Title:
AUTO-RACK RAILROAD CAR VEHICLE POSITIONING AND DAMAGE PREVENTION SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system which reduces or eliminates damage to the front and rear ends of the vehicles which can occur while the vehicles are being loaded in an auto-rack car. In one embodiment, the auto-rack car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system includes a plurality of vehicle positioning devices mountable in the auto-rack car to enable a loader to determine the distance between the vehicle the loader is driving and the vehicle positioned in front of the vehicle the loader is driving, and to enable the loader to see the position of the tires relative to a grating in the auto-rack car on which the tire is positioned.



Inventors:
Anderson, John D. (Aurora, IL, US)
Application Number:
12/428228
Publication Date:
04/29/2010
Filing Date:
04/22/2009
Assignee:
Standard Car Truck Company (Park Ridge, IL, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B61D3/18
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
WESTBROOK, SUNSURRAYE
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
K&L Gates LLP-Chicago (Chicago, IL, US)
Claims:
The invention is claimed as follows:

1. An auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system for an auto-rack railroad car, said auto-rack railroad car having a frame supporting a right side wall, a left side wall, and a roof, each of said side walls including a series of posts which support side wall panels, said auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage system comprising: a plurality of right side vehicle positioning devices, each right side vehicle positioning device including: a mounting member attachable to the right side wall, a tire viewing member connected to and extending from the mounting member, and a bumper viewing member connected to and extending from the tire viewing member; and a plurality of left side vehicle positioning devices, each left side vehicle positioning device including: a mounting member attachable to the left side wall, a tire viewing member connected to and extending from the mounting member, and a bumper viewing member connected to and extending from the tire viewing member.

2. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the mounting members of the right side vehicle positioning devices and the mounting members of the left side vehicle positioning devices are each elongated.

3. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the tire viewing members of the right side vehicle positioning devices and the tire viewing members of the left side vehicle positioning devices are each elongated.

4. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, where the bumper viewing members of the right side vehicle positioning devices and the bumper viewing members of the left side vehicle positioning devices are each elongated.

5. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the mounting members of the right side vehicle positioning devices, the mounting members of the left side vehicle positioning devices, the tire viewing members of the right side vehicle positioning devices, the tire viewing members of the left side vehicle positioning devices, the bumper viewing members of the right side vehicle positioning devices, and the bumper viewing members of the left side vehicle positioning devices are each elongated.

6. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the right side vehicle positioning devices and the left side vehicle positioning devices are each elongated.

7. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the tire viewing members of the right side vehicle positioning devices and the tire viewing members of the left side vehicle positioning devices are each convex.

8. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the bumper viewing members of the right side vehicle positioning devices and the bumper viewing members of the left side vehicle positioning devices are each convex.

9. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein at least two of the right side vehicle positioning devices are different, and wherein at least two of the left side vehicle positioning devices are different.

10. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the mounting base of each of the right side vehicle positioning devices is semicircular, and wherein the mounting base of each of the left side vehicle positioning devices is semicircular.

11. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 10, wherein the tire viewing member of each of the right side vehicle positioning devices is curved, and wherein the tire viewing member of each of the left side vehicle positioning devices is curved.

13. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 10, wherein the bumper viewing member of each of the right side vehicle positioning devices is curved, and wherein the bumper viewing member of each of the left side vehicle positioning devices is curved.

14. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the mounting base of each of the right side vehicle positioning devices is semicircular, the mounting base of each of the left side vehicle positioning devices is semicircular, the tire viewing member of each of the right side vehicle positioning devices is curved, the tire viewing member of each of the left side vehicle positioning devices is curved, the bumper viewing member of each of the right side vehicle positioning devices is curved, and the bumper viewing member of each of the left side vehicle positioning devices is curved.

15. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein the tire viewing member of each of the right side vehicle positioning devices is convex, the tire viewing member of each of the left side vehicle positioning devices is convex, the bumper viewing member of each of the right side vehicle positioning devices is convex, the bumper viewing member of each of the left side vehicle positioning devices is convex, and wherein each right side vehicle positioning device includes a closure member connected to the mounting member and bumper viewing member of said right side vehicle positioning device, and each left side vehicle positioning device includes a closure member connected to the mounting member and bumper viewing member of said left side vehicle positioning device.

16. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of claim 1, wherein each right side vehicle positioning device includes a closure member connected to the mounting member and bumper viewing member of said right side vehicle positioning device, and each left side vehicle positioning device includes a closure member connected to the mounting member and bumper viewing member of said left side vehicle positioning device.

17. An auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning device for a vehicle positioning and damage prevention system for an auto-rack railroad car, said vehicle positioning device comprising: a mounting member attachable to a side wall of the auto-rack railroad car; a tire viewing member connected to and extending from the mounting member; a bumper viewing member connected to and extending from the tire viewing member; and a closure member connected to the mounting member and bumper viewing member.

18. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning device of claim 17, wherein the mounting member, the tire viewing member, the bumper viewing member, and the closure member are integrally formed.

19. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning device of claim 18, which is formed from a clear plastic material.

20. The auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning device of claim 19, wherein a back surface of the tire viewing member and a back surface of the bumper viewing member have a mirrored coating.

Description:

PRIORITY CLAIM

This application is a non-provisional application of, claims priority to and the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/050,468, filed May 5, 2008, the entire contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND

The railroad industry employs a variety of auto-rack railroad cars for transporting newly-manufactured vehicles such as automobiles, vans and trucks. Auto-rack railroad cars, known in the railroad industry as auto-rack cars, often travel thousands of miles through varying terrain. One typical type of auto-rack car is compartmented, having two or three floors or decks, two side walls, a pair of doors at each end, and a roof. The auto-rack car with two floors or decks is often called a Bi-Level in the industry. The auto-rack car with three floors or decks is often called a Tri-Level in the industry. Newly manufactured vehicles are loaded into and unloaded from an auto-rack car for transport by a person who drives the vehicles into or out of the auto-rack car. These people are often called “loaders” in the industry.

One widely known problem which has existed for many years with auto-rack cars is that newly manufactured vehicles are often damaged during the loading of the vehicles in the auto-rack cars. More specifically, the vehicles are positioned or parked in the auto-rack car extremely close to one another to enable the maximum number of vehicles to fit into the auto-rack car. The desired distance between the vehicles is often approximately 3 to 5 inches, which maximizes space usage in the auto-rack car. It is very difficult for loaders to position or park the vehicles at such desired distances, especially when they are working alone and when they are rushed to load numerous vehicles in the auto-rack car. It is also difficult for loaders to position or park the vehicles at such desired distances since there is relatively poor visibility in the auto-rack cars (in part because the auto-rack cars are not illuminated except for minimal amounts of light which comes through the holes in the side wall screens). To achieve such desired distances, a loader often causes the front bumper of the vehicle the loader is driving to bump or touch the rear bumper of the vehicle positioned in the auto-rack car in front of the vehicle the loader is driving, and then the loader slightly backs up to create this desired spacing between the vehicles. This is sometimes called “touch and go” in the industry.

This loading procedure creates at least two significant problems. The first significant problem occurs when the front bumper of a vehicle being driven by the loader touches the rear bumper of the vehicle positioned in front of it in the auto-rack car. This often results in damage or scratches to the bumpers of one or more of these vehicles as further described below. The second significant problem occurs when the vehicle being loaded is not backed up a desired distance, such as at least three inches. In such cases, the two vehicles are positioned too close together and during transit, even minor frontward or rearward movement of one or more of these vehicles often results in damage to one or more of the vehicles being transported in the auto-rack car. Frontward and rearward movement of such vehicles occurs when auto-rack cars are subject to impacts due to slack action, run ins, run outs, certain flat switching, and switching in hump yards (which is prohibited for auto-rack cars, but still occurs in the industry). Such damage to the vehicles necessitates the repair or replacement of the damaged part or parts of the vehicles.

These problems are magnified by: (a) vehicles which have relatively low and intricate fenders, moldings, trims and bumpers; (b) vehicles which have painted bumpers; (c) vehicles which have trailer hitches; and (d) vehicle having different height bumpers. More specifically, many new vehicles have intricate and expensive fenders, moldings, trims and bumpers made from rigid plastic molded parts. While these rigid plastic molded parts provide enhanced aesthetic appearances for the vehicles (as compared to older version steel bumpers on vehicles), such parts tend to crack when relatively lower forces are applied to these parts. Likewise, the fenders, moldings, trims and bumpers on new vehicles tend to be painted bumpers (as compared to older version unpainted steel bumpers), and the paint is likely to be chipped or scratched when contacted. Trailer hitches at or extending from the rear bumpers of the vehicles also tend to cause additional damage to the front bumpers of vehicles which contact the hitches during loading or transit of the vehicle. Damage from trailer hitches is generally more prevalent in bi-level auto rack cars which transport larger vehicles, such as SUVs. When vehicles of different heights contact each other, the bumper of one vehicle can literally slide under (or over) the bumper of the other vehicle, which also creates significant damage to the vehicles.

It should also be appreciated that vehicle manufacturers provide extremely particular instructions which warn against any contact or engagement between anything in the auto-rack railroad cars and the new vehicles because the vehicle manufacturers desire to deliver the newly manufactured vehicles to dealers and their customers in “perfect” condition. Any damage, such as scratches or dents to the fenders, bumpers, moldings, trim or other parts of the vehicle can prevent or inhibit a customer from purchasing or taking delivery of the vehicle, and generally need to be fixed prior to sale of the vehicle. Fenders, moldings, trim and bumpers are costly and time consuming to repair or replace.

The damage to front and rear bumpers is extremely expensive for vehicle manufacturers which typically charge the railroads for such damage. More specifically, there have been significant recorded instances of this type of damage to vehicles being transported by auto-rack cars in recent years. For instance, one report indicates that: (a) during the period of Apr. 1, 2007 through Jul. 31, 2007, 1,428 vehicles being transported in the United States by Tri-Level auto-rack cars had front bumper damage; (b) during the period of Apr. 1, 2007 through Jul. 31, 2007, 831 vehicles being transported in the United States by Tri-Level auto-rack cars had rear bumper damage; (c) during the period of Apr. 1, 2007 through Jul. 31, 2007, 1,949 vehicles being transported in the United States by Bi-Level auto-rack cars had front bumper damage; and (d) during the period of Apr. 1, 2007 through Jul. 31, 2007, 1,191 vehicles being transported in the United States by Bi-Level auto-rack cars had rear bumper damage. These statistics confirm that these problems are well known in the industry. In fact, these statistics and the statistics regarding other areas of damage which occurs to vehicles in transit indicate that front and rear bumper damage are the largest problems currently in the industry. People in the industry have known about this type of damage for years, and while other areas of damage to the vehicles have been significantly addressed (such as damage or chips to driver side doors), the front and rear bumper damage issues have not been addressed. These problems have not been solved even though it is estimated that front and rear bumper damage resulting from the loading of the vehicles cost the railroads at least twenty-million dollars per year in claims.

These problems also lead to another problem for vehicle manufacturers and vehicle dealers. When a customer specially orders a vehicle (instead of purchasing a stock vehicle), the customer often has to wait one, two, three or more months for the specially ordered vehicle. If the specially ordered vehicle is damaged in transit, the customer may need to wait for the repairs or another specially ordered vehicle to be manufactured. This can harm the dealer's and manufacturer's reputations and businesses.

One proposed solution for these problems has been to place a foam or styrofoam block between the vehicles in the auto-rack cars to prevent the vehicles from touching one another. One problem with this proposed solution is that a loader must position the blocks during each loading process, which is very time consuming and thus relatively expensive. Another problem with this proposed solution is that the foam or styrofoam block can itself scratch the bumpers of both vehicles during transit. Another problem with this proposed solution is that the foam or styrofoam blocks can break and create excess waste in the auto-rack cars. This solution has not been successfully commercially implemented.

Another proposed solution for this problem has been to employ sensors to detect when the vehicles are within the desired distance from each other. One problem with this proposed solution is the significant cost of such sensors. This solution has not been successfully commercially implemented.

Another proposed solution for this problem is to use another loader as a spotter to help the loader driving the vehicle in the auto rack car to position the vehicle at the correct position. This is sometimes used for smaller vehicles when the loaders are loading six very small vehicles per deck in the auto-rack car instead of five vehicles per deck. Using a spotter is very expensive because it requires an additional person. This solution has not been successfully commercially implemented for loading of the vast majority of vehicles in auto-rack cars.

Accordingly, while this problem has existed for over twenty years, while hundreds of millions of dollars in vehicle damage has occurred, and while this problem is currently the largest area of damage to vehicles being transported in auto-rack cars, no suitable commercially viable solutions to this well known widespread problem have been developed. There is a significant long existing unsolved need for a solution to this relatively expensive and time consuming problem. Preferably, the proposed solution does not require the loader to perform extra task, is not expensive, and does not add significant weight to the auto-rack cars which would decrease fuel efficiency and waste energy. Additionally, any proposed solution must take into account that the vehicles loaded into the auto-rack cars are often of different lengths and the orders in which the vehicles of these different lengths are loaded in the vehicles changes.

Another problem with auto-rack cars relates to the positioning of the vehicles in the auto rack cars properly on the gratings. Many auto-rack cars include the grating and chocking system disclosed in detail in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,312,213 and 5,302,063. This vehicle restraint system includes two spaced apart gratings positioned along the length of the floor of the auto-rack car. The vehicle tires are positioned on the gratings and a plurality of restraints or chocks are each detachably secured to the respective grating to secure the vehicles in place. Typically, four restraints, one associated with each of the four wheels of a vehicle being transported are attached to the gratings. If the vehicle tires are not positioned correctly on the grating, it is difficult or impossible to secure the restraint or chock to the grating in proper engagement with the tire. For example, if a tire is not centered or close to centered on the grating (i.e., the tire is too close to the edge of the grating or partially off the grating), then the restraint or chock cannot be properly positioned to attach to the grating and to engage the tire.

Currently, there is no quick and easy way for the loader to exactly determine how the vehicle and particularly the tires of the vehicle are positioned on the gratings. This problem is magnified because loaders tend to park the vehicles with more room on the left side of the vehicle (i.e., off-center toward the right of the auto-rack car) because they will need to open the driver's side door of the vehicle to get out of the vehicle, and thus the loaders instinctively leave themselves more room on the drivers' sides of the vehicles. This problem has existed since the grating system has been implemented and no commercially viable solution has been developed.

This problem is further magnified if the loader can not properly chock the vehicle because the vehicles is off-center and another vehicle is positioned in the auto-rack car behind the off-center vehicle (i.e., by another loader). The loader of the off-center vehicle has to maneuver the off-center vehicle between the vehicle positioned in front of the off-center vehicle and the vehicle positioned behind the off-center vehicle. This is extremely time consuming and frustrating for the loaders, and thus often leads to damage to the front and rear bumpers of the off-center vehicle and the vehicles positioned in front and behind the off-center vehicle because the loader repositioning the off-center vehicle may use the touch and go system many times to reposition the off-center vehicle.

Accordingly, there is a need to provide solutions to all of the above problems.

SUMMARY

The present disclosure solves the above problems by providing an auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system which significantly reduces damage to the front and rear ends of vehicles while being loaded in an auto-rack car. In one embodiment, the auto-rack car vehicle positioning system includes a plurality of vehicle positioning devices mountable in the auto-rack car to enable a loader to determine the distance between the vehicle the loader is positioning in the auto-rack car and the vehicle positioned in front of the loader as well as the position of the tires of the vehicle with respect to any grating in the auto-rack car. Enabling the loader to determine the distance between the vehicles enables the loader to park or position the vehicle in the auto-rack car at the desired distance (such as 3 to 5 inches) from the vehicle positioned in front of the vehicle the loader is driving. Enabling the loader to determine the position of the tires enables the loader to properly center the vehicle on the grating and in the auto-rack car. The vehicle positioning system disclosed herein takes into account that vehicles of different lengths will be loaded in the auto-rack cars and that such vehicles will be loaded into the auto-rack car in different orders. The plurality of vehicle positioning devices of the vehicle positioning system of the present disclosure are easy to install, are relatively inexpensive, are positioned such that they do not contact the vehicles in any way, are easy for loaders to use, do not require additional loaders or loader time, and do not add significant weight to the auto-rack cars.

In one embodiment, the vehicle positioning system includes a plurality of individual vehicle positioning devices mounted in an auto-rack car on each of the decks of the auto-rack car and on each of the sides of each deck at a plurality of spaced apart positions. The vehicle positioning devices are mounted in spaced apart positions to account for the construction of the auto-rack cars, to account for vehicles of different lengths, and to account for the different orders of loading for the vehicles. In one embodiment, each vehicle positioning device includes a body having an elongated mounting member or base, an elongated tire viewing member connected to and extending from the mounting member, and an elongated bumper viewing member connected to and extending from the tire viewing member. In another embodiment, each vehicle positioning device is more compact and includes a body having a mounting member or base, a curved or convex tire viewing member connected to and extending from the mounting member, and a curved or convex bumper viewing member connected to and extending from the tire viewing member and the mounting member. In alternative embodiments, the mounting member is configured to be attached to the upper portion of the side wall of an auto-rack car, to the side wall panels or screens of the auto-rack car, or to the lower portion of the roof of the auto-rack car. In further alternative embodiments, the vehicle positioning devices are configured to be attached to the bottom side of the deck of the auto-rack car or the bottom side of the roof of the auto-rack car. It should be appreciated that the mounting member can be attached in any suitable manner and in any suitable location in the auto-rack car.

In one embodiment, each vehicle positioning device includes a tire viewer which includes the tire viewing member of the body and a mirrored side, layer, surface or coating attached to the tire viewing member which enables the loader to see the respective tires of the vehicles. In one embodiment, each vehicle positioning device includes a bumper viewer which includes the bumper viewing member of the body and a mirrored side, layer, surface or coating attached to the bumper viewing member which enables the loader to see the respective bumpers of the vehicles. The tire viewer is configured and mounted in the auto-rack car to enable a loader to look at the tire viewer to see the position of the tire on one side of the vehicle the loader is driving as the loader drives the vehicle in and gets close to the adjacent vehicle in the auto-rack car. The tire viewer enables the loader to see the tire relative to the position of the grating. Simultaneously, the bumper viewer is configured and mounted in the auto-rack car to enable a loader to look at the bumper viewer to see the position of the front bumper of the vehicle the loader is driving as the loader drives the vehicle and the rear bumper of the adjacent vehicle in the auto-rack car. This combination enables the loader to drive slowly and exactly position the vehicle the loader is driving with the desired distance between the front bumper of the vehicle the loader is driving and the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of the driven vehicle already positioned in the auto-rack car without performing the touch and go procedure described above. This minimizes the damage to the vehicles from direct contact between the vehicles and by better enabling the loaders to position the vehicles at the desired distances or positions. This also enables the loader to correctly center the vehicle in the auto-rack car.

The vehicle positioning devices of the vehicle positioning system are in one embodiment positioned in the auto-rack car on both sides of the interior of the auto-rack car at approximate areas where the front and rear bumpers will typically be next to each other. The shapes, configurations, sizes and positioning of the vehicle positioning devices take into account the different lengths of the vehicles which will be transported by the auto-rack car, the different orders in which such vehicles can be loaded, and the ability to load an auto-rack car from either end of the auto-rack car.

It is therefore an advantage of the present disclosure to provide an auto-rack railroad car vehicle positioning and damage prevention system which reduces damage to front and rear bumper of vehicles when they are loaded into an auto-rack car and during transit.

Other objects, features and advantages of the present invention will be apparent from the following detailed disclosure, taken in conjunction with the accompanying sheets of drawings, wherein like reference numerals refer to like parts.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an auto-rack railroad car configured to transport a plurality of vehicles.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of one embodiment of the vehicle positioning device of the vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of the present disclosure.

FIG. 3 is an end view of the vehicle positioning device of FIG. 2.

FIG. 4A is a fragmentary perspective view of the inside of a bi-level auto-rack railroad car, and illustrating a plurality of vehicle positioning devices of the embodiment of FIG. 2, wherein the vehicle positioning devices are mounted in spaced-apart relation on the side wall panels or screens of the lower deck of the bi-level auto-rack car.

FIG. 4B is a fragmentary perspective view of the inside of a bi-level auto-rack railroad car, and illustrating a plurality of vehicle positioning devices of the embodiment of FIG. 2, wherein the vehicle positioning devices are mounted in spaced-apart relation on the side wall of the upper deck of the bi-level auto-rack car.

FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional view of a bi-level auto-rack railroad car, and illustrating a plurality of vehicle positioning devices of the embodiment of FIG. 2, and showing the vehicle positioning devices mounted on opposite interior sides of both decks of the bi-level auto-rack car.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of an alternative embodiment of the vehicle positioning device of the vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of the present disclosure.

FIG. 7 is a side view of the vehicle positioning device of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 is a front view of the vehicle positioning device of FIG. 6.

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a further alternative embodiment of the vehicle positioning device of the vehicle positioning and damage prevention system of the present disclosure.

FIG. 10 is a front view of the vehicle positioning device of FIG. 9.

FIG. 11 is a side view of the vehicle positioning device of FIG. 9.

FIG. 12 is a top view of the vehicle positioning device of FIG. 9.

FIG. 13A is a fragmentary perspective view of the inside of a bi-level auto-rack railroad car, and illustrating a plurality of vehicle positioning devices of the embodiment of FIG. 9, wherein the vehicle positioning devices are mounted in spaced-apart relation on the side wall panels or screens of the lower deck of the bi-level auto-rack car.

FIG. 13B is a fragmentary perspective view of the inside of a bi-level auto-rack railroad car, and illustrating a plurality of vehicle positioning devices of the embodiment of FIG. 9, wherein the vehicle positioning devices are mounted in spaced-apart relation on the side wall panels or screens of the upper deck of the bi-level auto-rack car.

FIG. 14 is an enlarged perspective view of the vehicle positioning device of FIG. 9 shown mounted on a fragmentary portion of a side wall panel or screen a bi-level auto-rack car, and illustrating how the vehicle positioning device enables a loader to see the tire positioning of the vehicle being driven by the loader and the distance between the front bumper of the vehicle being driven by the loader and the rear bumper of the vehicle positioned in front of the vehicle being driven by the loader in the auto-rack car.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring now to the drawings and particularly to FIG. 1, a typical auto-rack car 10 includes a frame 12 supported by trucks 14, each of which have several wheels 16 which roll along railroad tracks 18. The frame 12 supports two side walls 20 and a roof 22. The auto-rack car 10 includes a pair of co-acting clamshell doors 24 and 26 mounted on each end of the auto-rack car 10. The doors 24 and 26 are opened to facilitate the loading and unloading of vehicles into and out of the auto-rack car 10 and are closed during transport or storage of the vehicles.

The side walls 20 include a series of steel vertical posts 28 which are mounted on, and extend upwardly from, the frame 12. The roof 22 is mounted on, and supported by, these vertical posts. The vertical posts are evenly spaced along the entire length of both side walls 20 of the auto-rack car 10. A plurality of rectangular galvanized steel side wall panels or screens 30 which extend horizontally and are vertically spaced apart are mounted between each pair of vertical posts 28. These side wall panels or screens are supported at their corners by brackets (not shown) that are suitably secured to the vertical posts. The average side wall panel or screen has a multiplicity of round side wall panel holes 23. In certain auto-rack cars, the screens are approximately one-hundred inches (2.54 m) in length, thirty-six inches (0.9 m) in height, and have a multiplicity of round side wall panel holes 23 that are approximately five-eighths of an inch (16 mm) in diameter. The side wall panel holes provide ventilation for the auto-rack car which is important because toxic vehicle exhaust gases are generated in the car during loading or unloading the vehicles. The holes also permit light to enter into the car which is important for the loaders during loading and unloading of vehicles.

The vehicle positioning and damage prevention system may be employed in a tri-level auto-rack car having first, second and third levels. Normally, eighteen passenger vehicles can be transported in a tri-level auto-rack car, six on each level. The vehicle positioning and damage prevention system may also be employed in a bi-level auto-rack car having two levels for vehicles instead of three. The bi-level auto-rack car has a lower level and an upper level. The bi-level auto-rack car is generally used to transport larger vehicles, such as vans, mini-vans, pickup trucks, four-by-four and cross-over vehicles. The bi-level auto-rack car can usually transport ten of these vehicles, five on each level. In some instances the bi-level auto-rack car is used to hold six vehicles on each level. However, this loading magnifies the problems described above. The vehicle positioning system may also be employed in a single-level auto-rack car.

Referring now to FIGS. 2, 3, 4A, 4B and 5, one embodiment of the vehicle positioning and damage prevention system is generally illustrated. The vehicle positioning and damage prevention system generally indicated by numeral 50, includes a plurality of individual vehicle positioning devices 52 mounted in the auto-rack car 10 on each of the decks 11A and 11B of the bi-level auto-rack car and on each of the sides of each deck in a plurality of spaced apart positions. FIGS. 4A, 4B and 5 generally show the inside of the auto-rack car 10 with a plurality of the vehicle positioning devices 52 of this illustrated embodiment mounted on opposing side walls of the auto-rack car 10. The vehicle positioning devices 52 in FIGS. 4A, 4B and 5 are shown mounted in various different positions on the side wall. It should thus be appreciated that the vehicle positioning devices can be mounted on the side wall screens or panels or any suitable portions of the side walls. It should also be appreciated that the vehicle positioning devices can alternatively be mounted to the roof of the upper deck of the auto-rack car. It should further be appreciated that the vehicle positioning devices can alternatively be mounted to the bottom of the deck between the upper and lower levels of the auto-rack car.

As best shown in FIGS. 4A, 4B and 5, in one embodiment, the auto-rack railroad vehicle positioning and damage prevention system includes a plurality of first or right side vehicle positioning devices mounted on the right or first side of the interior of the auto-rack car on each deck, and a plurality of second or left side vehicle positioning devices mounted on the second or left side of the interior of the auto-rack car on each deck. The vehicle positioning devices are in one embodiment positioned in the auto-rack car at spaced apart locations on each of the sides of the interior of the auto-rack car on each of the decks at approximate areas where the front and rear bumpers of adjacent vehicles will be next to each other. In alternative embodiments, the vehicles positioning devices are mounted along substantially the entire length of the auto-rack car (and particularly both sides of the interior of the auto-rack car) to prevent any coverage gaps.

More specifically, in one embodiment, the vehicle positioning devices will be mounted on each side of each deck of the auto-rack car approximately 10 feet from the first end of the auto-rack car, approximately 10 feet from the second opposite end of the auto-rack car, and approximately every 10 feet between such ends. Accordingly, in a typical bi-level auto-rack car which is 89 feet long, in one embodiment, approximately 36 vehicle positioning devices will be employed (i.e., 9 on each side of the 2 decks). In a typical tri-level auto-rack car which is 89 feet long, in one embodiment, approximately 54 vehicle positioning devices will be employed (i.e., 9 on each side of each of the 3 decks). It should also be appreciated that additional vehicle positioning devices may be employed at each end of the auto-rack if necessary to enable a loader to position a first vehicle in the auto-rack car adjacent to closed end doors at one end of the auto-rack car. The placement of the vehicle positioning devices thus takes into account the different lengths of the vehicles which will be transported by the auto-rack car, the different orders in which such vehicles can be loaded, and the ability to load an auto-rack car from either end of the auto-rack car (i.e., in either direction of the auto-rack car). The vehicle positioning and damage prevention system also takes into account the different configurations of the vehicles and that a loader may be unable to see a vehicle positioning device on one side of the interior of the auto-rack car, but will still be able to see the vehicle positioning device on the opposite side of the interior of the auto-rack car.

In the illustrated embodiment of FIGS. 2, 3, 4A, 4B and 5, each of the vehicle positioning devices 52 includes an integral body 54 having an elongated mounting member or base 56, an elongated tire viewing member 58 connected to and extending from the mounting member 56, and an elongated bumper viewing member 60 connected to and extending from the tire viewing member 58. In one embodiment, this vehicle positioning device is approximately 90 inches long and approximately 12 inches high. Each of the mounting member, the tire viewing member, and the bumper viewing member are of the same length in the illustrated embodiment; however, it should be appreciated that these members can be of one or more different lengths and that the length of the vehicle positioning device can vary. In one embodiment, the mounting member, the tire viewing member, and the bumper viewing member are integrally connected; however, it should be appreciated that two or more of these members can be otherwise suitably connected to each other. It should be appreciated that in alternative embodiments, the vehicle positioning device can be configured without the tire viewing member. It should be appreciated that the shape and location of the bumper viewing member and the tire viewing member can be alternatively configured.

The embodiment of the vehicle positioning device illustrated in FIGS. 2, 3, 4A, 4B and 5 has a somewhat s-shape body. As illustrated in FIGS. 4A, 4B and 5, this s-shape body enables the mounting member to be positioned adjacent to the side wall and the tire viewing member and bumper viewing member to be positioned in appropriate positions for the loaders. It should be appreciated that this shape would alternatively enable the mounting member to be directly attached to the side wall panels or screens. In one embodiment, the body is extruded to approximately a 1/16 inch thick plastic. The plastic is preferably a transparent plastic such as an acrylic or polycarbonate. It should also be appreciated that the body may be made of other suitable materials. The body in one embodiment includes a suitable ultra-violet inhibitor. It should be appreciated that the body can be alternatively formed such as by molding or other suitable processes.

In certain example embodiments where the body of the vehicle positioning device is formed from a suitable clear plastic material, such an acrylic or polycarbonate, the back surfaces of the tire viewing member and bumper viewing member have a mirrored coating. More specifically, in one embodiment, the mirrored coating includes a silver or powdered aluminum layer on the back surfaces of the tire viewing member and the bumper viewing member, and a protective layer including a water based silver-gray epoxy paint on top of the silver or powdered aluminum layer. In one embodiment, the silver or powdered aluminum layer is formed on the back surfaces of the tire viewing member and the back surface of the bumper viewing member by a conventional metal deposition or vacuum metalizing process. In one embodiment, a further protective coating layer is placed over the metal deposition layer and the paint to further protect the metal deposition and paint from scratches. In another embodiment, such protective layer is employed instead of the paint. In certain embodiments, this protective layer includes a suitable foam. It should be appreciated that the mirrored coating can be formed in other suitable manners. The transparent tire viewing member and the mirrored coating on the tire viewing member form the tire viewer of the vehicle positioning device. The transparent bumper viewing member and the mirrored coating on the bumper viewing member form the bumper viewer of the vehicle positioning device. It should also be appreciated that the tire viewer and the bumper viewer can be formed in other suitable manners.

In one embodiment, the mounting member 56 is configured to be attached to the upper portion of the side wall of an auto-rack car or the lower portion of the roof of the auto-rack car by a plurality of fasteners. In the illustrated embodiment, the mounting member include includes a plurality or series of spaced apart mounting holes. In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 4B, suitable weld washers are used in conjunction with the mounting holes to attach the vehicle positioning devices to the side walls. In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 4A, suitable button or other fasteners are used in conjunction with the mounting holes to attach the vehicle positioning devices to the side wall panels. In other embodiments, the mounting holes are longitudinally spaced apart slots which are positioned, sized, and adapted for alignment with the holes 23 in a side wall panels or screens 18 to receive the button fasteners (not shown) to mount the vehicle positioning devices to the side wall panels or screens of the auto-rack car. The mounting holes such as the slots may be formed in any suitable manual or automated manner, such as by punching, drilling, dye-stamping, or routing. In one such embodiment, the slots are about one-and-three-quarters inches (4.4 cm) long and five-eighths inch (16 mm) high to facilitate the mounting and aligning with the side wall panel holes 23 as well as to account for expansion and contraction of body. The mounting member can be attached to the side wall screen by pushing a plurality of button fasteners (not shown) through the mounting holes such as the slots in the mounting member and through holes 23 in the screen 18. The button fasteners attach the vehicle positioning device to the screen. The button fastener may be any suitable fasteners such as the ones illustrated in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,239,933; 5,694,859; and 6,561,740. The button fasteners may be made from any suitable materials such as a low-density polyethylene that includes an ultraviolet inhibitor. It should be appreciated that other suitable attachment devices may be used to attach the mounting member to the interior of the auto-rack car. It should be appreciated that the mounting member may include a series of holes, only some of which are used to mount the vehicle positioning device.

As discussed above, the tire viewing member of the tire viewer is configured to enable a loader to look at such member to see the position of the tire on one side of the vehicle the loader is driving. The tire viewer of the vehicle positioning device enables the loader to see the exact position of the tire on the grating in the auto-rack car which enables the loader to center the tire on the grating and the vehicle in the auto-rack car.

As discussed above, the bumper viewing member of the bumper viewer is configured to enable the loader to look at the member to see the front bumper of the vehicle the loader is driving, the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of the vehicle the loader is driving, and the distance between the front bumper of the vehicle the loader is driving and the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of the driven vehicle already positioned in the auto-rack car. Alternatively, if the loader is backing in a vehicle, the bumper viewer enables the loader to see the rear bumper of the vehicle the loader is driving, the front bumper of vehicle behind the vehicle the loader is driving and the distance between such bumpers.

Referring now to FIGS. 6, 7 and 8, an alternative embodiment of the vehicle positioning device of an alternative vehicle positioning and damage prevention system is illustrated and generally indicated by numeral 72. In this illustrated embodiment, each of the vehicle positioning devices 72 includes an integral body 74 having a somewhat semi-circular mounting member or base 76, a curved or convex tire viewing member 78 connected to and extending from the mounting member 76, and a curved or convex bumper viewing member 80 connected to and extending from the tire viewing member 78. In one such embodiment, the vehicle positioning device is approximately eight inches long, approximately four inches high, and has a depth of approximately four inches. It should be appreciated that limiting the depth in this embodiment (as well as the other embodiments disclosed herein) prevents the vehicle positioning devices from sticking out too far from the side walls and getting in the way of the loaders when they are outside of the vehicles being loaded.

This illustrated vehicle positioning device 72 differs from vehicle positioning device 52 in the shape of the mounting member 74, tire viewing member 78, and bumper viewing member 80. It also differs in that the bumper viewing member is also attached to the mounting member. This vehicle positioning device can be made in substantially the same manner as the vehicle positioning device 52, except that it should also be appreciated that the body 74 of this embodiment is molded instead of being extruded.

Referring now to FIGS. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13A, 13B, and 14, a further alternative embodiment of the vehicle positioning device of a further alternative vehicle positioning and damage prevention system is illustrated and generally indicated by numeral 92. This embodiment is similar to the embodiment of FIGS. 6, 7 and 8. In this illustrated embodiment, each of the vehicle positioning devices 92 includes an integral body 94 having a mounting member or base 96, a curved or convex tire viewing member 98 connected to and extending from the mounting member 96, and a curved or convex bumper viewing member 100 connected to and extending from the tire viewing member 98 and to the mounting member 96. This illustrated vehicle positioning device also includes a closure member 102 connected to the mounting member 96 and the bumper viewing member 100 of the body 94. This closure member 102 provides further structural integrity to the body 94 and also eliminates the accessible cavity formed by the body of the vehicle positioning device of FIGS. 6, 7 and 8. In one embodiment, the vehicle positioning device 92 is approximately eight inches long, approximately four inches high, and has a depth of approximately four inches. This vehicle positioning device can be made in substantially the same manner as the vehicle positioning device 52, except that it should also be appreciated that the body 94 of this embodiment is molded instead of being extruded.

As somewhat shown in FIGS. 13A and 13B, in one embodiment, the auto-rack railroad vehicle positioning and damage prevention system includes a plurality of first or right side vehicle positioning devices (not shown) mounted on the right or first side of the interior of the auto-rack car on each deck, and a plurality of second or left side vehicle positioning devices 92 mounted on the second or left side of the interior of the auto-rack car on each deck (now shown). In one embodiment, the vehicle positioning devices 92 are positioned at the top and center of each side wall panel or screen 18 in the auto-rack car on each of the sides of the interior of the auto-rack car on each of the decks. It should be appreciated that these vehicle positioning devices may be mounted in other suitable positions.

In this embodiment, in a typical bi-level auto-rack car which is 89 feet long, in one embodiment, approximately 36 vehicle positioning devices 92 will be employed (i.e., 9 on each side of the 2 decks). In a typical tri-level auto-rack car which is 89 feet long, in one embodiment, approximately 54 vehicle positioning devices 92 will be employed (i.e., 9 on each side of each of the 3 decks). It should also be appreciated that additional vehicle positioning devices may be employed at each end of the auto-rack if necessary to enable a loader to position a first vehicle in the auto-rack car adjacent to closed end doors at one end of the auto-rack car. The placement of the vehicle positioning devices 92 takes into account the different lengths of the vehicles which will be transported by the auto-rack car, the different orders in which such vehicles can be loaded, and the ability to load an auto-rack car from either end of the auto-rack car (i.e., in either direction of the auto-rack car). The vehicle positioning and damage prevention system also takes into account the different configurations of the vehicles and that a loader may be unable to see a vehicle positioning device on one side of the interior of the auto-rack car, but will still be able to see the vehicle positioning device on the opposite side of the interior of the auto-rack car.

Turning now to FIG. 14, FIG. 14 is drawn to provide the view that the loader would see when driving vehicle 110. The vehicle positioning device 92 enables a loader to see (using the vehicle positioning device 92) the vehicle 110 the loader is driving, the vehicle 120 positioned in front of the vehicle the loader is driving, the front bumper 112 of the driven vehicle 110, the rear bumper 114 of the positioned vehicle 120, the distance or space 130 between the vehicles 110 and 120, and the tire 126 of the driven vehicle 110.

It should be appreciated that each vehicle positioning device may be made in different configurations, sizes and shapes depending on the shape, size and configuration of the interior compartment, side walls, decks, floors, and roof of the auto-rack car. It should also be appreciated that the vehicle positioning devices may be made from different materials, and that different vehicle positioning devices may be employed together to form a vehicle positioning and damage prevention system. For instance, the vehicle positioning device 52 may be employed with the vehicle positioning device 92 in the same auto-rack car.

Although not illustrated, the present disclosure contemplates further embodiments in which the vehicle positioning devices are configured to be attached to the bottom side of the deck of the auto-rack car or the bottom side of the roof of the auto-rack car. In certain such embodiments, the vehicle positioning devices can include straight or flat members and may or may not be spaced apart. In certain such embodiments, the vehicle positioning devices run the length or substantially the length of the auto-rack car. In such embodiments, the vehicle positioning devices can be made in any suitable lengths, such as ten feet lengths. It should also be appreciated that in such embodiments, the bumper viewing section could be directly attached to the mounting members. It should also be appreciated that in certain such embodiments, the vehicle positioning devices may not enable a loader to see the tires of the vehicles, and the loader would center the vehicles relative to both of the gratings (which the loader could see).

It should also be appreciated that the floor (or other suitable surface of the auto-rack car can be marked with suitable gradations, stripes, or other markings which the loader will be able to see using the vehicle positioning device to further assist in positioning of the vehicles. For instance, in one embodiment, white and black boxes of designated lengths (such as 3 or 5 inches) can be painted on the floor of the auto-rack cars to assist the loader in further determining the exact distance between the vehicles.

It should also be appreciated that the vehicle positioning devices of various embodiments of the present disclosure can increase the light in the auto-rack cars by reflecting or further disbursing the light present in the auto-rack cars.

It will be understood that modifications and variations may be effected without departing from the scope of the novel concepts of the present invention, and it is understood that this application is to be limited only by the scope of the claims.