Above: A sea of South Australian Railways’ motive power goodness has been caught “on shed” at Tatiara Downs, with no less than three different paint schemes on display. The 700 in the foreground is a reworked Austrains’ model. Image courtesy of Mark.
The fifth operating session for 2018 on the Border District – and the thirty-seventh session since regular operations commenced in 2015 – saw six likely lads visit the layout on a warm September Saturday afternoon, giving a crew of seven (same as last session and perhaps now seen as the “optimal” number). Also similar to the July session, the “AM” timetable was again attempted, but employing some learnings from the previous session two months ago.
As was the case in July, the now standard “four roads crews” approach was employed, with two roles each for both the South Australian Railways (SAR) and Victorian Railways (VR). For September, Jeff took on the VR1 crew role, with Darren taking the VR2 crew job – a swap of VR roles from the previous session. On the other side of the border, Iain again assumed the SAR 1 crew position, while long time friend of the Border District, Geoff, returned for the first time in 2018 to tackle the SAR 2 crew role.
Building on changes commenced for the last session, two positions were employed at Tatiara Downs in September. Brendan (aka “the Sheriff”) continued in his combined “Station Master/Head Shunter” role, but only had to look after the eastern end signals and arrivals/departures. The reason? Mark’s “Hostler” role was expanded this session to also include control of the western end signals and arrivals/departures at Tatiara Downs. These changes, while certainly still in their early days, were well received and seem to have been successful in easing the burden that can sometimes be doing more than three things at once at Tatiara Downs.
The September session was a very enjoyable one, with the crew working thirty trains over the “AM” period (ten fast clock hours – though the fast clock is really only referred to for loading or station dwell times), taking just under three real time hours. There were but a few negatives – a failed point motor at Nankiva (addressed in the session, but adding a nice wrinkle along the way), headshunts and sidings not always long enough (and needing buffer stops or baulks), a few loco and railmotor hesitations/stalls (dirty track in a few places) and a VR ZF guard’s van which needs its bogie mounts addressed to ensure it doesn’t split the points as often as it does.
Below: A busy moment at the Victorian station of Nankiva has been captured by Darren, with S304 gently easing an eastbound Jet through the loop. To the right, sits a westbound goods, headed for Tatiara Downs. Usually, the westbound would be in the loop, allowing the Jet to rocket through – but a points failure at the down end of the yard led to this change in operational practice – a nice additional challenge for the session that wasn’t entirely intended!
Above: A view of the changes to the eastern industrial precinct at Tatiara Downs – with the typical SAR goods shed (the work of Don Bishop) now front and centre, and changes to allow easier access and shunting for the livestock (sheep and cattle) sidings, Shire co-op and Top Brand Super facility (all located close to each other in the top left of image, beyond and behind the goods shed).
The September session saw a number of layout changes commissioned, mostly focussed on modifications to track and industries at the main station of Tatiara Downs. While not of any great magnitude, the reason for the changes were outlined in my previous blogpost (click here to read). The biggest differences were the removal of the oil siding, the relocation of the goods shed and the addition of another road for the yard (actually the repurposed former goods shed road). As a picture is often worth a thousand words, compare the image above with the lead image from the previous blog post to get a better view of the changes.
Initially, the Sheriff expressed some reservations regarding the modifications to tracks and industry locations – in particular that of the goods shed. However, I’ll admit to a feeling a good degree of relief post session, when during our usual debrief Brendan gave a thumbs up to the impact of the changes – the biggest being the ability to “dump” all wagons for industries at Tatiara Downs in the “new” Road 7, for handling when the station wasn’t too busy hosting arrivals, departures and crew/loco changes.
The removal of the oil siding, which provided the physical space to place the goods shed, permitted another concept to be introduced this session – that of “Tatiara West”. Along similar thoughts to that of the actual Naracoorte on the SAR (one of the significant influences on and inspirations for Tatiara Downs), the oil sidings are now seen to be located “out of town”, slightly to the west. While unable to actually be modelled (but considered for some time as a must for inclusion on the “next” iteration of the Border District …), two short roads in staging at Kybybolite were commandeered for this purpose.
As well as hostling locos and working the west end signals, one of Mark’s other tasks in the session was to undertake a short pilot working from Tatiara Downs to Tatiara West, bringing in loaded oil pots and taking out empties, while also transporting a few wagons in and out for a transport company based there. While the concept worked, locating the industries in the staging area, with many other tracks and trains about, caused for a significant disjoint. As such, it is likely the pilot workings won’t continue, with these “sidings” to simply be served by SAR roadside goods in either direction, until the opportunity presents to build a bigger and better Border District. While perhaps presently still the stuff of dreams, a “Border District 2.0” would include Tatiara West as a separate location (amongst other things …).
Below: A different view of the eastern end at Tatiara Downs, with the industrial precinct to the right in this image. A 280 HP Walkers railmotor is being shunted to the station, ahead of working the midday passenger service to Portland, while a VR S class can be seen in the distance, headlight beaming, in charge of an eastbound goods. Picture with thanks to Darren.
Above: Another look at the eastern end of Tatiara Downs, with Mark capturing the final train of the session – the “Stonie” – powering through on the main. Keen eyes will spy the beginnings of an SAR loading gauge – the result of some very nice modelling by Iain – just above the roofs of the VR sheep wagons at the livestock siding.
While the few changes discussed above contributed in part to the success of the operating session, as always it is the approach and attitude of the operators that is the largest determinant of how “great” a session is. From the three Border District “old hands” of Mark, Iain and Brendan, through to less frequent operators like Geoff, everyone took their time and didn’t race through each working – making for a very enjoyable afternoon.
To be truthful though, the session may have had its share of little moments of confusion and/or hilarity – a combination of poor instructions, less than full attention paying and/or limited recent experience on the layout. To commence, without a solid or comprehensive re-induction from the host, one operator began the session not knowing that his “sequence cards” were nicely organised – even in a box with his name on it – next to staging, providing him with all the instructions he would need to get through the session. Unperturbed and unaware, he headed over to Tatiara Downs and presented to work the SAR leg of the crack interstate Overland overnight passenger train. While he found an experienced operator to assist him, this particular individual was quite preoccupied while grappling with a number of additional responsibilities for the session – can you see where this is heading? The end result of all this was the SAR locos for the Overland working the carriages for the VR passenger train to Melbourne from the yard at Tatiara Downs towards Kybybolite – long before the Overland even arrived in Tatiara Downs from Melbourne!
Adding to the fun (and confusion) to start the afternoon, when the Overland did indeed arrive from Victoria, another operator caused some head scratching to ensue when it was determined that the BP parcels van behind the engines (carded to travel all the way to Adelaide …) needed to be dropped off. After some words from yours truly and a re-read of the “Weekly Notices” for the session, it was determined that while similar on paper, trains 241/240 and 24 are indeed quite different, if only by one more or less digit. And never one to miss out on the action, another experienced operator later also joined in by resorting to the famed and loathed “hand of god” manoeuvre to remove a wagon wrongly included in the pick ups for an Adelaide bound train. In an interesting and perhaps unsurprising coincidence, someone conveniently “forgot” to bring along his camera to record a time lapse of the session …
The above again demonstrates that the crew do take their roles seriously (well, mostly …), but not themselves too seriously – which really does make for enjoyable operating sessions. It is also rewarding to see the impact of a number of “immersive operation” elements in adding purpose and direction to operations, as well as slowing them down (or as is often said was experienced on the railways – providing a large dose of “hurry up and wait”). After thirty-seven sessions and nearly four years, operations continue to evolve on the Border District – but do so with thanks to the contributions and input of an awesome group of friends, who bring the layout to life each session an are always prepared to give new ideas and approaches a go.
Below: The team that made for such a great September session, hard at work. To the right, Brendan and Mark go about their respective roles at Tatiara Downs, while Darren (between them) waits to depart on an eastbound VR goods. Out of shot behind Mark is Iain, who is about to work an SAR passenger service out of Jameston. In the other pit, Geoff is carefully watching as he brings the loaded Stonie down to Jameston, while Jeff goes about shunting a VR roadside goods at Nankiva. Check out the focus and concentration on show – what a crew!