In the late 1960s, at the rising of ISO container transport, SNCF installed a number of transcontainer (according to the terminology of the time) terminals, and consequently an even greater number of container gantry cranes. Mostly manufactured by the unrecognized firm Joseph Paris, which still exists, within the Fayat group.

Transcontainer gantry crane

Photo SNCF.

I’ve been considering for a long time modelling a container gantry crane at 1:87 scale. I had pictures (personal and from La Vie du Rail magazine), but no diagram, indispensable for not making coarse error on the dimensions.

Note: if I ever get to the construction, I don’t intend to make this apparatus functional. It would enormously complicate the design, for a result that is likely to be disappointing. Physical laws don’t reduce to 1:87. For example, on all the motorized model cranes that I saw, the load balances ridiculously quickly at the end of the cable. Nothing can be done: it’s the pendulum law, whose oscillation frequency is inversely proportional to the square root of the length. Whatever the suspended mass (within a certain limit), the frequency will be √87 ≈ 9,3 times greater in HO! A majestic sway in reality will result in a fish wriggling at the end of the rod…

The documentation

On the advice of a Loco-Revue Forum member, I bought No.207 of Voies ferrées magazine, which deals with the history of Novatrans (société nouvelle d’exploitation de transports combinés). Here is the diagram of a Joseph Paris gantry crane, as well as two photos that allowed me to specify certain details. Of course, there may be construction variants; moreover, this diagram shows a more recent version of the gantry crane. That’s why I will focus more on the coherence of the whole set than on particular details.

Diagram of the Joseph Paris gantry crane

The diagram is shown in low resolution, as usual, not to contravene copyrights.

Gantry crane diagram

On the scan that I made in large format, I adapted the resolution to be able to make measurements directly in centimeters at 1:1 scale — my bitmap drawing software ( doesn’t allow measuring in millimeters. I had to slightly change the width / height ratio to get the same scale in both dimensions. Despite this, the dimensions are not always accurate, which is not surprising for an overall drawing. There are also differences in shape, such as, for example, the leg connecting bars, with four reinforcements instead of five, the upper beams, the ends inclined instead of being cut-off, the cabin and the trolley covers (See green boxes).

It will therefore often be necessary to interpret the shapes and dimensions with the help of a little geometry.

Some photos

Gantry crane under construction in the port of Dunkirk (personal collection). This document allows you to see details that are hidden when the apparatus is in working order. See also in Photos of railway equipment.

Gantry crane of Dunkirk

The right leg is held upright by a crane. The left one is attached on one side to a mast of the three-phase supply line, and on the other to the ground by a stay.

Transcontainer loading in Le Havre:

Gantry crane of Le Havre

Photo Louis Pilloux in La Vie du Rail No. 1193.

Gantry crane of Maisons-Alfort handling a semi-trailer, using the arms integrated to the spreader.

Gantry crane of Maisons-Alfort

Photo Novatrans in Voies ferrées No. 207.

This last photo shows, among other things, details of a bogie, with its safety devices, passive or active (limit switch). The spreader doesn’t seem to be able to handle ISO containers (no corner lock is visible on the frame).

Still, this company is gaining to be known given its grandiose achievements in the field of metal construction.

For information, on my scan, the corresponding resolution is six pixels per inch.