The intermodal industry says it can't meet a June 1 deadline for retrofitting trailers and chassis with required reflective materials.

The Assn. of American Railroads, the Institute of International Container Lessors, the Intermodal Assn. of North America, and the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Assn. have petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a one-year extension of the deadline. In March 1999, the FMCSA mandated relective retrofits to all trailers and chassis made before Dec. 1, 1993. (New trailers and chassis made since that date already were required to have reflective materials.)
"Unanticipated technical problems in applying the reflective material, as well as unexpectedly high cargo levels placing severe demands on intermodal equipment, have made the original effective date unrealistic," says the petition.
Intermodal operators found that attaching reflective materials with adhesive didn't work, because it wouldn't stick to the protective coating used on chassis. Mounting the reflective material onto metal or plastic strips then riveting them to the chassis didn't work, either; plastic strips buckled after a few weeks, and the riveting process was too time-consuming. Finally a special tool known as the "Hilti Fastener" was developed to weld reflector-mounted aluminum strips onto chassis, but a lack of trained and qualified labor slowed the process.
In addition, it wasn't possible to do the retrofitting as part of routine equipment inspection and maintenance programs, says the petition, because much of this is done while the chassis is loaded with a container, which doesn't allow access to some parts of the chassis frame.
On June 1, the groups say, there will still be about 193,000 intermodal chassis and trailers still to be retrofitted - out of the estimated 430,000 intermodal units covered by the regulations. However, because most chassis only travel very short distances, the groups note that less than 7 percent of chassis and trailers currently operating on U.S. highways will need retrofitting after the current deadline.
The groups say that unless the deadline is extended, severe equipment shortages could occur during the peak shipping period, leading to congestion and gridlock at ports and inland intermodal facilities.