FMCSA issues intermodal chassis inspection waiver

Regulators are giving intermodal chassis providers a three-month reprieve from required annual inspections for recently expired equipment to help alleviate disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The waiver, issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on June 1, was granted to the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) on behalf of ocean carriers, railroads, leasing companies, and motor carriers with chassis registered in IANA’s Global Intermodal Equipment Registry (GIER). The database includes 705,000 chassis that comprise approximately 90% of the chassis managed in North America.

“The requested relief would allow motor carriers to operate the chassis, and intermodal equipment providers to tender the chassis to motor carriers for interchange, with an expired inspection decal for a limited time until the chassis could be returned to the respective intermodal equipment provider’s facility where the annual inspection could be performed by a qualified individual,” FMCSA stated.

The waiver would also “prevent a possible shortage of intermodal chassis from becoming a transportation emergency and continue the ability of motor carriers to transport goods and supplies during and following the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the agency stated.

The waiver allows intermodal chassis with annual inspection decals that show an expiration date of March 31, 2020 or later to continue to operate in revenue service. It expires either on September 1, 2020 or when the President lifts the current national emergency order declared in March to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

FMCSA explained that transportation disruption over the last several months has resulted in large numbers of loaded and unloaded intermodal chassis being parked at locations other than the maintenance facilities where the annual inspections would be conducted.

“During that time, many of the units’ annual inspection decals have expired, or soon will expire, with no practical means of having a qualified individual conduct the mandatory annual inspection that would be necessary to return the chassis to revenue service,” according to FMCSA.

IANA estimates that for each month over the next three months, 5-8% of the chassis in their members’ fleets will be due for annual inspections, the agency stated. This equates to a potential of 105,000 to 170,000 chassis at risk of having the inspection decal expire over the next three months.

FMCSA cautioned that the waiver does not alter requirements for motor carriers and intermodal equipment providers to ensure that parts and accessories are in safe and proper working order at all times, and that inspection, repair and maintenance records be maintained for the commercial vehicles they control.

“Furthermore, motor carriers remain subject to the prohibition against unsafe operations…which explicitly states that a motor vehicle must not be operated in a condition as to likely cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle,” the waiver stated.

In addition, prior to using a chassis with an expired annual inspection decal, trucking companies must ensure that drivers conduct a pre-trip/pre-dispatch inspection as required by regulation “to ensure there are no visible defects or deficiencies likely to cause a mechanical breakdown while on public roads.”

Most ocean container carriers have divested their ownership of wheeled chassis used to move containers to and from port areas. However, shippers and their draymen say the ocean carriers continue to wield considerable commercial influence over the cost to use the equipment. The Intermodal Carriers Conference, an affiliate of the American Trucking Associations, has threatened to file a formal complaint against unfair practices by ocean carriers with the Federal Maritime Commission.