In CT, loading units represent the object of transshipment while protecting the goods to be transported. Handling of loading units takes place in terminals and is a central component within combined transport chains where the mode of transport is changed. Transshipment systems are used to switch consignments from one mode of transport to another (i.e., road, rail, and waterway). The most common and widely known type of loading units are containers, as these can be transported across all modes in CT. A vehicle itself can also be loading unit. In course of various innovations of transport modes, different forms of loading units as well as corresponding specific handling systems have been developed and adapted to the individual requirements of loading units. Due to bulk freight transport, particularly as a consequence of international / intercontinental maritime transport, standardization with respect to the size and feature of loading units has prevailed. As a consequence of the mentioned standardization, loading units ensure:
- economically viable and easy handling,
- beneficial utilization of space ,
- easier storage, and
- better options for gathering information, statistics, and accounting.
However, the advantages outlined above only apply if transport, handling and storage operations are generally recognized and internationally standardized. Within global cargo flows, several loading unit systems have been developed that support various types of transport and handling. Characteristic are hereby maritime and continental loading units, each having different technical properties, possible applications and variations due to their respective use (SGKV & UIRR, 2020).
According to 2020 Report on Combined Transport in Europe, in the BSR the structure of maritime and continental transports was 74% of maritime and 26% of continental services (UIC 2020). A country-by-country examination shows a large variety of ILU mix in the BSR countries: for Denmark and Poland, mainly containers are transported whereas in Sweden most of the consignments are based on the use of semi-trailers. It is therefore essential to understand the logistics needs in terms of equipment by the various BSR countries (SGKV & UIRR, 2020).