Feds to Inspect Intermodal Chassis

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will create a program to inspect the equipment used to move intermodal containers and hold equipment owners responsible for problems.

The move is a reversal of sorts for the agency, which has inspected the chassis of intermodal carriers but has held the operators instead of the owners of such equipment responsible for defects. Earlier, the agency had said it could not craft a rule “that would resolve the maintenance responsibility disputes between equipment providers and motor carriers, and be supported with sufficient safety data to prove its necessity and subsequently its effectiveness,” the agency stated.

But soon after that announcement, the FMCSA announced it would begin an intermodal container chassis inspection program. “It will be modeled on the compliance review program already in place for the nation’s trucking community,” the agency said in a release Jan. 26.

The new program will require equipment providers to get a USDOT number and display it on their chassis. FMCSA will use the same penalty and enforcement system that it uses in compliance reviews and will issue out-of-service orders and revoke USDOT numbers.
DOT officials indicated program information and a timeline for a notice of proposed rulemaking will be released in upcoming weeks.

The condition of container chassis has been a big issue because so much freight moves intermodally – FMCSA estimates $450 billion a year – and the chassis tend to be older and in worse shape than most over-the-road trailers. Truckers, in particular, have complained about the units because they or their carriers are often stuck with the bill for fines or placed out of service when a unit is inspected. The intermodal industry also has lobbied successfully to delay a number of regulations aimed at improving the quality of their equipment.

Lately, however, the industry has been the target of safety legislation. Two federal bills were introduced last year to deal with the issue. The Intermodal Equipment Safety and Responsibility Act was introduced July 24 and was referred to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines the following day. A Senate version of the bill, SB 1776, was introduced Oct. 23 and referred to the Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation. Both are still pending.

FMCSA’s announcement drew praise from Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations. “We’re pleased the FMCSA is moving forward,” he said. “This can be a big step toward assuring that intermodal chassis put on the road meet critical federal safety requirements.”

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