Proper Intermodal Container Loading Procedures

How to keep fleets, drivers and shipments safe.

Proper loading is a key element of keeping fleets, drivers and shipments safe. This includes ensuring the weight of freight is equally distributed on container floors and that containers are properly blocked and braced for intermodal transport in accordance with AAR standards. It is also important to ensure carriers do not engage in hauling overweight or over-gross shipments, as defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Maximum Gross Weight

The maximum gross weight allowed, including tractor, in 53-foot domestic intermodal containers is 80,000 pounds. This includes the total combined gross vehicle combination weights of the tractor, chassis and container weight, including lading. For overweight on an axle, the current DOT guidelines are as follows:

  • Steer axle (tractor) must not exceed 12,000 pounds
  • Drive axle (tractor) must not exceed 17,000 pounds per axle or 34,000 for a typical combined axle weight
  • Container/Trailer axle must not exceed 17,000 pounds per axle or 34,000 for a typical combined axle weight

For additional information regarding container weights, please refer to the Union Pacific Master Intermodal Transportation Agreement (MITA), specifically, Item 510. You can access MITA by visiting

Weight standards may vary by state. To verify applicable laws and weight limitations, visit

Please be aware that there are also requirements unique to the State of California (e.g. CA bridge law). These can be found at

Helpful Tips

In order to prevent moving overweight containers, please be aware of the following:

  • Loup suggests a max weight of 42,500 lbs for Intermodal shipments to avoid overweight issues.
  • If the Bill of Lading weight exceeds 42,500 pounds, the container may need to be scaled at or near the origin shipping facility.
  • A 53-foot domestic intermodal container and chassis typically weigh 3,000 to 4,000 pounds heavier than a standard aluminum over-the-road trailer.
  • All loads, including those with a sleeper berth tractor, which can weigh up to 18,500 pounds, must be within legal weight limits.
  • EMP and UMAX container specfications can be found at

Preventing the movement of overweight containers is important for the safety of both shipments and people. Have questions? Contact us.

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