Loading Units

Road-rail CT requires adapted equipment, being intermodal units which can be shipped using several different transport modes and which are be specially equipped for vertical loading onto special wagons designed to run at speeds of 100 to 120kph.

The best-known intermodal units are the maritime containers which were introduced in the 1950s. The latter have experienced impressive popularity and currently more than 11 million containers are in use throughout the world. In continental traffic, swap bodies dominate the market.

Intermodal units meet the CEN standards as well as those in certain UIC leaflets. All the loading units used in CT must be “codified” by means of a yellow plate giving information about the dimensions of the unit. The capital letters “C” for the containers and swap bodies and “P” for the semi-trailers in the pocket wagons, allow differentiation between the loading units.


Swap body


Being the most commonly used transport unit for road-rail CT, the swap body has its origin in the road system. Its main characteristics are as follows:

  • Easily transferable to a road chassis
  • Can be placed on fixed legs
  • Generally covered and non-stackable
  • Cranable by the underside
  • Better payload/deadweight ratio

The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) has developed standards for the swap body. Two classes of swap body predominate:

  • Class C with lengths of 7.15m, 7.45m or 7.82m (standard EN 284)
  • Class A with lengths of 12.50m or 13.60m (standard EN 452)



Since the 1960s the maritime container has been the standard for intercontinental transport and has been used for many years in road-rail CT for transport between the main European ports and their hinterland.

The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) defines standards for dimensions, forces and handling equipment. The main characteristics of the ISO container can be summed up as follows:

  • They were designed for all modes of transport: maritime, inland navigation, road and rail
  • Stackable and cranable by the top
  • External width of 2.44m
  • Lengths of 20' (6.10m), 30' (9.15m) and 40' (12.20m)

More than 11 million ISO containers are in use throughout the world.

Cranable semi-trailer


In compliance with road vehicle standards (13.60m - maximum allowed on the road), semi-trailers are loaded onto wagons by means of gantries or mobile cranes equipped with pincers; this requires a handling zone on each side of the vehicle.

Related documents
Intermodal loading units: leaflet DE EN FR
The effects of the introduction of Gigaliners in Europe EN
New markings for intermodal loading units in Europe CS DE EN ES FR HU IT NL PL SI