There are several methods to store and stack containers in a container yard, which is in its simplest form a flat paved surface. There are two fundamental models around which container yards are designed and operated:
- Linear layouts account for the simplest and least capital-intensive yard operations. At start, containers can be stored on chassis that can be parked in parallel (L1) for space maximization or diagonally (L2) to favor quick drop-off and retrieval (all called fishbone configuration). This organization is common for intermodal rail terminals. Straddle carrier configurations (L3) store containers one or two in height along rows over which straddle carriers drive. This is common for average density yards that can store around 700 TEU per hectare. Reach stackers can be used to stack full containers in piles up to 3 in height (L4), which is mainly used in intermodal terminals. The majority of container ports have empty stacks (L5) with higher stacks (about 5 containers) that are managed by reach stackers.
- Block layouts are more capital-intensive as they rely on gantry cranes to manage stacks. A group of stacked containers serviced by a crane is called a block. Rubber-tired gantry cranes allow for higher stacking density in the range of 1,000 TEU per hectare where blocks can be sideloaded (B1; faster individual container access time but lower stacking density) or front-loaded (B2; slower individual container access time but higher stacking density). Wide-span gantry cranes operating on fixed rails allow for the highest stacking density, in the range of 2,000 TEU per hectare, and be sideloaded (B3) or front-loaded (B4). Automated container yards usually rely on front-loading gantries.