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What are Fall Plates?

By C. Daw
Updated May 23, 2024
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Fall plates are large pieces of hinged metal that are made to cover the spaces between railroad locomotives and the tender, which is the next unit directly behind it. These two pieces are connected by hooks or large bolts. Numerous wires and cables also will be connected between the two, leaving two different types of hazards that the railroad crews have to contend with. The fall plate effectively covers these hazards, as well as making it possible for railroad crew members to walk from one part of the train to another across them.

The way that the fall plate works is that because they are hinged they can be lifted out of the way when hooking units together. Before the locomotive begins backing along the tracks, the plate will be raised so that it is out of the way of the crew that is ensuring that the connection is solid and safe. Once the cars are hooked up to the main engine, or engines, the wires and cables will be connected together and they will be tested to ensure that they are working correctly. Having the fall plate in its upright position allows easy access for the people working on the links, allowing them to complete their tasks while standing, instead of having to crawl underneath the large metal plate. The fall plates will then be lowered and secured into place, effectively covering the connections and wires and allowing a safe walking area for people that need to move between the two sections of the train.

Since the fall plates could become a walking hazard for crew members, they have been designed to have all of the edges removed. This is usually done by beveling them so when closed, they form more of a ramp than a step. This makes walking across them easy and safe because even if the person is in a hurry there are no large protruding pieces of metal that could cause a fall. Edge coverings can also be placed over the ends to help cover the lips produced, as well as the protruding hinges if they have been installed on the top edge rather than underneath. These plates add safety and comfort between the locomotive and the tender. The more engines placed on the train, the more fall plates will be used in order to cover connections and wires while allowing crew members to move freely and safely in between the operating cars of the train.

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