Copyright 2009, Traffic World, Inc.
Federal regulators last month sought to end a decade of controversy over how transportation companies manage equipment for moving international trade, issuing final rules outlining key responsibilities in a long-unregulated arena of intermodal transport.
The regulation adopted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will for the first time require railroads and steamship companies to share safety responsibility for their intermodal chassis with motor carriers.
"Ultimately this will improve efficiency," said Curtis Whalen, executive director of the American Trucking Associations' Intermodal Motor Carrier Conference. Drivers picking up container chassis that aren't fit for road use are required to wait until repairs are made - which can sometimes take hours and delay shipments, Whalen said. Under the old rules, "the driver became the unpaid quality control person for the equipment provider. That's not our job, and won't be in the future. We'll be in the front end making sure this is the case."
Whalen said that while the situation has improved over the last few years, drivers having to wait for legally drivable container chassis, or getting a citation for driving an illegal one, "has been a tremendous problem. And underlying it all was the driver having to keep their fingers crossed that they would pull away with a chassis that was in good repair."
The regulation, 10 years in the making and part of the federal highway bill passed in 2005, requires owners of intermodal equipment to register and file with FMCSA a motor carrier identification report.
The companies also will have to establish inspection, repair and maintenance programs and to provide a means to respond to driver and motor carrier reports about intermodal chassis mechanical defects and deficiencies.
"We have wanted these regulations because they require railroads, steamship companies, leasing companies and any provider to establish systematic inspection repair and maintenance programs," Whalen said. "This is important because it will ensure safe operating conditions for chassis."
All intermodal equipment providers will be required to insure that each chassis is "roadable" - legally ready to drive over the road - before they can be offered for driver interchange at intermodal facilities.
FMCSA estimated that first year costs associated with the rule change for the industry range from $7.8 million to $38.8 million, depending on equipment providers' current inspection, maintenance and repair programs for their chassis. Total discounted costs over the 10-year analysis period range from $52.4 million to $285.4 million.
The FMCSA also adopted inspection requirements for motor carriers and drivers operating intermodal equipment. Improved maintenance should result in fewer chassis being placed out of service and fewer vehicle breakdowns involving intermodal chassis, the agency said.
The regulations will go into effect June 17, 2009. Intermodal equipment providers will have one year to put all of the mandated systems into place and two years to mark all of the equipment with DOT identification numbers or other acceptable methods permitted under the final rules.