Information published on 2 December 2014 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 426.

End of pallet conflict – EPAL and UIC join forces

  • Freight
  • Logistics

Two years ago, two organisations had parted ways: UIC (the “EUR Pallet Exchange Group is managed by Rail Cargo Group/ÖBB on behalf of UIC) and EPAL (the European Pallet Association), formally approved by UIC in 1991. From a business perspective this was a step in the wrong direction; a well-oiled system had thus been disassembled. Under pressure and at the request of a number of economic and trade partners, UIC and EPAL agreed on a mutual acceptance of load carriers. However, the long-lasting reliability of the largest and most open pallet pool in the world is not a given.

An important step has now been taken towards optimising pallet management: the recent agreement on unrestricted exchangeability between UIC and EPAL has wiped the slate clean after two years of conflict. All companies that use pallets stand to gain from this agreement.

Legal certainty will thus be ensured through close cooperation with EPAL in the future, in particular regarding certain open points:

  • The continued existence of both organisations is of particular significance; they will carry out mutual monitoring, and together will ensure compliance with the regulations governing the pallet market. For this purpose, a suggestion was made during the negotiations to set up a joint governing body without an organisational and bureaucratic superstructure.
  • UIC and EPAL shall determine together the substance of the requisite pallet quality level, which is aimed at guaranteeing safety during pallet handling, for staff as well as for products transported by pallet.
  • To prevent the formation of a monopoly, the preservation of competition in the field of testing agencies is necessary; they will be commissioned by UIC and EPAL members and ensure compliance with pallet quality requirements.
    • Regular calls for tenders will require the testing agencies to adapt their conditions to technical and financial practices.

The renewed trust between UIC and EPAL gives UIC and all partners in the logistics chain cause for confidence in the future.

Useful information on pallets:

Where do pallets come from?

In the late 1950s, there was a boom in part load traffic – also known as packaged goods transport – on the European railways. In the 1960s, packages, boxes, kegs and the like handed over to the railways for carriage were transported in wagons individually, by means of the loading hatch. Pushcarts were useful for this purpose, but were not the right means of appreciably reducing “handwork”.

A manager at Deutsche Bahn (DB) responsible at the time for the cost-effectiveness of part load traffic worked with a transport equipment manufacturer to develop a liftable wooden base and a pallet truck.

The European Pallet and Box Pallet Pool founded by UIC in 1961

Pallets enabled packages, boxes and devices of varying sizes and weights to be grouped together for loading and transhipment, thus making it unnecessary to handle and move packaged goods individually and by hand several times, especially on long routes involving several transhipments. This development did not only make manual labour easier. Above all, transporting many individual loads grouped together on pallets up to the last transhipment station reduced loading times by 90 percent. The savings thus made in staff costs were a welcome bonus. These arguments rapidly propelled the pallet to the centre stage, revolutionising transport practices throughout Europe. A milestone in this process was the foundation of the European Pallet and Box Pallet Pool by UIC in 1961.

Today the pallet remains ubiquitous

Even nowadays, the pool pallet is unavoidable. The conventional EUR pallet, numbering around 500 million, is currently the most widely used and standardised load carrier in the world.

Most pallets are made with dried and heat-treated spruce wood. Other woods are seldom used due to their higher cost. Here are some further details: every cubic metre of wood can supply enough material for 22 pallets. Each pallet contains 78 nails, 11 boards and 9 blocks. When quality requirements are met, a pallet can bear a load of 1,500 kg for a tare weight of 25 kg. Depending on quality and use, it has a life cycle of around 1 to 10 years.

The pool pallet is relevant to practically every sector of activity. Even when a company’s own products are not carried by pool pallet, the majority of its preliminary products are delivered by means of one. The pool pallet thus has a great deal of economic significance and is unlikely to be replaced in the near and not-so-near future.

For further information, please contact:

Rail Cargo Group/ÖBB (which manages the UIC EUR Pallet Exchange Group):
Thomas Metlich, International Affairs, Coordinator EUR Pallet
Email: Thomas.Metlich@railcargo.at