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Drayage Truckers Worry About Procedures Required by Federal Chassis Regulations
Saturday, 28 February 2009 00:00

Drayage truckers are struggling with complex record-keeping requirements in the new federal intermodal chassis maintenance rules that have begun to take effect, industry experts said.

The first part of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules for chassis that carry containerized freight took effect June 17, when chassis providers could start filing equipment ownership reports.

The rules for the first time defined responsibility for the condition of chassis owned by ocean carriers, lessors or railroads that previously fell on truckers who were fined or ticketed if defects were found.

Industry concerns focused on the rules’ Dec. 17 deadline for having in place standardized procedures for reporting equipment condition.

“The big one [issue] for us is this pre-trip inspection,” said Curtis Whalen, executive director of the Intermodal Motor Carrier Conference, referring to the equipment condition report drivers must complete before starting a trip. “You have to have reliable documentation” of defective items.

“The truckers who have dealt with the federal government are deeply concerned about the prospect of not having paper reports,” said Greg Stefflre, CEO of trucker Rail Delivery Services and chairman of the Intermodal Association of North America. “When a trucker is audited by FMCSA, they want to see all the paper.”

“The disconnect on the rail side is that the railroads are using more nonmanned interfaces with truckers,” said Stefflre, referring to rail terminal gates that have automated kiosks instead of people. “They don’t want to take a piece of paper from the driver.”

IANA Vice President Tom Malloy agreed.

“Some groups believe paper documents are the right way to go, but others want to do it all electronically, partly because of the potential for backlog in marine terminals,” Malloy said.

At a recent meeting, Malloy said ocean carriers want to make the equipment condition reports electronic to reduce congestion and speed freight flow.

Ocean and rail industry trade group officials didn’t return calls requesting comment on the rule’s implementation.

Dec. 17 also is the date when all chassis providers and motor carriers have to be ready for enforcement through inspections of equipment and preparation of written maintenance and repair plans.

Although the rules don’t specify whether the inspection reports should be in paper or electronic form, they do require an eight-point check of equipment condition, such as lights.

Still more complications could arise, Stefflre noted, because the industry standard form for interchange of equipment between motor and ocean or rail carriers requires a 15-point inspection that includes additional components.

Malloy said he expects that there will be a wide range of compliance maintenance and repair recordkeeping requirements.

“It will run the gamut from a 180-page, three-ring binder to ‘We fix it when something breaks,’ ” he said.

In the final step in the rule implementation in December 2010, all 850,000 chassis will have to be marked with Transportation Department identification numbers.

“In this initial stage, it [compliance] is moving as expected,” Malloy said. “We are moving rather rapidly now because the first, early stages of compliance are relatively easy.”

He said a number of carriers have completed the ownership documents and are ready to submit them as soon as FMCSA provides some additional details.

IANA and other groups have tried to smooth the implementation with a series of meetings earlier this month in Southern California, home to the nation’s two largest ports and the western end of the busiest intermodal rail route that links the region with Chicago. IANA committees also are working on a series of recommended best practices for compliance, Malloy said.

Stefflre emphasized that the FMCSA is trying to address the issue and praised Jack Van Steenburg, director of the FMCSA Office of Enforcement and Compliance.

“They are still trying to come up to speed; they are certainly well-intentioned,” Stefflre added.

“We’ve asked [FMCSA] for some clarification” said Whalen. “We’re getting still some varied answers. I think they’re still trying to figure out how to define some of this.”

“The big battle is what does this do to efficiency?” Whalen said. “I’m trying to make the point that this is a safety law, not an efficiency law. It may be a step back in efficiencies in the beginning, but we need to get this equipment safer than it has been.”

One possibility for dealing with the notification process is Trucflow, a plan advanced by companies that cooperated in developing the mechanism that collects terminal use fees at Southern California ports,
Stefflre said

Transport Topics, 2/29/2009