Intermodal Muddle

Max Kvidera | March 01, 2011

On Dec. 17, 2008, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a final “roadability” rule making intermodal equipment providers subject to FMCSA regulations and establishing shared responsibility among intermodal equipment providers, carriers and drivers for establishing safe equipment. The rules required IEPs to register with FMCSA and file identification information; establish an inspection and maintenance program; provide a clear response path for carrier and driver reports about defects; and mark each chassis with a U.S. DOT ID number. The rule became effective June 30, 2009.

On Dec. 30 of that year, the agency amended the regulations to extend to June 30, 2010, the deadline for carriers and drivers to submit driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIR) on intermodal equipment. Then another extension to June 30, 2011, was made to submit the DVIRs. In addition, the IEPs had until last Dec. 17 to place a DOT number on all chassis.

“It’s been slow and painful process so far,” Whalen says. “There’s been lot of problems with databases and procedures on where and how the truck driver is supposed to file [reports].”

Bill Aboudi, owner of AB Trucking in Oakland, Calif., says the FMCSA rule was designed to place the responsibility for chassis condition on the IEP, which is its owner – most often an oceangoing carrier – unless a long-term chassis lease specifies the renter is responsible. But the steamship lines “basically dissed that rule,” he contends, by getting rid of many chassis or turning them over to leasing companies or other third parties.

Next to decks of container boxes, intermodal truckers wait to be checked in at a Port of Seattle terminal.

Who is responsible – the leasing company or the party renting the chassis – if an equipment defect is caught during an on-road inspection is still being sorted out, Whalen says. Matters such as assigning responsibility for repair when a chassis defect occurs on the road and mandating pre-trip inspections aren’t covered in the new regulations.

The worst chassis have been weeded out, Whalen believes, as some steamship lines have welcomed the scale back on FMCSA regulations as impetus to quit a practice they didn’t like and that is peculiar to the United States. At European ports, for example, motor carriers provide chassis.

Aboudi doesn’t buy that chassis quality has improved. He contends the rule has been circumvented and will require DOT to “come down on the terminal operators and their contractors, because what they’ve done is shifted their responsibility to truckers.”

Leon Knopp, owner of Nu-Way Inc., which provides trucking services for the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., says he’s hearing about fewer equipment defects. One reason is that owner-operators leased to his firm are inspecting chassis closer than before to make sure they are accepting equipment that is road ready.

“If we’re all doing our jobs as carriers, there shouldn’t be any defective chassis because our guys should ferret that out at inspection and simply refuse and make the port switch to another chassis,” he says. “If you’re on the roads with a defect, you’re already behind the curve.”


Intermodal veterans

Dion Cracraft: Running his own company

Dion Cracraft, an operator who owns CRD Trucking in Oakland, Calif., has been an owner-operator most of the 32 years he’s been behind the wheel. He pulls containers within a 100-mile radius of the Oakland port.

Cracraft won’t reveal how much he’s paid per load, but says the amount was increased by $20 a load a year ago. He also gets a fuel surcharge as a percentage of the load rate based on diesel at $3.50 a gallon.

For Cracraft, 2010 was tougher than 2009, although he kept busy. When his one-truck operation gets slow, he calls on owner-operator friends, but he made fewer calls in 2010.