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April 01, 2010
Transportation: New Rule Holds Intermodal Equipment Providers Accountable for Safety with Marking, Inspection Requirements

In December 2009, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began enforcing the Intermodal Equipment Final Rule.

The rule's new requirements should enhance the safety of "intermodal equipment" (IME) used in the transportation of intermodal containers--shipping containers that are transported using multiple modes, such as ships, railcars, and trucks. The new rule not only creates new inspection, registration, and marking requirements for intermodal equipment--often called "chassis" in the shipping industry--but also makes companies that provide intermodal equipment subject to the law, closing a dangerous gap in the regulations.

Intermodal equipment is often owned by one company (called the "intermodal equipment provider," or IEP) but used by motor carriers. Before the new rules took effect, only the carriers were subject to safety regulations regarding the chassis. This gap could prompt shady equipment providers to put a fresh coat of paint on old, damaged, or unsafe chassis and continue to use them, while drivers and motor carriers assumed all of the risk and liability for their hazards. Under the new rule, companies that provide and retain ownership of intermodal shipping containers now share with motor carriers and drivers the legal responsibility to ensure that intermodal equipment is safe.

New Requirements for Equipment Providers

Under the new regulation, intermodal equipment providers must:

Register with the FMCSA and obtain a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) identification number. Initial registration was due by Dec. 17, 2009; registration must be renewed every 24 months. The required registration form, Form MCS-150C, is available at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/iep.

Mark each item of IME with a USDOT identification number. Originally, the standard offered four options for marking equipment, but amendments to the standard that were published in the Federal Register on December 29, 2009, added a fifth option that was requested by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA). The current marking options are:

  • Mark the equipment directly. The identification must be permanent and legible during daylight hours from a distance of 50 feet while the equipment is stationary.
  • Mark the equipment with a label. The label must meet legibility and visibility requirements similar to those for markings made directly on the equipment.
  • Mark the interchange agreement. IEPs can include their USDOT number and other required identifiers on the equipment's interchange agreement, which must be carried on board the power unit.
  • Include required information on documents stored in a weather-proof compartment mounted on the frame of the IME.
  • Register the IME's existing alphanumeric equipment control number with a publicly accessible equipment identification system, such as the IANA's Global Intermodal Equipment Registry.

Establish a systematic inspection, repair, and maintenance program to assure the safe operating condition of intermodal equipment. The requirement to ensure that equipment is maintained in safe working condition is really the starting point and purpose for the rule, allowing regulators and inspectors to track compliance. Each piece of IME must be inspected at least once every 12 months as well as before each trip. Documentation of annual inspections and maintenance is required; pre-trip inspections do not have to be completed in writing.

Respond effectively to driver and motor carrier reports about IME mechanical defects and deficiencies. If a driver's pre-trip inspection reveals problems, the equipment provider must fix them or provide a piece of replacement equipment before the driver begins the trip. Drivers must also complete written Drivers Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIRs) when the IME is returned. Equipment providers must repair any problems that are recorded on the DVIR and document the repairs.

Inspections of IEPs

The new rule also gives the FMCSA authority to inspect equipment providers for compliance. The agency can conduct an on-site review of the IEP's inspection, repair, and maintenance operations, cite IEPs that are out of compliance, and effectively shut down any IEP whose program is found so deficient that the FMCSA concludes it poses an imminent hazard.

IEPs may voluntarily request compliance inspections from the FMCSA, but they could find themselves involuntarily inspected if:

  • a complaint is filed with the FMCSA about the IEP's compliance
  • the IEP's equipment is involved in a crash or hazardous materials incident
  • the IEP's equipment has a higher-than-average out-of-service rate
  • the IEP is found to pose a "high risk"
  • the FMCSA decides to inspect the IEP for any other reason
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