Intermodal equipment owners must repair and maintain their equipment, OOIDA says

| 9/7/2001

The responsibility for roadworthiness of intermodal equipment must clearly be shifted back to the owners of that equipment, OOIDA told attendees of the Port Operations and Safety Seminar held by the American Association of Port Authorities on Aug. 28 in San Diego, CA.

OOIDA's Todd Spencer said the current practice of holding owner-operators and motor carriers responsible for intermodal equipment is not only unfair, but it transfers the responsibility for safety of the equipment away from the parties with the greatest opportunity to maintain and repair their equipment on a regular basis to the party that has the least ability.

"Intermodal equipment sits in the ports or rail yards until it is tendered to a trucker to make a delivery," he said. "Owner-operators have little opportunity to inspect for less than obvious defects on intermodal equipment when it is assigned to them as they are scheduled to make a delivery. And these inspections are most often an exercise in futility. Truckdrivers pulling intermodal equipment report that in 65 percent to 90 percent of instances the equipment they are offered or assigned to will have defects that can warrant a ticket or have the vehicle placed out of service."

Even a lengthy search for a defect-free container chassis may not locate one, Spencer said, since there really is no incentive for the owners of intermodal equipment to do needed maintenance and repair.

Once the container chassis clears the gate it becomes the trucker's problem, Spencer said. The trucker is often forced to make the repairs without being reimbursed for the repair expense.

Also, truckers are charged back for repair expenses by the owner of the intermodal equipment when the defect may have occurred long before the trucker ever took possession of the equipment. "When this happens," he said, "the trucker has no assurance that the needed repairs are ever made!"

"The kinds of routine defects reported by truckers on intermodal equipment make you wonder if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) annual inspections required to be done by equipment owners have any real integrity," Spencer told the group.

"This isn't a situation that can and should go on as is," he told the group. "Lawmakers in many states are wondering why tread rubber lines their highways. Attorneys are interested in the role that intermodal equipment has in accidents. Noting the 1995 crash near Milwaukee that claimed the lives of six children when the minivan they were riding in burst into flames after its fuel tank was punctured by the mudflap/taillight assembly that had fallen off a container chassis. That tragic accident resulted in a $100 million settlement to the parents of the children."

Spencer urged intermodal equipment owners to assume the responsibility for the roadworthiness of their equipment and advised the group that OOIDA would be working hard to make sure these issues get the attention they deserve with FMCSA officials and U.S. lawmakers in Washington, D.C.