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Current State of Standardisation and Future Standardisation Needs for Intermodal Loading Units

European Union
Complete with results
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Transport mode
Multimodal icon
Transport sectors
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

At the core of efficient intermodal transport are standardised loading units that can be used with any means of freight transport. In Europe, the differences among countries and among cargo carriers have led to several sizes of containers being in widespread use. The current ISO (International Standardisation Organisation) container types 668 and 1496 are rarely used due to the uncompetitive volume compared to lorries and trucks, and, more importantly - the poor pallet accommodation patterns compared to those of road and rail vehicles. In contrast, swap bodies as standardised by CEN (European Standardisation Committee) are optimised for road and rail transport only, and do not offer economic solutions for inland waterway and short sea transport. In order to have a truly pan-European intermodal concept, loading units also have to be designed that are stackable and equipped with top corner fittings for lifting by spreaders.


UTI-NORM aimed to report on the current state of standardisation of intermodal transport units, and find a standard for the future European loading unit. This standard should offer as much interior volume for cargo accommodation as European road vehicles, along with a similar palletisation pattern, and improve transport economics for inland waterway and short sea transportation while keeping full compliance with road and rail operation needs (similar to current swap bodies).

The main objectives of UTI-NORM have been to:

  • give first recommendations on the direction that European standardisation of intermodal loading units must take;
  • outline the possibilities and needs for European transport policy and research to promote this standardisation process;
  • propose the direction of European transport policy in order to incorporate the current standardisation proposals and to react to technology, economics and standardisation trends in intermodal transport.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
European Commission; Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN; formerly DG VII)
Type of funding
Public (EU)



  • surveyed current container standards related to intermodal transport, as well as the role of non-standardised loading units, used in European container shipments;
  • made recommendations to standardise a future European loading unit with the main dimensions of current standard swap bodies, and to include stackability, top corner fittings and certain additional strength requirements in the design;
  • specified a standardised future European loading unit that will be suited for all current European transport modes, by:
    • providing two sizes for road transport (rigid truck and semi-trailer) with optimised height to make best use of the maximum allowed overall vehicle height of
    • 4,000 mm, a low weight to avoid tare penalties and a low production cost,
    • providing a rail transport unit utilising the maximum clearance of corridors, and loading patterns available with the majority of the current European rail wagon fleet,
    • providing a unit for inland waterway transport, designed to be stacked at least four elements high,
    • considering the problems of cellular ships in carrying different size loading units, because they are mainly designed to accommodate ISO containers.

Policy implications

UTI-NORM identified transport policy measures that will address the standardisation needs of intermodal loading units in Europe, such as keeping the legal framework on dimensions of road vehicles stable, and promoting the evolution of rolling stock towards a combination of pallet-wide stackable freight containers and platform chassis configurations. For optimised intermodal operations, a maximum gross weight in road transport of 44 tonne must be allowed, together with the introduction of standardised stackable European loading units of 13.6 m in length. Standardisation of loading units should thereby consider the requirements of inland waterway barges and rail wagons as well.



UTI-NORM recommended that the inclusion of small European short sea carriers into harmonised electronic data interchange and internet systems for communication between ocean carrier, terminal operator and forwarder should be promoted by pilot projects.


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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