15/12
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
MCCARRY JR, ROBERT J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WILLIAM M HANLON, JR (TROY, MI, US)
Claims:
1. An apparatus for supporting a vehicle moving between two rail cars comprising: a bridge plate formed of glass fibers and resin including a substantially continuous top surface and a bottom surface; and the bottom surface defined by a plurality of parallel longitudinal sections, each section formed of glass fibers and resin enclosing a foam plastic core;

2. The apparatus of claim I wherein the bridge plate further comprises: at least one handle.

3. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein the at least one handle further comprises: a first and second handles.

4. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the top surface defines a traction surface integrally formed with respect to the bridge plate.

5. The apparatus of claim 4 wherein the traction surface further comprises a plurality of projections spaced outward from an adjacent top surface.

6. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the bridge plate further comprises: a tip portion and a middle portion.

7. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the bridge plate further comprises: a pin assembly.

8. The apparatus of claim 7 wherein the pin assembly engages the bridge plate with respect to a rail car.

9. The apparatus of claim 8 wherein the pin assembly is moveably associated with respect to the bridge plate.

10. The apparatus of claim 9 wherein the pin assembly further comprises: a first pin and a second pin.

11. The apparatus of claim 10 further comprising: means for moving the second pin relative to the bridge plate.

12. The apparatus of claim 11 wherein moving means is accessible to an operator from the top surface of the bridge plate and the bottom surface of the bridge plate.

13. The apparatus of claim 10 further comprising: means for biasing the first pin relative to the second pin.

14. The apparatus of claim 13 further comprising: means for compressing the biasing means accessible from both the top surface of the bridge plate and the bottom surface of the bridge plate.

15. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the bridge plate is formed as a composite of a plurality of materials.

16. The apparatus of claim 15 wherein one of the plurality of materials is glass fibers.

17. The apparatus of claim 15 wherein one of the plurality of materials is a resin resistant to ultraviolet light.

18. The apparatus of claim 15 wherein one of the plurality of materials is a resin defining a color of the bridge plate.

19. The apparatus of claim 15 wherein one of the plurality of materials is a resin resistant to acid rain.

20. A method for supporting a vehicle moving between two rail cars comprising the steps of: forming a bridge plate made of glass fibers and resin including a substantially continuous top surface and a bottom surface wherein the bottom surface possesses a plurality of parallel longitudinal sections formed by glass fibers and resin enclosing a foam plastic core.

21. The method of claim 20 wherein the forming step further comprises the step of: forming the bridge plate by one of a compression molding process and a resin transfer process.

22. The method of claim 21 wherein the forming step further comprises the step of: integrally forming a traction surface on the bridge plate.

23. The method of claim 22 further comprising the steps of rotatingly engaging the bridge plate with respect to a rail car with a pin assembly having a handle wherein the handle is accessible from the top surface of the bridge plate and the bottom surface of the bridge plate.

24. An apparatus for supporting a vehicle moving between two railcars comprising: a bridge plate formed of glass fibers and resin including a substantially continuous top surface, the bridge plate operable to extend between first and second railcars; a plurality of longitudinal sections extending from a downwardly facing surface of the bridge plate formed by glass and resin enclosing a foam plastic core; and means for rotatingly engaging the bridge plate with respect to at least one of the railcars, wherein engaging means includes a handle accessible from an upwardly facing surface defined by the bridge plate.

25. The apparatus of claim 24 wherein the handle is accessible from the downwardly facing surface.

26. The apparatus of claim 24 wherein the top surface defines a traction portion.

27. The apparatus of claim 26 wherein the traction portion further comprises: a plurality of projections extending outward from the top surface.

28. The apparatus of claim 27 wherein each of the plurality of projections are spaced a predetermined distance from every other projection.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a structure providing passage over a gap, and more specifically, an apparatus for supporting a vehicle moving between two railcars.

BACKGROUND

Vehicles can be transported by rail from a manufacturer to a dealer or distributor. Railcars for transporting vehicles can define one or more cavities in which vehicles can be housed during transport. The cavity can define openings at both ends of the railcar. A vehicle can be driven through either opening. During the loading and unloading of railcars with vehicles, two or more railcars can be engaged with respect to one another such that openings of the railcar cavities can be adjacent to one another. However, a gap can be defined between the railcars such that a vehicle cannot move between railcars without means for spanning the gap. A bridge plate can span the gap defined between the openings of the adjacent railcars and a vehicle can pass from one railcar to another railcar.

Prior art bridge plates are formed from aluminum and weigh in excess of thirty (30) pounds. In addition, prior art bridge plates are substantially flat and are planar along edges. A traction surface is applied, typically by spraying, to prior art bridge plates several times over the course of their useful life to enhance traction of vehicles moving between railcars. Also, prior art bridge plates are painted bright colors to enhance visibility. However, the traction surface and the paint wear quickly and must be reapplied. The contour of the top surface of the current bridge plate is such that it can collect rain water that may fall while the bridge plate is installed. In some cases the water freezes and forms ice that bonds to the bridge plate and increases its weight. Prior art bridge plates are rotatingly engaged with respect to a railcar with a handle that is accessible only adjacent a downwardly facing surface of the prior art bridge plate.

SUMMARY

The present invention is an apparatus for supporting a vehicle moving between two railcars. The apparatus includes a bridge plate formed as a composite of a plurality of materials. The bridge plate can include a handle portion integrally formed with respect to the bridge plate. The bridge plate can include a tip portion that narrows relative to a middle portion of the bridge plate to enhance stable engagement of the bridge plate with the railcar.

The apparatus can also include a traction surface integrally formed with respect to the bridge plate. The traction surface can improve the movement of vehicles over the bridge plate.

The apparatus can also include a pin assembly connectable to the bridge plate to rotatingly engage the bridge plate with respect to the railcar. The pin assembly can be removably associated with respect to the bridge plate. The pin assembly can include a first pin relatively immovably associated with respect to the bridge plate when the pin assembly is engaged with respect to the bridge plate and second pin movable with respect to the bridge plate when the pin assembly is engaged with respect to the bridge plate. The pin assembly can also include means for biasing the first pin relative to the second pin, such as a spring.

The apparatus can also include means for moving the second pin relative to the bridge plate. The moving means can include a handle portion. The handle portion can be accessible to an operator from a top surface of the bridge plate. Furthermore, the handle portion can be accessible to an operator from a bottom surface of the bridge plate.

The bridge plate can be fabricated as a composite including a plurality of materials, one of the which can be glass fibers. Resins can be included with glass fibers to enhance desirable properties of the bridge plate. For example, one of the plurality of materials can be a resin resistant to ultraviolet light or sunlight since the bridge plate may be maintained outside. Likewise, one of the plurality of materials can be a resin resistant to acid rain. One of the plurality of materials can be a resin colored yellow or any other color to eliminate the need to paint and repaint the bridge plate.

The bridge plate includes a plurality of longitudinal sections located on a bottom surface of the bridge plate. The longitudinal sections are formed by combining glass with a resin, then wrapping the combined glass and resin around a foam plastic core.

The present invention also provides a method of supporting a vehicle moving between two railcars. The method includes the step of forming a bridge plate as a composite of a plurality of materials. The bridge plate can be formed in a compression molding process or a resin transfer process. The method of forming the bridge plate can also include the step of integrally forming a traction surface with respect to the bridge plate.

The method can also include the step of rotatingly engaging the bridge plate with respect to a railcar with a pin assembly having a handle portion. The handle portion can be accessible from a top surface of the bridge plate and a bottom surface of the bridge plate.

The present invention provides numerous advantages over prior art bridge plates. For example, the bridge plate of the present invention defines an integrally formed traction surface, eliminating the need to apply and re-apply a traction surface over the useful life of the bridge plate. Also, the bridge plate of the present invention defines an integrally formed gripping portion. Separately and in combination, the integrally formed traction surface and the gripping portion features enhance the safety and ease in handling and positioning the bridge plate with respect to a railcar. These features also, separately and in combination, enhance the useful life of the bridge plate. For example, an operator will be more likely to carry the bridge plate of the present invention from a railcar to the ground or to a storage facility, rather than throwing the bridge plate from the railcar. The gripping portion can also define a traction surface to further enhance the safety and ease in handling and positioning the bridge plate with respect to a railcar. Also, the bridge plate of the present invention can include a pin assembly for rotatingly engaging the bridge plate with respect to a railcar wherein a handle of the pin assembly is accessible from the top surface of the bridge plate. The accessibility of the handle from more than one surface of the bridge plate can enhance the safety and ease in handling and positioning the bridge plate with respect to a railcar and improve the efficiency of work associated with the bridge plate. For example, an operator need not be required to be underneath the bridge plate to safely detach the bridge plate with respect to the railcar. Furthermore, the longitudinal sections located on the bottom surface of the bridge plate, formed by combining glass fibers with a resin, then wrapping the combined glass fibers and resin around a foam plastic core yield the bridge plate being lighter in weight than standard bridge plates. The foam cores reduce the bridge plate weight and the glass fibers and resin wrapped around the foam plastic cores forming the longitudinal sections still ensure the longitudinal sections maintain the requisite strength for supporting vehicles moving between two railcars.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The description herein makes reference to the accompanying drawings wherein like reference numerals refer to like parts throughout the several views, and wherein:

The various features, advantages and other uses of the present invention will become comprehensible according to the following detailed description and drawings in which:

FIG. 1 is a plan view of a bridge plate according to the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the bridge plate shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a side view of the bridge plate shown in FIG. 1; and

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a first end of the bridge plate from an upwardly facing surface;

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the first end of the bridge plate from a downwardly facing surface; and

FIG. 6 is a bottom view of the bridge plate shown in FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Various embodiments of the invention are shown throughout the figures. The figures include common elements in different structural configurations.

Well-known bridge plates are constructed from a material having a uniform composition and thickness, whereas the thickness and/or composition of the materials forming a bridge plate 12 of the present invention can be varied. Resin content, resin type fiber content, fiber type and fiber orientation of the new bridge plate is varied throughout the structure in order to more efficiently manage local stress caused by loading during service. Radiuses of various sizes and shapes can efficiently manage stress where vertical, horizontal and/or longitudinal elements of the structures intersect. This process provides significantly greater strength for a given weight.

Referring now to FIG. 1, the present invention provides a bridge plate assembly 10 including a bridge plate 12 and a pin assembly 14. The bridge plate 12 can be positioned between two railcars to span a gap or chasm defined between the railcars and support movement of a vehicle between the railcars. The bridge plate 12 is formed as a composite of a plurality of materials as described in detail hereafter. The bridge plate 12 defines a traction surface 16. The traction surface 16 can be integrally formed with respect to the bridge plate 12. The traction surface 16 can be defined by a plurality of projections 108 extending from a top surface 15. The surface 15 can be a substantially flat surface. The projections 108 possess a semi-circular shape and can be arranged in a particular pattern with respect to one another, such as, an alternate direction pattern where one projection is horizontally displaced and the next projection is vertically displaced with respect to a standard x and y axis. Alternatively, the projections can be randomly positioned with respect to one another. For example, each of the projections 108 can be spaced a predetermined distance with respect to every other projection by defining recesses or projections in a mold. Each of the plurality of projections 108 can be spaced a first distance from each adjacent projection, defining a uniform pattern. A non-uniform pattern by the projections 108 being randomly arranged is also possible.

Referring now to FIGS. 1 and 2, the bridge plate 12 can extend between a first end 34 and a second end 36 along the longitudinal axis 32. A middle portion 38 can be defined between the first end 34 and the second end 36. The bridge plate 12 can extend a predetermined length along the longitudinal axis 32. For example and not limitation, the bridge plate 12 can be 53-56 inches long and possess a minimum of 21.5 inches of width. Furthermore, the bridge plate 12 can be 56 inches long and 22 wide. The bridge plate 12 can also include downwardly facing channels 40, 42, 44 and 46 as shown in FIGS. 2 and 6.

Referring now to FIGS. 1 and 3, the second end 36 of the bridge plate 12 can define a tip portion 52. The width of the tip portion 52 can be less than a width of the middle portion 38. Also, a height of the tip portion 52 can be less than a height of the middle portion 38. The height and width of the tip portion 52 can be less than the height and width of the middle portion 38 to enhance the engagement of the tip portion with respect to a railcar. In particular, tip portion 52 can be configured to provide clearance for railcar end door stops or horseshoes. In addition, the configuration of the tip portion 52 can enhance the likelihood that the tip portion 52 can rest flat with respect to end door tracks, that loads are applied over the greatest possible surface area, and that bridge plate wobble is minimized.

Referring now to FIGS. 2 and 6, the bridge plate 12 can also include a gripping portion for enhancing removal of the bridge plate 12 with respect to a railcar. As shown in FIG. 2, the bridge plate 12 can include gripping portions 54 and 56 integrally formed with a first side 112 and a second side 114 of the bridge plate 12. The gripping portions 54 and 56 enhance the likelihood that the bridge plate 12 can be grasped or gripped by an operator. The gripping portion 56 can be defined by the channel 46.

The channel 46 can be downwardly-facing and be sized differently with respect to an adjacent, similarly facing channel 44. Channels disposed toward a center of the bridge plate 12, such as channels 42 and 44, can be sized differently than channels disposed along an edge of the bridge plate 12, such as channels 40 and 46, to enhance the strength of the bridge plate 12 while concurrently enhancing the ease of operating and positioning the bridge plate 12. For example, the channels 42 and 44 can be deeper and/or wider than channels 40 and 46 to enhance the load bearing capabilities of the bridge plate 12. The channels 40 and 46 can be smaller than the channels 42 and 44 to enhance the likelihood that an operator can firmly grasp the bridge plate 12 by one of the channels 40 and 46 during movement and/or positioning of the bridge plate 12. An operator of the bridge plate assembly 10 can engage the bridge plate 12 with at least one of the gripping portions 54 or 56.

The bridge plate 12 includes a plurality of longitudinal sections 116, 118 and 120 located parallel to each other and extending longitudinally from a bottom surface 104 of the bridge plate 12. The longitudinal sections 116, 118 and 120, for example, are formed by combining glass fibers with a resin, then wrapping the combined glass fibers and resin around a foam plastic core. The longitudinal sections 116, 118 and 120 also form the bottom surface 104. The process is performed by laying a dry glass fiber cloth in a mold, subsequently, resin is transferred into the mold to saturate the glass fibers.

Referring now to FIG. 1, 4 and 5 the pin assembly 14 can rotatingly engage the bridge plate 12 with respect to a railcar. The pin assembly 14 can be removably associated with respect to the bridge plate 12. For example, where either the pin assembly 14 or the bridge plate 12 is damaged, the damaged component can be replaced with respect to the other rather than-disposing or discarding of both components.

Referring now to FIG. 5, the pin assembly 14 can include a tube pin assembly 58 and fastener means 64 for removably associating the tube pin assembly 58 with respect to the bridge plate 12. The first end 34 of the bridge plate 12 can engage the tube pin assembly 58. The tube pin assembly 58 can include a tube 60 received by a surface, such as surface 62 shown in FIG. 3, defined by the first end 34. The surface 62 can be configured to conform to the configuration of the tube 60. For example, the surface 62 can be cylindrical. The tube 60 can be engaged with respect to the bridge plate 12 with fastener means 64, such as one or more brackets. For example and not meant to be limiting, the bridge plate 12 can be engaged with respect to the pin assembly 14 by using commonly known fastener means such as bolts.

An aperture 66 can extend the length of the tube 60. A first pin 68 can be positioned in the aperture 66. The pin 68 can be relatively immovably associated with respect to the tube 60 with an anchor 70 insertable in an aperture defined by the tube 60 and an aperture defined by the pin 68. Alternatively, the pin 68 can be movable relative to the tube 60. The pin 68 can be relatively immovably associated with respect to the bridge plate 12 when the tube pin assembly 58 is engaged with respect to the bridge plate 12. The tube pin assembly 58 can also include a second pin 72 movable with respect to the tube 60 along a longitudinal axis of the tube 60. The second pin 72 can be movable with respect to the bridge plate 12 when the tube pin assembly 58 is engaged with respect to the bridge plate 12. A spring 74 can be disposed between the first and second pins 68, 72 biasing the first pin 68 relative to the second pin 72.

The assembly 14 can also include a handle 76 for moving the second pin 72 relative to the bridge plate 12. The handle 76 can move the second pin 72 to compress biasing means 74. The handle 76-can be accessible from both a top surface 102 of the bridge plate 12 and the bottom surface 104 of the bridge plate 12.

The handle 76 is operably associated with the second pin 72 to move the pin 72 with respect to the tube 60. The handle 76 can include a first handle portion 78 and a second handle portion 80. The handle 76 can pass through an opening 82 defined by the tube 60 and can engage the second pin 72 to be immovably associated with respect to the second pin 72. The opening 82 can extend along the longitudinal axis of the tube 60 a length corresponding to a length of desired travel of the pin 72 relative to the bridge plate 12. In operation, the handle 76 can be engaged by an operator via the first handle portion 78 or the second handle portion 80 and moved along a path substantially parallel to the longitudinal axis of the tube 60 toward the pin 68 to move the pin 72. The spring 74 can bias the pin 72 to an extended-position. The first handle portion 78 can be accessed from a downwardly facing surface 104 of the bridge plate 12 and the second handle portion 80 can be accessible from an upwardly facing surface 102 of the bridge plate 12. The-handle 76 can extend from the pin 72 and opening 82 to pierce the downwardly facing channel 42 along a side wall 92 of the channel 42.

Referring now to FIGS. 4-5, one of the first and second handle portions 78, 80 can be engaged by an operator to move the pin 72 along the longitudinal axis of the tube 60 from an extended position to a retracted position, compressing biasing means 74.

Referring now to FIG. 1, the bridge plate 12 is fabricated as a composite from a plurality of materials. The bridge plate 12 can be formed in a resin transfer molding operation or a compression molding operation. The bridge plate 12 can be fabricated using a plurality of glass and Kevlar fibers.

Glass fibers can be desirable because they are strong and have good resistance to damage resulting from mechanical impact (when compared to carbon fibers). However, carbon fibers can be used for forming the bridge plate 12. The glass fibers can be protected by a 0.020 inch layer of cloth woven from Kevlar® or a layer of Hardwire® cloth that is placed in areas of the bridge plate that can come in contact with the railcar decks and deck appliances, such as the bottom of the tip 52 and edges of the tip 52.

The bridge plate 12 can be fabricated using resins to enhance desirable properties of the bridge plate 12. For example, resins can be incorporated in the mix used to form the bridge plate 12 that are resistant to ultraviolet light, sunlight, acid rain, and temperature extremes. The bridge plate 12 can be fabricated from resins that are pigmented such that the bridge plate 12 does not require painting. For example, the bridge plate 12 can be formed as a composite of a plurality of materials including a yellow colored resin. The bridge plate 12 can conform to American Association of Railroad Specifications such as AAR M951-03. The bridge plate assembly 10 can be operable to support a vehicle such as an automobile or a truck moving between two railcars. The bridge plate assembly 10 can be engaged with a railcar to support any kind of vehicle transported by rail.

The materials for forming the bridge plate 12 can be various high-performance thermoset polymers such as Riehold® A-31040 urethane or various products from the Xycon® family of polymers, for example. These products are tough, provide high strength, can be molded to provide near-net shape parts, excellent resistance to environmental conditions such as water, acid rain, UV light and ozone, are dimensionally stable over time, resistant to chemicals such as gasoline, diesel fuel, methanol, ethylene glycol, and lubricating oils common to this environment. These materials have extremely low (<0.5%) moisture absorption ratings. These materials are non-toxic and can be recycled under classification “UP”. Bridge plates manufactured from this family of polymers can be stored or used in ambient temperatures ranging from −40° to +160° Fahrenheit without a substantial change in mechanical properties.

A 0.100 inch to 0.200 inch thick polyurethane coating can be applied to those areas of the bridge plate that can come in contact with railcar decks and deck appliances, such as the bottom of the tip 52 and edges of the tip 52. This coating can provide benefits in three areas: 1) it can provide additional protection for the bridge plate structure resulting from mechanical impact with the railcar deck edges, end-door roller tracks, chock rails, chain rails, railcar tire guides and chock grating, 2) it can reduce lateral movement of the bridge plate, with respect to the railcar deck, when operators walk across the bridge plates during the loading and unloading operations, and 3) it can reduce the noise level inside the railcar as vehicles are driven across the bridge plates when compared to well-known aluminum bridge plates. Products such as Rhino Linings®, K-Line Polyurethane®, Futura® 1698 urethane or Futura-Thane® 22029 can be used. Prior to application of the polyurethane coating, the areas of the bridge plate to be coated can be cleaned with Prep-Sol® and a high-quality primer can be applied to a thickness of 0.0015″.

While the invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiment, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the disclosed embodiments but, on the contrary, is intended to cover various modifications and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims, which scope is to be accorded the broadest interpretation so as to encompass all such modifications and equivalent structures as is permitted under the law.