April 11, 2007 8:15 AM, EDT

IANA, Ocean Carriers Hit Proposed Rule on Safety of Intermodal Chassis

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the April 9 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Intermodal and ocean carrier groups criticized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed rule on intermodal container chassis safety, saying the rule may be inconsistent with established industry practices and that it should be implemented over a long period of time.

American Trucking Associations’ Intermodal Carriers Conference applauded FMCSA’s rule, which the agency said it was still working on.

FMCSA’s proposal, which Congress mandated after a long campaign by the trucking industry and drivers, would make owners of intermodal chassis responsible for maintaining and repairing them. Trucking companies and drivers have said that they are required to haul chassis, which they do not maintain but are charged by law enforcement if the chassis are found to be unsafe.

In the 2005 highway legislation, Congress directed FMCSA to draft a rule assigning the responsibility for intermodal equipment safety and maintenance to the owners of that equipment, which typically are shipping lines and intermodal companies. FMCSA published its regulation in December.

The Intermodal Association of North America, which had worked to prevent a federal rule on chassis maintenance, commented against FMCSA’s proposal, which requires equipment owners to put maintenance programs in place for chassis and label each chassis with an identifying number.

“IANA believes that without certain review and clarifications, the proposed rules may not accurately portray the current intermodal business environment, and therefore, cannot ensure that the final regulations reflect the goals of the [rule] or preserve the inherent efficiencies of intermodal transportation,” the organization said in comments to FMCSA.

IANA said the new rules proposed by FMCSA would “directly impact the interchange agreement between motor carriers and intermodal equipment providers” and that the final proposal should be “consistent with the standard contract employed by the intermodal industry for the purposes of equipment interchange.”

The Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association, which represents major ocean shippers operating in the United States, said the portion of the rule requiring an equivalent to the U.S.DOT number to carriers to identify their chassis was impractical.

“Unlike virtually all other trucking operations, intermodal chassis are generally not under a single carrier’s control, as they migrate between ports and/or inland terminals,” OCEMA said. “Accordingly, the intermodal equipment provider for a given chassis may change several times within a year.”

OCEMA said because of this change and the way the rule is crafted, it “would require chassis to be captured and remarked at each change of possession.”

The ocean carrier group also said the implementation of the rule could be hastened if the labeling provision were changed.

“OCEMA believes that implementing the proposed rules could take at least 24 months,” the group said. “OCEMA also believes, however, that this implementation period could be reduced by as much as six months if the need for further chassis marking could be averted by use [of an existing] equipment provider database.”

In its comments, the National Association of Waterfront Employers said it believed that because of adjustments to operating procedures and other changes, implementing the new rules will “take at least a year.”

American Trucking Associations’ Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference said the core pieces of the legislation requiring the rule were agreed to as the result of multi-industry negotiations, which included ATA, OCEMA and the rail industry.

“It is . . . important to note that this new roadability law is also strategically consistent with the Department of Transportation’s previously announced plan to improve chassis safety,” the ATA group said.

“We applaud the agency for its diligence in drafting these regulations, which we believe has produced a proposed regulatory regime which is workable and, when implemented, will serve to improve safety and reliability of intermodal chassis and equipment that traverse America’s highways.”

FMCSA has not completed work on its rule, a spokesman for the agency said.

“We are planning to hold three public listening sessions,” said FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne, who added the sessions have yet to be scheduled but would be announced soon.

FMCSA was holding the sessions, he said, “to ensure that interested parties have the fullest opportunity to provide their input.”