Title:
SYSTEM FOR GRADE CROSSING ACCIDENT MITIGATION
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method, apparatus, and system for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway. One or more gates are selectively horizontally movable to block the highway such that vehicles are blocked from entering the grade crossing, or alternately movable to unblock the highway yet concurrently then block vehicles from exiting the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting at least one gate. Alternately, one or more highway-gates are selectively vertically movable to block or unblock the highway and one or more railway-gates are vertically movable to guard or unguard the railway such that a vehicle cannot exit the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a railway-gate.



Inventors:
Tsai, John C. (Saratoga, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/307731
Publication Date:
08/24/2006
Filing Date:
02/18/2006
Assignee:
FIBERA, INC. (Santa Clara, CA, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B61L29/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
MCCARRY JR, ROBERT J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Patent Venture Group (Rancho Cucamonga, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway, comprising: when desired to prevent a vehicle from entering the grade crossing, moving at least one gate horizontally to block the highway; and when desired to permit said vehicle to enter and pass through the grade crossing, moving said at least one gate horizontally to unblock the highway and instead guard the railway such that said vehicle cannot exit the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a said gate.

2. The method of claim 1, further comprising: sensing if a said gate is impacted and producing an alarm signal; and communicating said alarm signal to warn a human or an automated system.

3. An apparatus for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway, comprising at least one gate that is selectively horizontally movable to block the highway such that a vehicle thereon is blocked from entering the grade crossing and to alternately unblock the highway such that said vehicle is permitted to enter and pass through the grade crossing yet concurrently blocked from exiting the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a said gate.

4. The apparatus of claim 3, further comprising at least one gate moving mechanism that is a member of the set consisting of electric, pneumatic, and hydraulic motors, to horizontally move at least one said gate.

5. The apparatus of claim 3, further comprising: at least one sensor for sensing if a said gate is impacted; and an alarm system responsive to said at least one sensor for producing an alarm signal to warn a human or an automated system.

6. The apparatus of claim 3, wherein said at least one gate includes warning indicia to visibly emphasize the presence there of to a driver of said vehicle, thereby reducing the likelihood that said driver will accidentally impact their said vehicle with a said gate.

7. The apparatus of claim 6, wherein said warning indicia include at least one member of the set consisting of a colors, marking patterns, reflectors, and lights.

8. A system for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway, comprising: at least one gate means to selectively horizontally move to block the highway when it is desired to prevent a vehicle from entering the grade crossing; and said at least one gate means further to horizontally move to unblock the highway and instead blockably guard the railway such that said vehicle cannot exit the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a said gate.

9. A method for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway, comprising: when desired to prevent a vehicle from entering the grade crossing, moving at least one highway-gate vertically to block the highway such that said vehicle cannot enter the grade crossing and, essentially contemporaneously, moving at least one railway-gate vertically to unblock the railway such that a train can enter and pass through the grade crossing; and when desired to permit said vehicle to pass through the grade crossing, moving said at least one said highway-gate vertically to unblock the highway such that said vehicle can enter and pass through the grade crossing and, essentially contemporaneously, moving said at least one said railway-gate vertically to blockably guard the railway such that a said vehicle cannot exit the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a said railway-gate.

10. The method of claim 9, further comprising: sensing if a said highway-gate or a said railway-gate is impacted and producing an alarm signal; and communicating said alarm signal to warn a human or an automated system.

11. An apparatus for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway, comprising: at least one highway-gate that is selectively vertically movable to block the highway such that said vehicle thereon is blocked from entering the grade crossing and alternately to unblock the highway such that said vehicle is permitted to enter and pass through the grade crossing; and at least one railway-gate that is selectively vertically movable to unblock the railway such that a train can enter and pass through the grade crossing and alternately to blockably guard the railway such that a said vehicle cannot exit the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a said railway-gate.

12. The apparatus of claim 11, wherein: said at least one highway-gate is positionably raised or lowered; said at least one railway-gate is positionably raised or lowered; and said highway-gates and said railway-gates are, essentially contemporaneously, alternately raised or lowered such that one is, or is being, raised while the other is, or is being, lowered.

13. The apparatus of claim 11, further comprising at least one gate moving mechanism that is a member of the set consisting of electric, pneumatic, and hydraulic motors, to horizontally move at least one of said at least one highway-gate and said at least one railway-gate.

14. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein: said at least one gate moving mechanism includes a counter-balance to offset the work required to move a said highway-gate by the weight of a said railway-gate or to offset the work required to move a said railway-gate by the weight of a said highway-gate.

15. The apparatus of claim 11, further comprising: at least one sensor for sensing if a said highway-gate or a said railway-gate is impacted; and an alarm system responsive to said at least one sensor for producing an alarm signal to warn a human or an automated system.

16. The apparatus of claim 11, wherein at least one of said highway-gates or said railway-gates includes warning indicia to visibly emphasize the presence thereof to a driver of said vehicle, thereby reducing the likelihood that said driver will accidentally impact their said vehicle with a said highway-gate or a said railway-gate.

17. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein said warning indicia include at least one member of the set consisting of a colors, marking patterns, reflectors, and lights.

18. A system for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway, comprising: at least one highway-gate means to selectively vertically move to block the highway when it is desired to prevent a vehicle from entering the grade crossing and to vertically move to unblock the highway when it is desired to permit said vehicle to enter and pass through the grade crossing; and at least one railway-gate means to selectively vertically move to blockably guard the railway such that said vehicle cannot exit the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a said railway-gate.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/593,861, filed 18 Feb. 2005, and U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/593,909, filed 23 Feb. 2005.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates generally to railway switches and signals, and more particularly to systems and devices which include any arrangement of train-controlling and highway traffic controlling means to prevent collisions where lines of railway cross at grade.

BACKGROUND ART

Railway-highway grade crossing accidents are a serious problem. According to U.S. Federal Railway Administration statistics, there were more than 3,000 accidents per year between 1970 and 2001, resulting in over 400 fatalities and over 1,100 injuries. Property damage was also very significant.

Some examples of statistical compilations supporting this include:

    • 1970-1985: Dept of Transportation, Federal Railway Administration, Rail-Highway Crossing Accident/Incident and Inventory Bulletin, table S and 11;
    • 1990-2000: ibid., Railroad Safety Statistics Report 2000, table 1.1; and
    • 2001: ibid., Railroad Safety Statistics Interim Report 2000, table 1.1.

Further study indicates that close to 40% of these accidents were caused by people ignoring the warning signs and signals at grade crossings. It follows, as the statistics strongly support, that the approaches currently being used are not adequate to reduce grade crossing accidents.

FIG. 1 (prior art) shows the primary method currently used to control traffic at grade crossings. Simply put, one or more gates are vertically closed onto the roadway to stop vehicles from proceeding into harms way. In particular, such gates are vertically lowered when there is a train is approaching and they are lifted again after a train has passed and no other train is coming.

In a previous invention, disclosed in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/906,800, the present inventor proposed embedding fiber optic sensors in slabs at grade crossings to detect the weight of passing vehicles. By detecting the weight of a vehicle in the crossing zone in this manner an alarm signal can be triggered, to alert railway personnel and to permit stopping trains at a safe distance from the crossing.

This approach, however, does not prevent an accident caused by a vehicle being driven into a crossing zone while the gates are up, and then simply left there where it will not interfere when the gates are lowered. Similarly, a vehicle can be driven out of a crossing zone, partially or fully, onto railway tracks adjacent to the crossing zone and left there as well. This can be done purposely but, probably more commonly, occurs accidentally. For example, when a vehicle leaves the relatively smooth surface of a crossing zone its engine can stall or the vehicle can simply become so stuck that it cannot be dislodged under its own power.

One particular gruesome example of a railway-highway grade crossing accident occurred on Jan. 28, 2005 in Glendale, Calif. There a vehicle was purposely driven off the crossing zone and was trapped on the railway track. This caused the derailment of two trains, 12 fatalities, and over 100 injuries. It also caused property damage estimated to total near US$50 M.

Accordingly, improved approaches to reducing grade crossing accidents are still sorely needed.

DISCLOSURE OF INVENTION

Accordingly, it is an object of the present invention to provide a system for grade crossing accident mitigation.

Briefly, one preferred embodiment of the present invention is a system for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway. At least one gate is provided that is selectively movable horizontally so vehicles on the highway are blocked or unblocked from entering the grade crossing. The gate or gates are concurrently, by virtue of their selective horizontal mobility, able to blockably guard against vehicles exiting the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a gate when such vehicles are passing through the grade crossing.

Briefly, another preferred embodiment of the present invention is also a system for accident mitigation at a grade crossing of a railway and a highway. At least one highway-gate is provided that is selectively movable vertically so vehicles on the highway are blocked or unblocked from entering the grade crossing. At least one railway-gate is further provided that is selectively movable vertically to blockably guard against vehicles in the grade crossing exiting the grade crossing onto the railway without impacting a railway-gate.

These and other objects and advantages of the present invention will become clear to those skilled in the art in view of the description of the best presently known mode of carrying out the invention and the industrial applicability of the preferred embodiment as described herein and as illustrated in the figures of the drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The purposes and advantages of the present invention will be apparent from the following detailed description in conjunction with the appended figures of drawings in which:

FIG. 1 (prior art) shows the primary method currently used to control traffic at grade crossings.

FIGS. 2a-b schematically depict an accident mitigation system in accord with the present invention, wherein FIG. 2a shows the accident mitigation system being employed to block a railway grade crossing to vehicular highway traffic and FIG. 2b shows the accident mitigation system being employed to allow such traffic through the grade crossing yet restrict vehicle traffic onto the railway.

FIG. 3 schematically depicts another embodiment of an accident mitigation system in accord with the present invention.

In the various figures of the drawings, like references are used to denote like or similar elements or steps.

BEST MODE FOR CARRYING OUT THE INVENTION

A preferred embodiment of the present invention is an accident mitigation system for use at railway grade crossings. As illustrated in the various drawings herein, and particularly in the views of FIGS. 2a-b and 3, preferred embodiments of the invention are depicted by the general reference character 10.

The inventor proposes an easy and effective approach to reducing accidents at grade crossings of railways and highways. Basically, this invention proposes changing the directions that gates move and where they are placed to block traffic. The accident mitigation system 10 thus is employed at a grade crossing 12 where a highway 14 crosses one or more sets of railway tracks 16.

FIG. 2a schematically depicts one embodiment of an accident mitigation system 10 in accord with the present invention. This embodiment is shown being employed while the grade crossing 12 is blocked to traffic on the highway 14, e.g., to passage of a vehicle 18. In contrast, FIG. 2b schematically depicts the case where same embodiment of the accident mitigation system 10 has opened the grade crossing 12 for vehicle traffic on the highway 14.

Turning first to FIG. 2a, in some respects this may initially resemble the common prior art scheme, discussed above. A number of gates 20 (shown in solid outline) are placed to block traffic by vehicles 18 on the highway 14 from entering the grade crossing 12, presumably because a train is either coming or has just passed on the railway tracks 16. Where the inventive accident mitigation system 10 particularly differs from the prior art scheme, however, is emphasized by additional representations here of the gates 20 in ghost outline, showing their alternate placements permitting traffic to proceed on the highway 14. The effective movement of the gates 20 in this embodiment is horizontal, represented stylistically by arcs 22 in FIGS. 2a-b.

In the embodiments of the accident mitigation system 10 in FIGS. 2a-b four gates 20 are used, rather than just two as is typical in the most common prior art scheme. This is not a requirement, however, and two longer gates 20 can be used instead. [FIG. 3 depicts a four-gate vertically-operating embodiment of the accident mitigation system 10, but a two-gate horizontally-operating embodiment would resemble this in many respects.]

Turning now also to FIG. 2b, this adds some detail and the gates 20 are here shown only in solid outline. By comparison it can be seen that the solid representations in FIG. 2a shows the gates 20 at one end of their travel and the solid representations in FIG. 2b shows them at the other end of their range of horizontal travel. When a train approaches the grade crossing 12, the gates 20 are swung across the highway 14 (FIG. 2a), thus sealing off the grade crossing 12 off from vehicle traffic. On the other hand, when no train is coming and when there is no other reason to block vehicle traffic, the gates 20 are horizontally swing “open” as shown in FIG. 2b (i.e., open with respect to traffic on the highway 14) to allow vehicles 18 to pass through the grade crossing 12. In particular, horizontally opening the gates 20 by swinging them as shown in FIG. 2b now has positioned them to also seal off access by vehicles 18 onto the railway tracks 16 where they are adjacent to the grade crossing 12.

Opening the gates 20 of the inventive accident mitigation system 10 to traffic by vehicles 18 on the highway 14 tends to also prevent vehicles 18 from being driven off the grade crossing 12 and onto the railway tracks 16. [FIG. 3, described presently, depicts such a scenario in detail.]

Accidentally driving off of the grade crossing 12 and onto the railway tracks 16 is much less likely when the inventive accident mitigation system 10 is used, for a number of reasons. For example, the presence of the gates 20 blocking the railway tracks 16 should now readily be visible to the drivers of most vehicles 18 in most conditions, since having the gates 20 horizontally positioned alongside the highway 14 inherently puts them much more within a driver's field of vision as they pass through the grade crossing 12. Additionally, the gates 20 can be make especially visible, in much the same manner that prior art grade crossing gates are made to stand out visually. For instance, the gates 20 can be painted in highly noticeable, typical warning colors or patterns and have reflectors or lights put on them. Thus, unless a driver has lost control of their vehicle 18 for reasons unrelated to visibility, they should now be able to avoid driving off of a grade crossing 12 and onto railway tracks 16, even in very poor visibility conditions such as heavy rain or fog.

Purposely driving off of the grade crossing 12 and onto the railway tracks 16 is also now more difficult, since a driver has to intentionally ram one or more of the gates 20 with their vehicle 18. This may provide a degree of psychological discouragement to some contemplating exiting the highway 14 in the grade crossing 12. Of course, making the gates 20 able to withstand being rammed by all potential traffic may not be possible, or even desirable. But the presence of the gates 20 as an obstacle can still provide physical discouragement in some common scenarios. For example, a vandal seeking to push a shopping cart, trash dumpster, etc. off of the highway 14 and onto the railway tracks 16 at the grade crossing 12 now will find this much more difficult.

FIG. 2b shows how an optional alarm system 24 and sensors 26 can be added to the accident mitigation system 10 to detect accidental or intentional contact with the gates 20. These elements can produce an alarm signal to promptly warn railway personnel that a gate 20 may have been impacted. The railway personnel can then immediately stop or slow trains approaching the particular grade crossing 12, and opt to investigate the scene there to determine the cause of the alarm.

FIG. 3 schematically depicts another embodiment of the inventive accident mitigation system 10, here one instead using four vertically moving gates 30. The use here of solid outline depicts the gates 30 positioned to permit the passage of traffic on the highway 14, and the use of ghost outline depicts them positioned to block the passage of such traffic. Eight gates could be used instead, but there are some advantages to using the number and the approach shown. For example, gate moving mechanisms 32 (e.g., electric, pneumatic, or hydraulic motors) are only needed at two locations, saving on resources (e.g., power and sensor wiring, construction labor, etc.). If important, the use of the larger, and presumably heavier, gates 30 here can be offset by using a counter-balance arrangement. If both gates 30 controlled by a gate moving mechanism 32 are operated together, simultaneously raising one as the other is lowered, the effect of gravity on the gate 30 being lowered can be used to assist in raising the other gate 30.

FIG. 3 also depicts the unfortunate situation where a vehicle 18 has veered off the main highway 14 onto the railway tracks 16, impacting a gate 30 in the process. As stylistically represented, a sensor 26 (shown at the gate moving mechanism 32 here but also easily mounted in the gates 30 themselves) can detect this and an alarm system 24 can report this incident to an alarm remote 34 (e.g., at a distant control center for the railroad).

While various embodiments have been described above, it should be understood that they have been presented by way of example only, and that the breadth and scope of the invention should not be limited by any of the above described exemplary embodiments, but should instead be defined only in accordance with the following claims and their equivalents.





 
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