Chassis rules rolling in
Roadability regulations could improve terminal operations, along with equipment safety.
By Chris Dupin
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said rules issued late last year will 'significantly strengthen safety requirements for intermodal container chassis, the special trailers that hold cargo containers when they are transferred from ship or rail to truck for final delivery.'
FMCSA Administrator John H. Hill said the so-called 'roadability' rules 'will bring new safety and enforcement focus on the chassis and equipment used to haul goods on our nation's roads every day.' They could also benefit shippers by assuring that fewer draymen picking up deliveries will have to be delayed at terminals waiting for equipment to be repaired.
While industry estimates on the number of chassis involved range from 800,000 to 1 million, Joni Casey, the Intermodal Association of North America's president and chief executive officer, said IANA has been using 850,000 for its chassis analysis.
'The good news is that after 10 years, rules have been issued and have erased the ongoing uncertainty and speculation,' Casey said. 'IANA is also encouraged that the FMCSA has staggered implementation to reflect the degree of difficulties and time required for compliance.'
'Bottom line, this is a good piece of legislation and regulation that will help the safety of the system as it relates to intermodal transport, but it will also improve efficiencies' at terminals, said Curtis Whalen, executive director of the American Trucking Associations' Intermodal Motor Carrier's Conference. 'My only regret is that it took so long.'
Jeffrey Lawrence, general counsel and executive director for the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA), said the regulations are 'a carefully crafted compromise between equipment providers, ocean carriers, railroad and motor carriers to come up with shared responsibility with regard to intermodal equipment.
'The key challenge for (the Department of Transportation) is whether they have faithfully carried out the intent of that legislation as to the balance of responsibilities with respect to shared responsibility for the maintenance and inspection of the equipment.'
The new regulations make intermodal equipment providers subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for the first time. As of December 2009, intermodal equipment providers must have in effect regular and systematic inspection, repair and maintenance programs for intermodal chassis. They will also need to track defects reported and repairs made. By December 2010, each intermodal provider is required to identify its equipment with a U.S.DOT number. The final rule also outlines inspection requirements for motor carriers and drivers operating intermodal equipment.
Intermodal equipment providers will be subject to on-site reviews to ensure compliance with the new rules. Penalties for violating the rules range from civil fines to a prohibition on providing or operating intermodal equipment found to pose an imminent hazard.
In January IANA, OCEMA, the Association of American Railroads and the Institute of International Container Lessors petitioned FMCSA to adopt a Web-based equipment registry that would use existing identification numbers instead of, say, requiring equipment to be physically marked with a new U.S. DOT number. The petitioners say the savings would be big with the Web registry, costing $1 or less for each piece of equipment compared to physical marking costing up to $80 per piece of equipment ' marks that might have to be reapplied annually and every time equipment changes hands.
Casey also said the law creates ambiguity because of its definition of an intermodal equipment provider as 'any person that interchanges intermodal equipment with a motor carrier pursuant to a written interchange agreement or has a contractual responsibility for the maintenance of the intermodal equipment.'
It's the word 'or' that creates the problem, she said. The company providing the equipment is sometimes different from the person maintaining it. The discrepancy would probably be worked out contractually, but the FMCSA could simplify things by adopting IANA's standard uniform intermodal interchange agreement, she said.
Whalen said that when the regulations go into effect, 'day one, it probably won't be much different' for a drayman who shows up at a terminal to pick up a load of cargo. 'But the aim is for all the equipment providers to have documented maintenance repair systems. Once you have that, they will be turning out better maintained, safer equipment. Right now we do not have those assurances. Some providers do good repairs and others do not.
'We needed standardization and basically it is now the same requirements that motor carriers have to maintain their power units. Now the entire transport vehicle will be covered,' he said.
'When drivers don't have to wait around for a piece of equipment to be made roadable before they take off, that improves the efficiencies, reduces cost, and drivers get paid. It's long overdue,' he said.
Right now, if drivers find a problem doing their pre-trip inspection 'they have to sit in a deficiency fix-it line until they get around to fixing it. Your hours-of-service clock is running and as a driver you are not making any money and your product is not being delivered.'
That puts a driver paid by the move in a difficult bind. He may want to get on the road, but may be delayed for hours if he sees a deficiency that should be reported.
As the law kicks in and equipment is better maintained, he said 'you will have less and less of this occurring.'
Lawrence said, 'There are thousands of locations that will be affected and it will be a great challenge for industry to accomplish the requirements of this act.'
While there will be additional costs, he said 'the objective is that the safety and reliability of the equipment will be improved and it will also improve consistency. The vast majority of equipment is safe and fine, but this will make more uniform standards across the country in terms of equipment condition, both in the role of the trucker in ensuring safety and the equipment provider in ensuring safety and condition of equipment.'
The roadability law 'clearly contemplates the possibility of pools or pool managers undertaking responsibility for maintenance, repair and inspection,' Lawrence told members in a recent newsletter. 'CCM pools will be able to meet these requirements on behalf of all contributors to the CCM pool system for pool chassis.'
OCEMA affiliate Container Chassis Management has organized cooperative chassis pools around the country and has more than 100,000 chassis under management.