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This is from a 1983 NYT article:

Other obstacles to the bloc's growth include a wider railway gauge in the Soviet Union than that in most other countries of Eastern Europe, the absence of modern highways, and the failure to agree on standardized container sizes for freight shipments.

I could ask on Skeptics if the statement was true up to the date it was made, but I'm more generally curious if the failure "to agree on standardized container sizes for freight shipments" is/held true even in the aftermath, until the dissolution of the USSR and of the Comecon.

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    1983 is still pretty early in use of containers for freight, particularly on railroads (the Eastern bloc was not as concerned about trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific container ships). The Port of Los Angeles handled some 733,000 containers total in 1983, and almost 10,000,000 in 2022, many of which were loaded on to UP and BNSF trains. So it would not surprise me that they would have stressed defining a standardized container size.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 20:36
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    Do you have any evidence that there was a desire within Comecon to standardize (the implication of that article's phrasing), rather than they didn't didn't care about freight container standardization? Their WP page seems to indicate they didn't really function as that kind of organization.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 22:06
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    Are you talking about Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code), which seems to have been introduced in 1997 in its present form but started as an international norm (Intermodal container - Wikipedia) in the late 1960's? In Europe most things were transported with EUR-pallet - Wikipedia, which was introduced by the European railways in the early 1960's and also used in the eastern block. This has nothing to do with Comecon. Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 4:01
  • @T.E.D.: well, the Comecon was discussing a "common transport policy" circa 1981, although I'm not sure what that entailed exactly. The first page mentions the "integration of the domestic systems in several countries, thus setting up an international system." Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 14:01
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    Oh, that's a good find! Perhaps edit this information into the question? We generally consider that a better way for question authors to respond to comments.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 14:05

2 Answers 2

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This is partly not true. The Comecon formally adopted early on the Soviet standard container sizes from "Soviet Union ГОСТ 9106-59 Контейнеры универсальные. Основные параметры".

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Whether non-USSR members actually used them as agreed is somewhat more of an open question. In fact, the paper says that despite including the Soviet containers in an ISO standard (as "Series 3"), few actually used them:

By 1962, much of Europe was allowing larger sizes of containers than was America, so the new American standard sizes, 8 feet high, 8 feet wide, and 10, 20, 30, or 40 feet long faced no technical obstacles. Many continental European railroads owned fleets of much smaller containers, made for 8 or 10 cubic meters of freight rather than the 72.5 cubic meter volume of a 40-foot container. The Europeans wanted their containers recognized as standard. The British, Japanese, and North American delegations were all opposed, because the European containers were slightly wider than 8 feet. “The metric countries” wanted to confirm the container sizes that had been in use in the UIC (Union Internationale des Chemins de fer). A compromise was struck in April 1963. Smaller containers, including the European railroad sizes and American 5-foot and 6 2/3-foot boxes would be recognized as "Series 2" containers. In 1964, these smaller sizes, along with 10-, 20-, 30-, and 40-foot containers, were formally adopted as ISO standards [7]. Then the Russians wanted their Eastern European sizes put in, so was called them Series 3. The first standards that came out in ISO Standard 668 included all three series. But when it came to the market place, no-one bought Series 2 or Series 3 for this new service called “intermodal containers”. Everyone went to Series 1, and several plenary meetings later, it was agreed to drop the Series 2 and 3. American negotiators says in memories that it was a big success for them [9].

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I find this highly doubtful. They built container ships in the 1970s.

The Mercur I class of ships built in East Germany for the Soviet Union were produced from 1975 to 1978 and were intended to transport up to 840 twenty foot container equivalents (TEU). They were followed by the larger Mercur II class in the early 1980s.

For container usage outside of container ships see e.g. this picture from East Berlin in 1976.

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  • Please don't just give a link - summarise what the linked page says. The page might change content, disappear or in this case is not in English which is needed for answers in STack Exchange
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 8:01
  • This article hints at a different standard used by Sovjet railway, but sources only with some photos made in Baku 1998 without further explanation.
    – ccprog
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 12:45
  • I think you misunderstood the Q. It's not whether the built any containers, but whether they agreed to some standard for them. " intended to transport up to 840 twenty foot container equivalents (TEU)": there's no source in Wikipedia that this is how the ships were originally designed for. It could well be that's a more modern adaptation. It also says "equivalents". Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 13:51
  • @Fizz - "TEU" is a standardized term for containers.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 14:50

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