A trip on the Border District’s “quarry train”

VR quarry train at NAN

On the Border District, there are a number of operations that serve the movement of “rocks and seeds”. The Southern Aggregates loading facility, located just west of Border Junction, deals in the former. It serves at least two trains per operating session – a South Australian Railways’ working reminiscent of the “Penrice Stonie” train and a Victorian Railways’ train based on the “Apex Quarry” train. The latter of these was in the capable hands of Mark during the last session, who was kind enough to take a few snaps along the way …

In the first image, above, B67 can be seen at the head of Victorian Railways’ Train Number 357 – the down empty quarry train. Resplendent in blue and gold, this working is a step down from the more usual passenger services for the B. The train has made its way from Edenhope and now finds itself waiting in the loop at Nankiva, a medium sized township in western Victoria. The reason for the wait … the afternoon school railmotor service coming from Tatiara Downs. Once the Walkers’ railmotor has arrived and stopped at the platform, B67 and VR TN 357 will receive a “clear medium speed” signal aspect (red over green) to permit continued progress west.

Below, B67 and VR TN 357 are making slow progress this afternoon – once again finding themselves with a “stop” (red over red) signal aspect ahead, this time at Border Junction, the first South Australian location on the line after crossing the border. In the distance and out of focus is the train’s destination – the Southern Aggregates loading complex. However, VR TN 357 will first head further west to Tatiara Downs to reverse the position of the locomotive, as there are no run around facilities at Border Junction and the Southern Aggregates complex is only able to be shunted by eastward facing trailing moves.

VR quarry train at BJN

VR quarry train at TAT

Above, B67 can be seen having finally made it to Tatiara Downs, an important location for the railway and a sizeable town in south eastern South Australia. The quarry wagons, top and tailed by guard’s vans to save on additional shunting, can be seen in the background in the platform road. B67 has headed over to the loco depot for a quick fuel top up. Once this task is complete, the B will couple up to the rest of the train – attaching to the former “trailing” end. Now designated as VR Train Number 358, the driver will speak with Train Control and await a clear signal for the short trip east, back to Border Junction.

Destination reached at last! Below, B67 has commenced the shunting (and shuffling) that is loading a train at Southern Aggregates. There are a number of complexities to working Southern Aggregates that add a degree (some operators might argue “degrees” …) of difficulty here. These include the previously noted lack of a “run around” facility; only a limited number of wagons being able to be placed beyond the loader at a time; locomotives and guard’s vans being unable to pass under the loader; and perhaps the greatest complexity – only one other (fairly short) siding to stow wagons on! Add to that the fact that this train also has guard’s vans on each end and you have a recipe that goes just a little beyond a simple shunting puzzle … good fun.

VR quarry train starting loading

VR quarry train during loading

In the final image, above, the shunting puzzle has nearly been solved and half the quarry wagons on the train have been loaded. A long time friend of the Border District, Mark has sussed the Southern Aggregates “secret to shunting” – ensuring you are able to easily place the block of recently loaded wagons in the additional siding, while also having the next block of empty wagons ready to be placed under the loader. Cleverly, Mark has also ensured the trialing guard’s van has been left at the end of the additional road, which will make it easy to attach to the rear of train before “doing the brakes” ahead of departure.

Once this is done (which also involves ensuring the waybills have been “flipped” to show the completion of loading, and the wagon cards are marshalled in correct order), B67 and VR TN 358 will pull forward into Border Junction and seek the “all clear” from Train Control. With this received, the train will then back out onto the mainline, clearing the arrival signal ahead of the points being set for the main. With a subsequent “clear normal speed” aspect (green over red) given on the signal, B67 and VR TN 358 will then power up to head east back into Victoria, with fully loaded quarry hoppers in tow …

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May 2018 operating session

VR silver dreams

Above: “Silver dreams” … first series Victorian Railways’ GJF grain hoppers (sometimes referred to as “goofies”) await loading at the ‘under construction’ enhanced Grain Elevators’ Board complex at Nankiva. Another interesting and another unique perspective on the operations of the Border District, courtesy of Mark.

With a number of regular operators and friends interstate, overseas or otherwise committed, the May 2018 operating session on the Border District saw a crew of five in attendance. This was perhaps somewhat serendipitous, as after the March session operations were restructured to do away with the third VR crew. This was a result, in the main, of having 8 operators last time and the issues created by not having enough throttles on hand!

For the May session, Jeff and Mark took on the Victorian Railways’ crews roles (1 and 2 respectively). Duncan and Iain undertook the South Australian Railways’ crew jobs (again, 1 and 2 respectively). I looked after Tatiara Downs and Train Control at the same time – assisted by others setting points and signals. An additional Cab 06 throttle was purchased after the March session – so May saw the number of operators and number of throttles be in balance.

The session proved to be a very enjoyable one. While there were less operators than for recent sessions, the banter was possibly greater than usual – with plenty of “supportive” comments (… and a greater amount of general ribbing!). At the same time, there were a couple of occasions when, with no sound equipped loco running, the silence demonstrated five people all hard at work, undertaking the cognitive gymnastics that are operations – Border District style!

Another highlight of the May session was the commissioning of the revised signalling and point control at Nankiva – with significant thanks to Border District Chief Signalling Engineer (CSE), Brendan. While Brendan wasn’t able to share (this time) in the fruits of his labour, it was rewarding to have aspects displaying correctly and interlocking adding realism. It was also great to have all points on the main at Nankiva thrown electrically for the first time – a long planned project.

Below: The Tatiara District Farmers’ Co-operative finally has a building! Seen beyond the livestock sidings at Tatiara Downs, the structure is a ‘standard’ South Australian Railways’ corrugated iron goods shed – in the very attractive cream with red roof scheme. The building, replacing the previous ‘piece of cardboard with industry name written in texta’, is with thanks to the very talented and prolific Don Bishop (belated birthday wishes too, Don!).

TAT Co-op 1

TAT Co-op 2

Above: Another view of the new Tatiara Downs Famers’ Co-operative shed. Positioned to the left of the entrance to the train room, the reactions from long time operators to this structure were, simply, priceless. As the number of structures on the Border District grows, so to does the ‘immersive’ feel of operations. 

The May session seemed to have less operating “issues” than the previous one in March – even the three way point behaved itself – but perhaps this was a result of responding to and addressing things from the previous session? While there was no time lapse capture for the whole session, as per previous 2018 sessions, Jeff was kind enough to record a few shorter time lapse sequences at Nankiva. Unfortunately, WordPress won’t allow me to upload video content directly to this blog, so I’ll explore another way to share these in the near future.

The removal of the third Victorian Railways crew role meant there were less trains this session (28 scheduled – compared to 34 in March), so opportunity was taken to trial some “additional workings”, as required. These were 6 unscheduled trains (think conditional workings, charters and the like) that were able to be assigned to any operator if and when they were well ahead of the schedule/sequence. I think this worked fairly well, with 4 of these 6 “additional workings” taking place, and three operators sharing in the running of them.

The May session certainly has me considering that age old maxim of “less is more” – particularly in terms of both the number of trains for a session and the number of operator roles on the layout. However, one “less” I still find myself a little unsure of is the bi-monthly approach to sessions. There has certainly been more progress on the layout this year than in the past three (when sessions were held monthly), but it does seems a long time between operating Saturdays.

As always, the operating sessions are as much – or more – about the people and friends in the hobby. I count myself very fortunate to have such an amazing group that help bring the Border District to life each session – as well as provided advice, support, experience and progress, away from and outside of these sessions. Thanks to the “awesome foursome” that made the May session such a great one!

Below: Another image courtesy of Mark – a look across the stub-ended staging roads of Edenhope towards the end of the session reveals a sea of Victorian Railways’ blue and gold goodness! 

VR goodness

Additional photographic coverage from the March 2018 operating session

VR TN 358 at Southern Aggregates

Credit and thanks to long time friend of the Border District (and often co-conspirator), Mark, please enjoy presented here a few more snaps from the most recent operating session on the Border District – held on Saturday 17 March 2018.

Above: Substituting for the earlier “failed” VR B class (see the blog post from 18 March 2018), branchline power in high hood T357 completes loading at Southern Aggregates for Victorian Railways’ Train Number 358 – the “Quarry” train – at Border Junction. With seven fully loaded JQF hoppers and two ZLP vans to “top and tail” the consist, VR TN 358 will be just within the load capabilities of the T class – which might get the loco roster foreman thinking!

Below: Also captured at Border Junction, the up afternoon South Australian Railways’ Jameston to Naracoorte passenger service is brought to a halt by mustard pot Alco 858. This service, SAR TN 282, provides a connection for workers from the APCEL Paper Mill at Jameston and the Southern Aggregates facility at Border Junction to head homewards to the larger townships of Tatiara Downs and Naracoorte. It is good also to see the emerging use of “drone footage” in 1976 …

SAR TN 282 at Border Junction

GEB shunt at Nankiva

Above: Moving east from Border Junction, a Victorian Railways’ B class engine can be seen, shunting the newly commissioned extended Grain Elevators’ Board (GEB) sidings at Nankiva. Being March, there is a concerted effort afoot to clear all silo loading, predominantly to Portland for export – a task that has taken longer than expected. The changes at Nankiva certainly provided for increased and enhanced operations there during the March session – and provided Mark with a fair bit of challenge as “Train Control”.

Below: More proof that the “Nankiva/Border Junction” operating pit wasn’t chockers for the entire March session! Mark has captured six of eight operators all going about their business in the “Tatiara Downs/Jameston” pit – with five of those six operators engaged in one way or another at the main station of Tatiara Downs. Closer inspection of the image may or may not reveal the true “level” of engagement …

Plenty on at the Downs

Edenhope Valley Vegetable Growers – development

Vegetable Growers 1

A key structure at Nankiva, and important source of traffic, is the “Edenhope Valley Vegetable Growers” siding. Louvre vans from both Melbourne and Adelaide arrive empty and are loaded with produce from the farms around Edenhope and Apsley. The views above and below show the arrangement of the siding – branching off the main line, and also include the most current “mock up” of the proposed structure – to be completed in “ultra low relief” as it sits hard against the backscene here.

The proposed building is heavily influenced by the Art Deco styled Nippy’s building at Waikerie in South Australia – although the Edenhope Valley building is intended to have loading platforms, whereas the Nippy’s building saw loading undertaken from ground level. Once again, the maestro Don Bishop has had significant involvement in the development of this structure – and his first paper mock up (over cardboard industry “place holder” which previously took centre stage) can be seen behind the vans in these images.

Vegetable Growers 2

Vegetable Growers 3

As has proven to be the case previously, collaborating with Don on a building project is a great learning experience – and he has an uncanny knack of digging up inspirational images and interesting ideas and concepts along the way too. Heading into our helicopter, the view above gives a better and more complete perspective of the building’s layout and relationship. Where possible, the vans have their doors open to line up with the loading platforms/docks (usually, this would only happen on the “loading” side and so is done here for effect).

Don’s first mock up includes doors spaced three and then four windows apart (from right to left) – as per the building at Waikerie. However, the mock up reveals that the location of the doors as planned might not suit the wagons as they are shunted/positioned along the siding – or the length of the siding. Another issue is the proximity of the end loading door closest to the dwarf signal protecting the siding (just out of image to the left in the image below).

Vegetable Growers 4

Vegetable Growers 5

No matter – this is what “mocking up” is all about! A simple change – reducing the separation between the loading doors to be two windows and then three windows (again, right to left) better locates the loading doors for wagons (see above for the general “gist”). This solution also brings the loading door closest to the building’s west end further back from the dwarf signal. This end of the building may include two more windows, or may simply be a blank wall – a decision yet to be made.

The image below shows how the facility will handle times with more than three wagons to be loaded – with loaded wagons to be pushed beyond the building and further down the siding. This could also be used for loading wagons from the ground, as per Waikerie, to add another element of operational interest. As a learned friend once proclaimed – asparagus from the Edenhope Valley was a highly sought after commodity in 1976 …

Vegetable Growers 6

More images from the March 2018 operating session

A busy op pit

Above: Following on from the previous blogpost, here is a wider view of the “Tatiara Downs and Jameston” operating pit during the most recent operating session. Jameston itself is to the far right of the image – in the distance, Malcolm can just be glimpsed working out the drop offs and pick ups from an additional fertiliser working down the branch. To the left, Brendan and myself appear engaged in some (very?) serious shunting and discussions at Tatiara Downs, while Jeff is also present, having worked a Victorian Railways service in to the ‘Downs. A great shot that really conveys the “feel” of operations – provided with thanks to Iain, who is responsible for all the images in this post.

Below: A picture speaks a thousand words! Iain has captured many aspects of the Border District and operating sessions in this one image. In the “Nankiva and Border Junction” operating pit, first timer Duncan is a picture of concentration as he brings Victorian Railways Train Number 4 to a stand, ahead of propelling back, to then load open wagons at the Southern Aggregates complex. Between Duncan and his train (trailed by the passenger red VR “CP” guard’s van, to the right of Duncan’s right shoulder) is the combined and “open” staging yard of Edenhope (Victoria) and Kybybolite (South Australia).

Also in this image below, the two new grain sidings at Nankiva can be seen immediately behind Duncan, while in the foreground at Tatiara Downs the current mock up of the Tatiara District Milling Company takes pride of place. The structures here are intended to be modelled in relief – sin fact some of them will employ “ultra-relief” given the space constraints. Above the Mill buildings sits Brendan’s camera, capturing time lapse footage of most of the operating session (click the link here to view: Border District time lapse March 2018)

Duncan surveys the scene

SAR TN 134 weaves through TAT

Above: South Australian Railways Train Number 134 – an additional working conveying empty fertiliser wagons from Jameston (reference the first image in this post) back to Adelaide – can be seen weaving its way through the yard at Tatiara Downs, bound for Kybybolite, the 930 travelling “B” end leading. Usually, this train would make its way through on the main/platform line to the right, but things were a bit crowded/messy at Tatiara Downs around this time and the Sheriff gave the “all clear” to use Road 6. A westbound Jet goods can be seen sitting in the loop road, awaiting some SAR power to drop on before the train continues towards Adelaide, hot on the heels of SAR TN 134.

Below: While the through tracks in the staging yard (left of image) appear a little empty, the stub ended sidings in the middle of this picture are full of Victorian Railways’ goodness. Two grain trains, two Walkers railmotors (a 280hp and a 153hp), a roadside goods and the light engines to work the up “Overland” can all be found – most still to have their time working across the ‘District. The right of the image reveals the organisation for some of the operators’ aids for the session – one “box” per operator (named, no less …), with a “workings” summary card for the session and individual “sequence” cards which provide details and instructions for each train.

Edenhope stub sidings

More action from March on the Border District …

A busy monment at Nankiva

Above: A busy few minutes at Nankiva, captured by Jeff. As Train Controller Mark oversees and choreographs the action, VR driver Ian works Victorian Railways’ Train Number 834 “Overland” through the main/platform road at speed, eastward and Melbourne bound. The late evening down passenger service (VR TN 95), worked by a VR 280HP Walkers railmotor, has shunted from the platform and into the loop to allow the express passenger train to pass. With the passage of the Overland, Jeff will soon be able to whistle out and depart for points west, to the delight of the few weary travellers onboard. With the railmotor’s departure, Duncan will also share a little delight, having the space to get back to breaking up VR TN 41 and making up VR TN 4, the daily “Roadside Goods” workings to and from Nankiva.

With thanks to long time Border District operator and friend Brendan – who also answers to the title of “Sheriff of Tatiara Downs” – the first two thirds (and a bit) of the March operating session was captured via time lapse. To view the nearly two hours of model railway operations in just over four minutes, head over to YouTube: Border District time lapse March 2018

A big thank you to Brendan for again recording the bulk of the session – great to have for posterity, but also great to review operations. Interestingly, the video shows there to be more balance to the spread and number of operators across both “pits” than it felt like on the day. During the session debrief, and also in my previous blog post, I stated it felt more like the Tatiara Downs/Jameston pit (right side in the video) was far less cramped/occupied for the session than the Nankiva/Border Junction pit (left side in the video). Note sure why this felt so, as the video evidence actually suggests otherwise!

Below: Another image provided courtesy of Jeff – this time with two unlikely characters plotting and scheming their way about Tatiara Downs! Compare this image to the ones of the Tatiara Downs yard from the previous blog post – there is more than a little bit going on “operations wise” at this time …

Action at the Downs

March 2018 operating session

Double mustard

Above: Double mustard pots – well, sort of! Narrow gauge Alco 869 holds court with the Jameston Station Master’s prized vehicle, prior to the commencement of the March operating session …

The March 2018 operating session on the Border District saw the layout once again come to life, circa 1976 and Victorian and South Australian Railways style. With eight people in attendance, the session equalled the “most ever operators” mark on the layout – and nearly set a new record/benchmark, with one late apology received that would have seen a new record of nine operators be set.

Of the eight operators, there was a great mix of experience and “youth”. The three most seasoned and long term operators were present – Mark, Brendan and Iain, with over eighty collective ops sessions on the layout between them! At the other end of the spectrum were three “Border District beginners”, with Malcolm and Ian (Jeff’s dad) attending only their second ever session on the Border District, and Duncan attending his very first session. That said, Duncan is no stranger to operations – his UP/BNSF Joint Division empire is somewhat a Mecca for operations “USofA style” … and you can check out his blog here: UP/BNSF Joint Division. For all three “rookies”, their knowledge of operations and/or the prototype saw them settle in fairly quickly to life on the ‘District.

For the March session, Mark bravely took on the role of Train Control – normally falling to yours truly – and did a great job of managing trains and traffic, designed by someone else and without any appropriate induction or training first! Iain and Malcolm took the two SAR crew roles, while Ian, Jeff and Duncan took VR crew roles 1-3 respectively, Brendan and I shared the load at Tatiara Downs, with Brendan looking after Station Master responsibilities while I took on the shunter’s job.

Below: Operations can be a bit of a blur. Somewhat artistic, somewhat poor focus – a very quiet and fairly empty western end of Tatiara Downs yard at the start of the session. By mid session, every one of the six through yard tracks here was full …

Ops are a blur

The session didn’t start as planned, nor did it even start on time! In a somewhat serious shortcoming from the host, six “driving” roles requires there to be six “throttles” to drive with … and I only own four throttles. Brendan kindly brought his throttle along, but we were still one short of the six needed to run the session. As I started to think about which role or roles to change and which trains to cancel, Malcolm saved the day by undertaking a quick dash home to his place to grab the sixth throttle – thanks Malcolm! The later start meant a later finish – but all 34 workings planned were undertaken and completed, with all wagons and car cards ending up in the right place – well done team!

After the late start, the layout also didn’t perform at its best for the crew, with one loco being a complete (and somewhat inexplicable) failure, requiring the fairly ungracious and completely unprototypical “0-5-0” removal from the situation … though at least the replacement loco was worked correctly from the nearest station to save the day. A dowel-thrown point also lost its piano wire actuator during the session … and while repaired (thanks Brendan!) it was, of course, one of the hardest to access to do so. The three-way point in staging – a great space saver – continued to cause frustrations with “trouble free running” and is likely to find itself removed/replaced. Perhaps this is what happens for operating sessions held on St Patrick’s Day – a combination of both the luck of the Irish and Murphy’s Law?!

There were, however, a couple of positive additions to the layout and session. One of these was the recent expansion of the Grain Elevators’ Board (GEB) sidings at Nankiva – providing a more simplified look at this station, but also significantly increasing the operating potential here. The other was the inclusion, for the first time, of “loads” for all trains that worked the Southern Aggregates facility at Border Junction – no more needing to guess/remember which wagons were loaded and which were not.

Below: A very grubby 950 gets the final train of the session, SAR Train Number 312, away from Tatiara Downs, having received a “red over green” clear medium speed signal.

SAR TN 312

The session probably showed – or perhaps even “confirmed”, because I fear I may have been in a state of denial – that eight operators might just be too many. This is not so much for the layout itself – which could support as many as ten “roles” I think – but more for the space available for operators (two narrowish “pits” – one serving Nankiva/Border Junction/staging and the other Tatiara Downs/Jameston – separated by high but wide duckunders).

I look forward to viewing (and sharing) Brendan’s time lapse capture of the March session as I feel it will confirm my thoughts – people generally enjoying the session, but being a little too close for comfort at times to really enjoy any sense of surrounding “personal space” – with the warm weather possibly also another contributing factor in this matter.

The irony is not lost on me that the changes I made in response to viewing Brendan’s time lapse capture from the previous session (here if you are interested or didn’t catch it from the January op session blog: Border District Jan 2018 time lapse) has resulted in somewhat of an over-correction – from too many operators in the Tatiara Downs/Jameston pit to too many operators in the Nankiva/Border Junction/staging pit. Finding that “sweet spot” in operations is often a bit of a balancing act, which is certainly how I feel after an enjoyable March session …

Below: How many operators can you fit in one pit? From left to right, Jeff, Mark, Duncan, Malcolm and Ian test the limits of what the “maximum” is for numbers in an operating pit on the Border District. There were times during the March session when six bodies were present here – perhaps not quite a case of being “not so squeezy” (with apologies to a 1980s truck commercial …)?!

There were five in the pit