Title:
SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR LOADING AND TRANSPORTING FREIGHT AND DUNNAGE ON RAILCARS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Systems and methods for loading and transporting freight and dunnage on railcars are disclosed. An illustrative method of loading freight onto a railcar for transport can include the steps of attaching a number of lower support members to a floor or deck of the railcar, loading a lower tier of freight components onto the lower support members, loading a number of upper support members onto the lower tier of freight components, loading an upper tier of freight components onto the upper support members and releasably fastening the lower and upper support members to the lower and upper tiers of freight components. Each of the support members can be releasably fastened to the freight components via a number of coupling members, allowing the freight components to be easily loaded onto and unloaded from the railcar.



Inventors:
Fellon, Dave (St. Paul, MN, US)
Kutka, Bill (Lakeville, MN, US)
Rieck, Chris (Jordan, MN, US)
Application Number:
11/382886
Publication Date:
11/15/2007
Filing Date:
05/11/2006
Assignee:
PROGRESSIVE RAIL (Lakeville, MN, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B61D3/16
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
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20070253791METHOD OF FORMING A LOAD FOR TRANSPORTATIONNovember, 2007Smithson et al.
20040265086Device at a cargo supportDecember, 2004Dahlstrom et al.
20080118324LOAD SECURING DEVICEMay, 2008Fritel
20080304932Self-Tensioning Tie Down AssemblyDecember, 2008Leggett et al.
20080101883RAIL ATTACHMENT MOUNTMay, 2008Derecktor
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Primary Examiner:
GORDON, STEPHEN T
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SEAGER, TUFTE & WICKHEM, LLP (MINNEAPOLIS, MN, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method of loading freight onto a railcar for transport, the railcar having a floor or deck, a number of ends defining a length, and a number of sides defining a width, the method comprising the steps of: attaching a number of lower support members to the floor or deck of the railcar; loading a lower tier of freight components onto the lower support members; releasably fastening the lower tier the freight components to the lower support members; loading a number of upper support members onto the lower tier of freight components; loading an upper tier of freight components onto the upper support members; and releasably fastening the upper support members to the lower and upper tiers of freight components.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein each of said lower support members are permanently attached to the floor or deck of the railcar.

3. The method of claim 2, wherein said step of permanently attaching the lower support members to the floor or deck of the railcar is accomplished by welding.

4. The method of claim 1, wherein said floor or deck comprises a steel deck.

5. The method of claim 1, wherein said railcar is a flatcar.

6. The method of claim 1, wherein said lower and upper tiers of freight components include a number of frame weldments.

7. The method of claim 6, wherein the frame weldments are laterally nested in pairs above the floor or deck of the railcar.

8. The method of claim 1, wherein each of the lower and upper support members includes a support beam extending lengthwise across the width of the railcar.

9. The method of claim 1, wherein each freight component is releasably secured to at least one vertically adjacent support member.

10. The method of claim 1, wherein each freight component is releasably secured to a plurality of support members.

11. The method of claim 1, wherein said steps of releasably fastening the lower and upper tiers of freight components to the lower and upper support members is accomplished using coupling members.

12. The method of claim 11, wherein each coupling member includes a pin or bolt.

13. The method of claim 11, wherein said steps of releasably fastening the lower and upper tiers of freight components to the lower and upper support members includes the steps of: forming at least one hole or opening through a portion of each freight component; forming at least one hole or opening within each support member vertically adjacent each freight component; and inserting coupling members through the holes or openings formed on the freight components and vertically adjacent support members, thereby coupling each freight component to at least one support member.

14. The method of claim 1, wherein each tier of freight components includes a laterally nested array of freight components disposed across the width of the railcar.

15. The method of claim 1, wherein each tier of freight components includes a number of horizontal groupings of freight components disposed along the length of the railcar.

16. The method of claim 15, wherein each horizontal grouping of freight components is laterally nested relative to an adjacent horizontal grouping of freight components.

17. The method of claim 1, wherein each tier of freight components is vertically nested relative to an adjacent tier of freight components.

18. The method of claim 1, further comprising the steps of: loading and fastening an additional number of upper support members onto said upper tier of freight components; and loading and fastening at least one additional upper tier of freight components onto said additional upper support members.

19. The method of claim 18, wherein said at least one additional tier of freight components comprises a single additional tier.

20. The method of claim 18, wherein said at least one additional tier of freight components comprises at least two additional tiers.

21. The method of claim 1, further comprising the steps of: providing a number of vertical tie-downs or straps; and strapping the lower and upper tiers of freight components to the railcar.

22. The method of claim 1, wherein said steps of releasably fastening the lower and upper tiers of freight components to the lower and upper support members is accomplished as a single step after said loading steps.

23. The method of claim 1, further comprising the step of transporting the railcar and freight to a destination location.

24. The method of claim 23, further comprising the steps of: detaching the lower and upper support members from the freight components and unloading the freight components; releasably securing the upper support members to a number of vertical members; and transporting the railcar to another destination location.

25. A method of loading freight onto a railcar for transport, the railcar having a floor or deck, a number of ends defining a length, and a number of sides defining a width, the method comprising the steps of: permanently attaching a number of lower support beams to the floor or deck of the railcar; loading a lower tier of freight components onto the lower support beams; loading a number of upper support beams onto the lower tier of freight components; loading an upper tier of freight components onto the upper support beams; releasably fastening the lower and upper support beams to the lower and upper tiers of freight components, said releasably fastening step including the steps of: forming at least one hole or opening through a portion of each freight component; forming at least one hole or opening within each support member vertically adjacent each freight component; and inserting coupling members through the holes or openings on the freight components and vertically adjacent support members, thereby coupling each freight component to at least one support member.

26. A method of loading freight onto a railcar for transport, the railcar having a floor or deck, a number of ends defining a length, and a number of sides defining a width, the method comprising the steps of: attaching a first number of support members to the floor or deck of the railcar; loading a first tier of freight components onto the first support members; releasably fastening the first tier of freight components to the first support members; loading a second number of support members onto the first tier of freight components; loading a second tier of freight components onto the second number of support members; releasably fastening the second number of support members to the first and second tiers of freight components; loading a third number of support members onto the second tier of freight components; loading a third tier of freight components onto the third number of support members; and releasably fastening the third number of upper support members to the second and third tiers of freight components.

27. The method of claim 26, further comprising the steps of: loading a fourth number of support members onto the third tier of freight components; loading a fourth tier of freight components onto the fourth number of support members; and releasably fastening the fourth number of upper support members to the third and fourth tiers of freight components.

28. A method of loading freight onto a railcar for transport, the railcar having a floor or deck, a number of ends defining a length, and a number of sides defining a width, the method comprising the steps of: loading a lower tier of freight components above the floor or deck of the railcar; loading at least one upper tier of freight components above the lower tier of freight components; forming a number of holes or openings through a portion of each freight component; and inserting coupling members through the holes or openings and releasably securing the lower and upper tiers of freight components to each other.

29. A system for loading freight components onto a railcar, the railcar having a floor or deck, a number of ends defining a length, and a number of sides defining a width, the system comprising: a number of lower support members attached to the floor or deck of the railcar; a number of upper support members disposed above the lower support members; and at least one tier of freight components interposed between said lower and upper number of support members, each freight component being releasably secured to at least one vertically adjacent support member.

30. The system of claim 29, wherein each of said lower support members are permanently attached to the floor or deck of the railcar.

31. The system of claim 30, wherein each of said lower support members are welded to the floor or deck of the railcar.

32. The system of claim 29, wherein said floor or deck comprises a steel deck.

33. The system of claim 29, wherein said railcar is a flatcar.

34. The system of claim 29, wherein said at least one tier of frame components includes a number of frame weldments.

35. The system of claim 34, wherein the frame weldments are laterally nested in pairs above the floor or deck of the railcar.

36. The system of claim 29, wherein each of the lower and upper support members includes a support beam extending lengthwise across the width of the railcar.

37. The system of claim 29, wherein each freight component is releasably secured to at least one vertically adjacent support member.

38. The system of claim 29, wherein each freight component is releasably secured to a plurality of support members.

39. The system of claim 29, further comprising coupling means for releasably securing each freight component to at least one vertically adjacent support member.

40. The system of claim 39, wherein said coupling means includes a pin or bolt.

41. The system of claim 40, wherein said pin or bolt extends through a hole or opening formed through a portion of the freight component.

42. The system of claim 29, wherein each tier of freight components includes a laterally nested array of freight components disposed across the width of the railcar.

43. The system of claim 29, wherein each tier of freight components includes a laterally nested array of freight components disposed along the length of the railcar.

44. The system of claim 29, wherein said at least one tier of freight components includes a plurality of tiers, and wherein each tier of freight components is vertically nested relative to an adjacent tier of freight components.

45. The system of claim 29, wherein each tier of freight components includes a number of horizontal groupings of freight components disposed along the length of the railcar.

46. The system of claim 29, further comprising a number of vertical tie-downs or straps for securing the at least one tier of freight components to the railcar.

47. A system for transporting dunnage on a railcar, the railcar having a floor or deck, a number of ends defining a length, and a number of sides defining a width, the system comprising: at least one vertical tier of support beams disposed above the floor or deck of the railcar, each support beam having a number of through-holes or openings therein; and at least one vertical member extending through the holes or openings of the support beams.

48. The system of claim 47, wherein each support member comprises an I-shaped beam, and wherein said holes or openings extend through a lower and/or upper flange of said beam.

49. The system of claim 47, wherein a lower end of said vertical member is secured to the floor or deck of the railcar.

50. The system of claim 47, wherein a lower end of said vertical member is secured to a support member attached to the floor or deck of the railcar.

51. The system of claim 47, wherein said vertical member is a threaded rod.

Description:

FIELD

The present invention relates generally to the field of loading and transporting freight and dunnage. More specifically, the present invention pertains to systems and methods for loading and transporting freight and dunnage on railcars.

BACKGROUND

The efficient loading of freight on railcars often represents a significant hurdle in rail transport. In the loading of flatcars, for example, customized dunnage configured to accommodate the particular size and shape of the freight to be shipped must sometimes be used to secure the freight to the flatcar. In the transport of aerial work platforms such as boom lifts and vertical mast lifts, for example, such dunnage may include a customized steel chassis to permit the frame weldments for such devices to be securely stacked above the floor or deck of the flatcar in tiers. Other dunnage such as beams, poles, cables, and/or straps are also sometimes utilized to securely attach the freight to the flatcar.

The particular dunnage used to secure the freight to the flatcar will often depend on the type of freight to be shipped. To load multiple freight components onto a single flatcar, for example, a stacking chassis or frame is sometimes used to stack the individual freight components in vertical tiers above the floor or deck of the flatcar. For other freight, a crate or pallet loaded onto the flatcar may be used for transporting the freight. The configuration of the dunnage will often depend on characteristics such as the width, height, depth, weight, and/or center of gravity of the freight as well as the type of railcar used.

The loading and transporting of freight using many traditional stacking techniques often requires the dunnage to be permanently secured to the freight, often by welding or other irreversible attachment means. Such process of securing the dunnage to the individual freight components and the flatcar is often labor intensive and time consuming, requiring special handling techniques to be used during both loading and unloading of the freight. In some cases, the dunnage used to secure the freight to the flatcar must be reconfigured before it can be returned to the point of origin and/or reused in conjunction with other freight.

SUMMARY

The present invention pertains to systems and methods for loading and transporting freight and dunnage on railcars. An illustrative method of loading freight onto a railcar for transport can include the steps of attaching a number of lower support members to a floor or deck of the railcar, loading a lower tier of freight components onto the lower support members, loading a number of upper support members onto the lower tier of freight components, loading an upper tier of freight components onto the upper support members, and releasably fastening the lower and upper support members to the lower and upper tiers of freight components. The lower support members can be permanently attached to the floor or deck of the railcar using a fillet weld or other permanent attachment means. The upper support members, in turn, can be easily removed from the railcar or repositioned thereon to permit various freight stacking configurations above the floor or deck of the railcar. In some embodiments, the lower and/or upper support members can include number of support beams that extend lengthwise across a width of the railcar. The number and/or configuration of the lower and upper support beams may vary depending on the particular freight to be transported and the type of railcar used. In one illustrative embodiment, for example, the lower and upper support members can be configured to support a number of nested frame weldments used in the fabrication of aerial work platforms such as boom lifts, vertical mast lifts, scissor lifts, telehandlers, excavators, trailers, or the like.

The support members can each be releasably fastened to at least one support member, allowing the freight components to be easily loaded and unloaded from the railcar while also permitting the support members to be reused in different configurations and/or with different types of freight. In some embodiments, fastening of the support members to the freight components can be accomplished using coupling members such as pins or bolts insertable within holes or openings formed through the freight components and the support members.

To facilitate transport of the dunnage once the freight components have been unloaded from the railcar, a number of vertical members can be inserted through the support members to secure each support member to the railcar. In those embodiments in which the support members include support beams, for example, one or more of the beams can be stacked on top of each other and then secured to the railcar using a threaded rod or the like inserted through the holes or openings formed through the support beams.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a side perspective view of a railcar loading system in accordance with an illustrative embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a side perspective view showing the illustrative railcar loading system of FIG. 1 having four vertical tiers of freight components;

FIGS. 3-4 are side perspective views showing the illustrative railcar loading system of FIG. 1 having a different number of horizontal groupings per each tier of freight components;

FIG. 5 is a side perspective view showing the illustrative railcar loading system of FIG. 1 having different types of freight components;

FIG. 6 is a top perspective view of the illustrative flatcar of FIG. 1;

FIG. 7 is an end perspective view of the illustrative flatcar of FIG. 1 ;

FIG. 8 is another end perspective view of the illustrative flatcar of FIG. 1 wherein the freight components are vertically nested;

FIG. 9 is a perspective view showing the attachment of the lower tier of support members to the floor or deck of the illustrative flatcar of FIG. 1;

FIG. 10 is a top schematic view showing one of the support beams of FIG. 9 in greater detail;

FIG. 11 is a cross-sectional view along line 11-11 in FIG. 10 showing the attachment of the bearing plate and gussets to the support beam in greater detail;

FIG. 12 is an enlarged perspective view showing the connection of one of the lower support beams to the floor or deck and to a vertically adjacent freight component;

FIG. 13 is an assembly showing the connection of the freight components to the support beam in FIG. 12;

FIG. 14 is an enlarged perspective view showing the connection of one of the upper support members to a number of vertically adjacent freight components;

FIG. 15 is a block diagram showing an illustrative method of loading a railcar;

FIG. 16 is a block diagram showing another illustrative method of loading a railcar;

FIG. 17 is a perspective view showing the upper support members connected to the flatcar of FIG. 1 subsequent to unloading of the cargo; and

FIG. 18 is an enlarged perspective view showing the connection of one of the vertical members to the lower support member.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The following description should be read with reference to the drawings, in which like elements in different drawings are numbered in like fashion. The drawings, which are not necessarily to scale, depict selected embodiments and are not intended to limit the scope of the invention. Although examples of construction, dimensions, and materials are illustrated for the various elements, those skilled in the art will recognize that many of the examples provided have suitable alternatives that may be utilized. Moreover, while the illustrative systems and methods are discussed herein with respect to flat railcars, it should be understood that other types of railcars and/or transport equipment can be utilized, if desired.

Referring now to FIG. 1, a side perspective view of a railcar loading system 10 in accordance with an illustrative embodiment of the present invention will now be described. As shown in FIG. 1, system 10 can include a flatcar 12 having a floor or deck 14 adapted to support a cargo 16 including a number of individual freight components 18 thereon. In some embodiments, for example, the freight components 18 may include frame weldments for use in the fabrication of aerial work platforms such as boom lifts, vertical mast lifts, scissor lifts, telehandlers, excavators, trailers, or the like. While an illustrative cargo 16 of frame weldment components 18 is depicted in FIG. 1 for purposes of understanding the various components of the system 10, it should be understood that other types of cargo 16 could be loaded and transported using the systems and methods discussed herein.

The flatcar 12 can be defined generally by a first end still 19, a second end still 20, a first side 22, and a second side 24. The floor or deck 14 will typically comprise a steel deck, which as is discussed in greater detail below, can be utilized to weld a number of lower support beams 26 to an upper surface 28 of the floor or deck 14. In one illustrative embodiment, for example, the floor or deck 14 can include a ⅜-inch non-nailable XTTX-type steel deck plate, which can be used for captive service applications on 100-ton flatcars. Other floor or deck configurations are possible, however, depending on the application.

The dunnage for supporting the cargo 16 can include a lower tier of support members 26 and one or more upper tiers of support members 30,32. The lower tier of support members 26 can each include a number of elongated support beams 34 extending lengthwise across the width of the floor or deck 14 between each of the sides 22,24. In some embodiments, for example, each of the support beams 34 can include an I-shaped beam having a long axis that extends lengthwise across the width of the floor or deck 14. An example of a suitable support beam 36 may be an A36-grade W-beam. Other types of support members can be employed, however, depending on the characteristics of the cargo 16 to be transported. Examples of other types of support members may include, but are not limited to S-beams, HP-beams, solid beams, angled beams, C-channels, MC-channels, solid tubes, and hollowed tubes.

The number of support beams 34 forming the lower tier of support members 26 can also vary depending on the characteristics of the cargo 16 to be transported. In the illustrative embodiment of FIG. 1, for example, ten support beams 26 are shown attached to the upper surface 28 of the floor or deck 14, with two supports beams 34 configured to underlie each individual freight component 18. The number of support beams 34 may vary from that depicted, however, depending on the dimensions of the freight components 18, the number and arrangement of the freight components 18, the overall weight and center of gravity of the cargo 16, the height of the cargo 16, as well as other factors. The spacing between each of the support beams 34 may be substantially similar to permit uniform loading of the cargo 16 along the length of the floor or deck 14. Alternatively, and in other embodiments, the distance between one or more of the support beams 34 may vary to alter the load distribution on the flatcar 12 in a desired manner, or to permit different types of cargo 16 to be loaded onto the flatcar 12.

The upper tiers of support members 30,32 can each similarly include a number of support beams for supporting the individual freight components 18 in a pattern or array above the floor or deck 14 of the flatcar 12. A first tier of upper support members 30 disposed between a first tier of freight components 36 and a second tier of freight components 38, for example, can include a number of elongated support beams 40 extending lengthwise across the width of the floor or deck 14 between each of the sides 22,24. A second tier of upper support members 32 interposed between the second tier of freight components 38 and a third tier of freight components 42, in turn, can similarly include a number of elongated support beams 44 extending lengthwise across the width of the floor or deck 14 between each of the sides 22,24. As with the lower tier of support members 26, the support beams 40,44 forming the first and second upper tiers of support members 30,32 can each include a W-beam, S-beam, HP beam, solid beam, angled beam, C-channel, MC-channel, solid tube, hollowed tube, or the like. In addition, the number, orientation, and/or spacing of the upper support beams 40,44 can be further altered depending on dimensions of the freight components 18, the number and arrangement of the freight components 18, the overall weight and center of gravity of the cargo 16, the height of the cargo 16, as well as other factors.

The lower and upper tiers of support members 26,30,32 can be configured to support the individual freight components 18 in a pattern or array above the floor or deck 14 of the flatcar 12. In the illustrative embodiment of FIG. 1, for example, the support members 26,30,32 can be configured to vertically support at least three vertical tiers 36,38,42 of freight components 18 above the floor or deck 14 of the flatcar 12, each tier 36,38,42 spaced apart from each other a distance. The overall height of the cargo 16 above the floor or deck 14 will typically vary depending on the vertical stacking dimension of the individual freight components 18 as well as the dimensions of the support beams 34,40,44. For some 3-tier stacking arrangements, for example, the overall height of the cargo 16 may be approximately 139 inches (353 cm) above the floor or deck 14 of the flatcar 12. For some 4-tier stack arrangements, for example, the overall height of the cargo 16 may be approximately 188 inches (478 cm) above the floor or deck 14 of the flatcar 12. The precise height will typically vary based in part on the dimensions of the cargo 16, the type of flatcar 12 used, as well as any loading restrictions (e.g. AAR Open Top Loading Rules) governing the transport of the cargo 16.

A number of vertical tie-downs or straps 46 can be provided to further secure the individual freight components 18 to the flatcar 12. In some embodiments, for example, at least one tie-down or strap 46 can be provided for each vertical column of freight components 18, which, when tightened, applies a downwardly directed force to vertically secure the freight components 18 to the flatcar 12. The number and type of tie-downs or straps 46 employed will typically vary depending on the load characteristics of the cargo 16. For some applications, for example, four-inch wide web straps can be used to vertically secure each vertical column of freight components 18. The ends 48 of the tie-downs or straps 46 can be connected to each side 22,24 of the flatcar 12, and can include a ratchet feature to vary the force applied. If desired, edge protection 50 can be provided between the strapping and the lading contact points to prevent chafing of the tie-downs or straps 46 during transport.

The individual freight components 18 can be further stacked apart from each other laterally in a pattern or array along the length of the flatcar 12 between the end stills still 19,20. In the illustrative embodiment of FIG. 1, for example, each tier 36,38,42 of freight components 18 is shown having five horizontal groupings 52 each, with each grouping 52 spaced apart from each other a distance. The number of horizontal groupings 52 as well as the spacing between each grouping 52 can vary from that depicted, however, depending on the horizontal stacking dimension of the freight components 18, the number of freight components 18 to be transported, the length of the flatcar 12, etc. In addition, while each tier 36,38,42 is shown having five horizontal groupings 52 each, it should be understood that the number of horizontal groupings 52 within each tier 36,38,42 may vary. In one such embodiment, for example, the lower tier of freight components 36 may include five horizontal groupings 52 whereas one or more of the upper tiers 38,42 of freight components 18 may have a lower number of horizontal groupings 52.

FIGS. 2-5 illustrate several alternative stacking configurations from that depicted in FIG. 1. In FIG. 2, for example, the railcar loading system 10 is shown having a four-tier configuration formed by an additional tier of support members 54 and an additional tier of freight components 56 secured to the flatcar 12. As with the lower tiers of support members 36,38,42, the additional upper tier of support members 54 can include a number of elongated support beams 58 extending lengthwise across the width of the floor or deck 14 between each of the sides 22,24.

FIGS. 3 and 4 are side perspective views showing alternative stacking configurations having a different number of horizontal groupings 52 per each tier 36,38,42,56 of freight components 18. In FIG. 3, for example, the uppermost tier 56 of freight components 18 is shown having three horizontal groupings 52 whereas each of the lower tiers 36,38,42 are shown having five horizontal groupings 52 each. FIG. 4 has a similar configuration to that depicted in FIG. 3, but shows a different stacking configuration of the uppermost tier 56 of freight components 18.

FIG. 5 is a side perspective view showing another alternative stacking configuration from that depicted in FIG. 1 having different types of freight components. In FIG. 5, the two outer vertical columns 60 of each tier 36,38,42 is shown having a different freight component 18 than that supported by the interior vertical columns 62,64,66 of each tier 36,38,42. In such configuration, multiple types of freight components each type having a different dimension can be transported via the flatcar 12.

FIG. 6 is a top perspective view showing the top of the illustrative flatcar 12 of FIG. 1 in greater detail. As can be further seen in FIG. 6, each vertical column of each tier 36,38,42 can include a laterally nested set of freight components 18a,18b disposed along the width of the flatcar 12 between the ends 22,24. A first freight component 18a of each vertical column located adjacent the first side 22 of the floor or deck 14, for example, can be stacked with a narrow end 68 oriented closer to the second end still 20 and a wider end 70 thereof oriented closer to the first end still 19. A second freight component 18b of each vertical column located adjacent the second side 24 of the floor or deck 14, in turn, can be stacked with the narrow end 68 oriented closer to the first end still 19 and the wider end 70 thereof oriented closer to the second end still 20. In some embodiments, nesting of the freight components 18a,18b can be used to reduce the total space occupied by the cargo 16 and/or to distribute the cargo load evenly between each end still 19,20 of the flatcar 12. While the freight components are shown laterally nested across only the width of the flatcar 12, it should be understood that the freight components can also be laterally nested along the length of the flatcar 12 so that each horizontal grouping 52 of freight components is mirrored relative to each laterally adjacent horizontal grouping 52.

FIG. 7 is an end perspective view of the illustrative flatcar 12 of FIG. 1 showing the lateral nesting arrangement of the freight components 18a,18b within each tier of freight components 36,38,42. As can be further seen in FIG. 7, the freight components 18a,18b for each tier 36,38,42 can be oriented in a similar manner relative to each other. In an alternative embodiment depicted in FIG. 8, each vertical tier of freight components 36,38,42 can be further vertically nested relative to an adjacent vertical tier of freight components 36,38,42 to further reduce cargo space and distribute cargo load on the flatcar 12, if desired. In FIG. 8, for example, the freight components 18a,18b forming the second tier of freight components 38 is shown vertically nested relative to the freight components 18a,18b forming each vertically adjacent tier 36,42. Other vertical nesting configurations different from that depicted in FIG. 8 are possible, however.

FIG. 9 is a perspective view showing the attachment of the lower tier of support members 26 to the floor or deck 14 of the illustrative flatcar 12 of FIG. 1. As can be seen in FIG. 9, the support beams 34 forming the lower tier of support members 26 may each extend lengthwise along substantially the width of the floor or deck 14 between the sides 22,24 of the flatcar 12, and can be spaced apart from each other a distance D. Each support beam 34 can have a first end 72 disposed at or near the first side 22 of the flatcar 12 and a second end 74 disposed at or near the second side 24 of the flatcar 12. A lower flange 76 of each support beam 34 can be permanently secured to the upper surface 28 of the floor or deck 14. In some embodiments, for example, each of the support beams 34 can permanently secured to the upper surface 28 using a fillet weld 78 on each side of the lower flange 76. Attachment of the support beams 34 to the floor or deck 14 can be accomplished using other attachment means such as welding to an intermediate member such as a plate, or via a number of fasteners.

Each of the support beams 34 can include one or more bearing plates 80,82 for increasing the strength of the support beam 34 and to prevent web crippling. As can be further seen in FIG. 10, a first bearing plate 80 can be attached to the support beam 34 a short distance (e.g. 8 inches) inwardly from the first end 72 of the beam 34. A second bearing plate 82, in turn, can be attached to the support beam 34 a short distance inwardly from the second end 74 of the beam 34. Each of the bearing plates 80,82 can be secured to the web 84 and to the lower and upper flanges 76,86 of the support beam 34 using a number of gussets 88. As shown in cross-section in FIG. 11, attachment of the bearing plates 80,82 and gussets 88 to the support beam 34 can be accomplished using several fillet welds 90. If desired, one or more other strengthening features (e.g. bearing stiffeners, gussets, etc.) can be provided at various other locations along the length of the support beam 34 for imparting additional load-bearing capacity to the support beam 34.

FIG. 12 is an enlarged perspective view showing the connection of one of the lower support beams 34 to the floor or deck 14 and to a vertically adjacent freight component 18 from the lower tier of freight components 36. As shown in FIG. 12, a lower portion 92 of the freight component 18 having a relatively flat surface 94 can be loaded onto the upper flange 86 of the support beam 34 and releasably secured thereto using a coupling member 96. The coupling member 96 can include, for example, a ball-lock pin, a bolt, or other suitable fastener that can be releasably secured to the support beam 34 and freight component 18. An example of a suitable coupling member 96 may be, for example, a 4130 grade ¾-inch steel pin. During loading and unloading, and as further discussed below, the use of detachable coupling members 96 facilitates loading and unloading of the freight components 18 from the flatcar 12.

FIG. 13 is an assembly view showing the connection of the freight component 18 to the support beam 34 in FIG. 12. As can be seen in FIG. 13, one or more holes or openings 98,100 can be formed through the lower portion 92 of the freight component 18 as well as through the upper flange 86 of the support beam 34 for receiving the coupling member 96. The holes or openings 98,100 can be generally aligned with each other along a common axis 102, and can be dimensioned to slidably receive the coupling member 96 therethrough. In some embodiments, for example, the holes or openings 98,100 can be made slightly larger than ⅝ of an inch to permit a ⅝-inch diameter pin or bolt to be inserted through both the lower portion 92 of the freight component 18 and the upper flange 86 of the support beam 34. Other hole or opening configurations may be provided, however, depending on the particular application. In some embodiments, for example, the holes or openings 98,100 can include a keyway feature to permit the coupling member 96 to be inserted through the holes or openings 98,100 in an aligned position, and then rotated out of alignment to secure the freight component 18 to the support beam 34.

The placement location of the holes or openings 98,100 will normally vary depending on the type of freight components 18 to be secured to the flatcar 12. Typically, at least one coupling member 96 will be provided to secure each freight component 18 from the lower tier of freight components 36 to each adjacent support beam 34. Thus, at least two coupling members 96 can be used in those embodiments employing two adjacent underlying support beams 34, at least three coupling members 96 can be used in those embodiments employing three adjacent underlying support beams 34, and so forth.

Formation of the holes or openings 98,100 can be accomplished either on-site at the time of loading or at a time prior to loading. In the latter case, for example, the holes or openings 98 through the freight components 18 can be formed prior to loading during manufacturing, reducing the number of tools required to load the cargo 16 on the flatcar 12. In similar fashion, the holes or openings 100 provided through the support beams 34 can be formed prior to loading based on the manufacturer's specifications, further reducing the time and number of steps required to load the flatcar 12. While the holes or openings 98 are shown formed through a flat section 94 of the freight component 18, it should be understood that the holes or openings 98 can be provided through other portions of the component 18, if desired.

FIG. 14 is an enlarged perspective view showing the connection of one of the upper support beams 40 to a number of vertically adjacent freight components 18. As shown in FIG. 14, each support beam 40 from the upper tier of support members 30 can include a lower flange 104, an upper flange 106, and a web 108, similar to that described above with respect to the lower support beams 34. The support beams 40 may include other structural features such as a number of bearing plates 110 and gussets 12, which provide additional strength to the beam 40 and prevent web crippling. As with the lower support beams 34, the upper support beams 40 can have other shapes and/or configurations.

The support beams 40 can be interposed between two vertically adjacent freight components 18 located above and below the flanges 104,106. The support members 40, for example, can be configured to overlie one or more lower freight components 18, each of which can be releasably secured thereto via a respective coupling member 114 extending through a portion of the freight component 18 and the lower flange 104. The support member 40 can also be configured to form a support base for one or more upper freight components 18, each of which can be releasably secured to the support member 40 via a respective coupling member 116 extending through a portion of the freight component 18 and the upper flange 106. The coupling members 114,116 can include ball-lock pins, bolts, or other suitable fasteners that can be inserted through holes or openings formed through the flanges 104,106 and freight components 18. A similar fastening configuration can be provided for each additional upper tier of freight components 38,42 to be secured to the flatcar 12, if desired.

In contrast to the lower support beams 34 which can be permanently secured to the floor or deck 14 of the flatcar 12, the support beams 40,44 used to support each upper tier of freight components 38,42 can be easily added and removed from the flatcar 12 to facilitate loading and unloading of the cargo 16. Because releasable fasteners are employed instead of more permanent attachments means such as welding, the support beams 40,44 can be reused multiple times and with other types of freight components 18. In addition, the use of coupling members 96,114,116 instead of more permanent attachment means allows the system 10 to accommodate small variations in the positioning of the freight components 18 with respect to the support beams 34,40,44, allowing the components 18 to be easily stacked and connected to the beams 34,40,44.

Referring now to FIG. 15, a block diagram showing an illustrative method 118 of loading a railcar will now be described. Method 118 may begin generally at block 120 by attaching a number of lower support members to the floor or deck of a railcar. Attachment of the lower support members can be accomplished, for example, by placing a number of elongated support beams at various locations across the width and/or along the length of the railcar and then permanently securing the lower support beams to the floor or deck of the railcar by welding, bolting, or other suitable permanent attachment means. In some embodiments, for example, a number of I-shaped beams can be positioned lengthwise across the width of the railcar and permanently attached thereto using fillets welds between the upper surface of the floor or deck and the bottom flange of the beams. Other support members commonly employed in supporting loads such as S-beams, HP-beams, solid beams, angled beams, C-channels, MC-channels, solid tubes, and hollowed tubes can also be utilized, if desired.

Once the lower support members have been attached to the floor or deck of the railcar, a lower tier of freight components can then be loaded onto the lower support members, as indicated generally by block 122. Loading of the lower tier of freight components onto the lower support members can be accomplished, for example, using a crane, forklift, and/or other such loading equipment. In some embodiments, loading of the lower tier of freight components onto the lower support members can be accomplished by laterally nesting the freight components together. If, for example, the freight components comprise frame weldments used in the fabrication of aerial work platforms (e.g. boom lifts, vertical mast lifts, etc.), the weldments can be laterally nested in pairs across the width of the railcar similar to that discussed above with respect to FIG. 6.

As further indicated by block 124, once each of the lower tier of freight components have been loaded onto the lower support members, each freight component can be releasably fastened to at least one vertically adjacent lower support member. Attachment of the lower tier of freight components can be accomplished, for example, by forming holes or openings through the upper flanges of the lower support members and through a portion of each freight component, and then inserting a coupling member such as a ball-lock pin or bolt therein. At least one coupling member can be provided to secure each freight component to a corresponding lower support member.

If it is desired to secure one or more additional tiers of freight components to the railcar, at least one upper tier of support members can be loaded and fastened onto the first tier of freight components, as indicated generally by block 126. As with the lower support members, the upper support members can be positioned lengthwise at various locations across the width and/or length of the railcar such that each support member is vertically adjacent at least one of the lower tier of freight components. Once loaded onto the lower tier of freight components, coupling members can be used to releasably secure each of the upper support members to a portion of the lower tier of freight components.

Once the upper support members are secured in place, an upper tier of freight components can then be loaded onto the upper support members, as indicated generally by block 128. Loading of the upper tier of freight components can be accomplished similar to that of the lower tier of freight components, using a crane, forklift, or the like. To reduce cargo space, the upper tier of freight components can be laterally nested across the width and/or along the length of the railcar. Depending on the dimensions of the freight components, the upper tier of freight components can also be vertically nested with the lower tier of freight components to further reduce cargo space, if desired.

As further indicated generally by block 130, once each of the upper tier of freight components have been loaded onto the upper support members, the freight components can be releasably fastened to at least one vertically adjacent upper support member, similar to that described above with respect to block 124. The process of loading and fastening a number of additional upper support members onto the last loaded tier of freight components and then loading and fastening another upper tier of freight components thereon can then be repeated one or more times for each additional tier to be stacked onto the railcar, as indicated generally by arrow 132. In some embodiments, vertical tie-downs or straps can be utilized to further secure each of the freight components to the railcar. Once completely loaded and fastened to the railcar, the cargo can then be transported to a destination location, as indicated generally by block 134. The above steps can then be reversed to unload the cargo and upper support members from the railcar, if desired.

While each tier of freight components can be secured in place as they are loaded onto the lower (i.e. previous) tier of support members, the steps of fastening each of the support members and freight components can be performed subsequent to the loading steps described herein, if desired. In one such method 136 illustrated in FIG. 16, for example, the steps of fastening each tier of freight components and each support member can be performed after the loading steps to permit the entire cargo to be loaded onto the railcar at once. The illustrative method 136 may begin generally at block 138 by attaching a number of lower support members to the floor or deck of a railcar, similar to that described above with respect to block 120 in FIG. 15.

Once the lower support members have been attached to the floor or deck of the railcar, a lower tier of freight components can then be loaded onto the lower support members, as indicated generally by block 140. Loading of the freight components onto the lower support members can be accomplished, for example, using a crane, forklift, or the like. In addition, and in some embodiments, loading of the lower tier of freight components onto the lower support members can be accomplished by laterally nesting the freight components together, as discussed herein.

Once the lower tier of freight components have been loaded onto the lower support members, a number of upper support members can then be loaded onto the lower tier of freight components, as indicated generally by block 142. As with the lower support members, the upper support members can be positioned lengthwise at various locations across the width and/or along the length of the railcar such that each support member is vertically adjacent at least one component from the lower tier of freight components.

Once the upper support members have been loaded onto the lower tier of freight components, an upper tier of freight components can then be loaded onto the upper support members, as indicated generally by block 144. Loading of the upper tier of support members can be accomplished in a manner similar to that of the lower tier of freight components, using a crane, forklift, or the like. To reduce cargo space, the upper tier of freight components can be laterally and/or vertically nested relative to each other, as described herein.

The steps of loading upper support members onto the previous tier of freight components and then loading additional tiers of freight components thereon can then be repeated one or more times until the cargo is completely loaded onto the railcar, as indicated generally by arrow 146. If, for example, three tiers of freight components are to be loaded onto the railcar, then the above steps 142,144 can be repeated once more to load a third tier of freight components onto the railcar. In similar fashion, if four tiers of freight components are to be loaded onto the railcar, then the above steps 142,144 can be repeated two more instances to load a third and fourth tier of freight components onto the railcar.

Once each of the support members and freight components have been loaded onto the railcar, each of the support members and freight components can be connected together in a single step, as indicated generally by block 148. In some embodiments, for example, a number of coupling members can be utilized to releasably fasten each freight component to at least one of the vertically adjacent support members. If desired, vertical tie-downs or straps can be utilized to further secure each vertical column of freight components to the flatcar. Once each of the freight components have been secured to the railcar, the cargo can then be transported to a destination location, as indicated generally by block 150. The above steps can then be reversed to unload the cargo and upper support members from the railcar, if desired.

Once the cargo has been unloaded from the railcar, the upper support members interposed between the freight components can be optionally stacked onto a number of vertical members to permit the support members and other dunnage to be transported back to the origination location or to another location for subsequent use. In one such embodiment depicted in FIG. 17, for example, a number of threaded rods 152 can be provided to permit one or more of the upper support beams 40,42 to be securely stacked onto the lower support beams 34.

Each of the rods 152 can be configured to fit within the holes or openings 98,100 formed through the upper and lower flanges 76,86,104,106 of the support beams 34,40,44. As shown in further detail in FIG. 18, for example, the lower end 154 of each rod 152 can be releasably secured to a portion of the lower support beam 34 and/or to the floor or deck 14 of the flatcar 12 using a locking collar 156, locknut or other suitable attachment means. The locking collar 156 can be engaged against the rod 152 at a location below the upper flange 86 of the lower support beam 34. A similar locking collar 158 or locknut inserted over the upper end 160 of the rod 152 can be similarly provided above the upper-most support beam 44. During transport, the rod 152 can be configured to secure each of the upper support members 40,44 to the flatcar 12, allowing the upper support beams 40,44 to be quickly and easily transported to another location without being permanently attached to the flatcar 12.

Having thus described the several embodiments of the present invention, those of skill in the art will readily appreciate that other embodiments may be made and used which fall within the scope of the claims attached hereto. Numerous advantages of the invention covered by this document have been set forth in the foregoing description. It will be understood that this disclosure is, in many respects, only illustrative. Changes can be made with respect to various elements described herein without exceeding the scope of the invention.