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COST 339
Small Containers

COST 339 image

Chairman : Mr Jost Wichser (CH)
Institute for Transportation, Traffic Highway and Railway Engineering, ETH Zurich
Fax: +41 1 633 10 57
Email: (email removed)

Vice-Chairman : Mr Charles Van Roost (B)
Fax: +32 65 72 85 79

Scientific secretary: Mr. Magnus Carle
European Commission
Directorate General for Energy and Transport
Fax: +32 2 296 37 65
Email: (email removed)


3 years; to July 2001


13 COST Countries: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom


The main objective of COST 339 is to produce guidelines for governments, standardisation organisations, transportation associations and container manufacturers to assist in the developments of rules to cover the implementation of small containers that are usable Europe wide.

The final objective is to generate and deliver recommendations to the competent authority for standardisation (CEN/TC 119), based on the results of COST 339.

It is also intended that the intermediate and final results of COST 339 will help to accelerate and simplify the requirements, specifications and standardisation processes necessary to enable the potential of intermodal transport systems to be realised as early as possible.


The work programme has been structured as follows:

  • State of the art: Comprehensive analysis of existing regional or company specific solutions. (successful and unsuccessful).
  • Analysis of the transport market: Identification of user needs for the different market segments(both demand and supply side).

    Existing and accessible markets will be evaluated in terms of freight flow volumes, commodity group composition, load sizes, cost/volume relationships and desired transit time.

    An analysis of these figures should indicate whether it is feasible to develop a transport system using small containers for specific situations (products, regions and corridors).

  • Dimensions, construction and identification: Proposals for dimensions will be generated from the basic information acquired, and necessary construction elements will be defined.

    The starting points for the consideration of appropriate dimensions are the goods to be transported and the transportation requirements. Appropriate internal dimensions can be fixed on the basis of demand for transport.

    Technical requirements for the transhipment and transportation of small containers will be formulated on the basis of the agreed external dimensions for small containers and existing transhipment equipment/operations (e.g. rolls, forklifting, automatic operation). Organisational aspects of the transport chain related to small containers are also to be taken into consideration.

    Proposals for cost-effective Europe-wide tracking are needed and interoperability requirements must be fulfilled.

    Existing and planned systems for container identification will be assessed if they are applicable to small containers. Proposals for one or more identification systems will be generated.

  • Recommendations for standardisation: From the dimensions and construction elements determined, proposals for standardisation are to be developed for: dimensions and construction, transhipment, transport and identification.


The problems of increasing traffic congestion on the European road-network and intensified efforts to reduce traffic impact on the environment require solutions involving increased use of railways, inland waterways and short sea shipping for freight transport. Therefore, efforts are being made aimed at promoting intermodal transport.

In addition to effective carrier units, another important element in intermodal transport is the standardised container unit, which can be easily transferred between transportation systems. Standardisation of the internal and external dimensions of these container units is necessary.

The most successful accepted standard in European freight transport to date has been the definition of Euro-pallets. This has led to greater efficiency in transport and in storage techniques. Based on principles from overseas traffic, containers such as the European inland container (adjusted to ISO pallets 1200/800, 1000/800) and ‘swap bodies’ have been developed and are in use. The smallest dimension of the European inland container is 20 ft (or 7.15 m for the swap bodies).

The growing importance of just-in-time transport leads continually to smaller load sizes that do not use up the loading space of the containers and swap bodies. Consequently, additional loading procedures at collection and distribution points are required.

Answers have been sought to the problem of satisfying requirements for the economic transport of small load sizes: small containers with a capacity of 3 to 9 pallets per level could be the answer. Faster and more economical loading and unloading at distribution nodes (e.g. city logistics) are also needed. Appropriately designed small containers could also be useful for in-house transport and storage.

There is general agreement that, in the future, small container dimensions should relate to pallet dimensions, and the largest side should not be more than half that of the new proposed Euro-containers (7.45 m).

Existing and proposed solutions tend to be isolated and are frequently related to individual carrier companies, transport routes and regions/countries. In general, European level initiatives aimed at standardisation have, to date, been relatively unsuccessful.

Benefits to Different Users

The results will allow the pre-standardisation of small containers and logistic boxes by standards organisations in Europe.

The use of small containers will result in improved use of vehicles due to faster transhipment at consignors and consignees which, together with the avoidance or simplification of intermediate transhipments, makes small containers potentially suitable for intermodal freight transport over shorter distances. Therefore, possibilities in the areas of airfreight, coastal shipping and inland waterways should be seriously considered.

Increased intermodal transport has the potential to contribute to the development of freight transport that is more environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

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Image Last Updated: 22-03-2001

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