All in a session’s work …

TD sidings not so chockers 1

I have found hosting regular operating sessions to be both challenging and rewarding – although honestly, I’d probably put it at one quarter for the former and three quarters or the latter. One of the most rewarding aspects of regular operations is being able to see plans, timetables and rosters be put through their paces and put into action – hopefully with a high degree of success. However, the biggest reward is the undoubtably the friendships developed with and amongst crew members. I am so fortunate to have such a great group of operators – and mates – on the Border District.

Witness the images in this post as an example of both “rewards” I mention above. Yes, the lead image above counts again for entry into the often featured “how’s the serenity?” category … a very quiet and not too busy look at the industrial sidings to the east of the railway yard at Tatiara Downs, the “main” and busiest station on the ‘District. However, the picture below paints somewhat of a different picture … a far busier and more congested time being experienced at the same location!

TD sidings are chockers

The congestion in the yard show above, with hardly a free spot anywhere, tells the story of a railway hard at work. This work is the “reason” for the Border District … and the reason for operating sessions. The image above was captured during the most recent session and demonstrates the well developed local knowledge of the Tatiara Downs “Sheriff” (Station Master and Head Shunter … and part Train Control … and “Jack of all Trades” too), Brendan. The Sheriff has taken a role that was once feared (and maybe still is?) on the ‘District and made it is own – with equal amounts of prototype and model learning happening along the way.

As much as the above image might appear at first glance to be “disorganised chaos”, the Sheriff is doing a great job of cleverly moving inwards and outwards vehicles about, for or from eight trains no less (four SAR and four VR), as well as keeping plenty of space in the “main” yard (to the right of image) for other movements. Indeed, witness a similar shot below, taken a little later and towards the end of the session, which demonstrates how things all worked out … and the serenity has returned. In fact, the Sheriff was finished at Tatiara Downs in record time this most session, perhaps suggesting it is time again for a bit more of the “challenge” aspect …

TD sidings not so chockers 2

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A trip on a Victorian Railways Roadside Goods …

VR 19 shunts the vegie siding

With thanks to images provided by Border District regulars Mark and Brendan, let’s take a trip on one of the “jack of all trades” workings on the ‘District – Victorian Railways Train Numbers 19 (westbound to Tatiara Downs) and 26 (eastbound from Tatiara Downs) Roadside Goods. Regular power for these workings are either Victorian Railways’ T or Y class diesel electric locomotives. These Roadside Goods undertakes a range of shunting – pick up, set outs and loading – and take more than a third of the operating session to complete their work. They also requires a goodly amount of shunting at Tatiara Downs, which is usually provided by the shunter there, allowing the driver of the train to refuel and turn the engine (and take a break) …

Above: VR Y169 can be seen providing the power for VR TN 19 on this day, and has already completed the first leg of the journey from Edenhope (staging) to Nankiva. The Y has been captured shunting the Edenhope Valley Vegetable Growers’ Siding, off the mainline, under a “low speed yellow” signal. Work here is to collect a South Australian D bogie louvre van loaded with vegetables for transit to Adelaide and eventual sale at the Central Markets. The loading directly behind the Y – three tarped Victorian Railways’ GY open wagons (loaded with fertiliser) and a Victorian Railways’ U louvre van (loaded with sundry goods and parcels) – will be dropped off here at Nankiva. The remainder of the consist for VR TN 19 can be seen in Road 2, to the right of the Y class, and is carded for destinations beyond Nankiva.

Below: Having collected the D van and added it to the consist, the Y has also completed shunting the GY wagons to the Pivot super siding and the U van to the goods shed and is now moving to the silo road. Here a South Australian OB open wagon, loaded with grain for transit to the flour mill at Tatiara Downs ,will be collected and added to the rest of the train (still able to be seen, this time behind the Y class). The driver will work to block all wagons for ease of shunting, prior to departing Nankiva. VR TN 19 will then “do the brakes”, ahead of travelling west through Border Junction for its next (and ultimate) destination – Tatiara Downs.

VR 19 at Nankiva

TD shunting VR 26 1

Above: Having arrived at Tatiara Downs, VR TN 19 has in effect completed its working. The VR Y class has headed to the loco depot for a fuel top up (able to just be seen in the far distance, in the extreme right of the image) – and will work the return roadside goods – VR TN 26. Being a South Australian station, Tatiara Downs’ shunt engine is a South Australian Railways 830 class Alco, resplendent in “mustard pot” colours. A regular engine for this role on the Border District is 836, captured above working to reverse the VR brake van (a 4 wheeled “ZL” van – not so sure the guard will be relishing the bumpy and hot ride!) to the end of the consist.

Below: Just a little later in the sequence, but still taken from the same location, the mustard pot Alco now has the ZL van behind the rake of empty Victorian Railways 4 wheelers (today comprised of RY and I wagons). These wagons will be loaded with stone at VR TN 26’s first shunt – Southern Aggregates at Border Junction. Prior to the two previous images, 836 had already shunted off the D van from Nankiva loaded with vegetables (which will later be added to the consist of South Australian Railways’ TN 312 Goods for transit to Adelaide), the OB wagon with grain from Nankiva for the flour mill here at Tatiara Downs and a Victorian Railways’ short U van, loaded with general goods and parcels for the goods shed.

TD shunting VR 26 2

TD shunting VR 26 3

Above: 836 has completed making up VR TN 26 Roadside Goods, with four more wagons having been added to the consist … an empty SAR D bogie louvre van (for vegetable loading at Nankiva, then to return to Adelaide), two VR GY open wagons (for grain loading at Nankiva, then return to the mill at Tatiara Downs) and a VR U van (behind the loco – conveying parcels and general goods from Tatiara Downs). In the distance and to the right of the image, Y169 – with both headlight and marker lights illuminated – has completed refuelling and is ready to head VR TN 26 eastwards. The driver of VR TNs 19 and 26 can also be seen, deep in thought …

Below: Having completed a brake test and checked all wagons and associated car cards, the driver gets VR TN 26 underway upon receipt of a “red over green” (clear medium speed) signal indication at Tatiara Downs. Once VR TN 26 has departed, local shunter 836 will go about delivering the wagons brought in on VR TN 19 to their respective industries at Tatiara Downs, or the next train for further/onwards travel.

VR 26 departs TD 2

VR 26 shunts Border Junction

Above: Y169 can now be seen a little further down the line, shunting the Southern Aggregates complex at Border Junction. As this location only has one set of facing points, it can only be shunted in the one direction (eastwards/up for Victorian Railways” trains). To build an even greater layer of complexity, the old timber loading facility here can only handle 2x 4 wheelers or one bogie open wagon at a time, so some thinking and manoeuvring is required! Add to this the fact there are also a number of other wagons already in the train, locos and brake vans cannot shunt under the loader, and a number of shunting and signalling restrictions are in place – this is certainly a working where I should consider paying the driver double …

Below: Perhaps feeling a little like being back to where it all started, VR TN 26 is undertaking a number of shunts at Nankiva again. Here, empty wagons for vegetables and grain loading are dropped off – the latter operation being captured below in the silo road. Once these drop offs are completed, there is still more work to do, with an empty oil pot and open wagon to be collected – from the oil siding and derrick crane position respectively. The driver will also check car cards and block wagons for destinations – ensuring also that loads are marshalled ahead of empties, oil and explosive wagons have “spacer” vehicles as appropriate, and livestock wagons are kept as far away from the brake van as possible (to save the guard from the smell!). With all this considered, VR TN 26 will then continue east to Edenhope … yes, working a couple of trains on the Border District can sometimes take a good part of an afternoon!

VR 26 shunts Nankiva

November 2017 operating session

Wagons amongst the grass

Above: Two Victorian Railways’ wagons, a JX cement hopper and TW oil tanker, make up part of the load on SAR Train Number 17, the Mount Gambier to Tatiara Downs Goods. This image, captured through the spring grass at Kybybolite (SAR staging), is provided thanks to Mark’s ever creative photographic eye.

A damp Queensland Saturday afternoon set the scene (well, of sorts …) for the November operating session on the Border District. A crew of six were in attendance to give the “PM” timetable a shake – the first time doing so using the “flexible operator numbers” approach – and the session was another very enjoyable one.

Jeff headed down the branch for the first time, taking on the SAR 1 crew role, while experienced hand Iain worked the SAR crew 2 spot (after a slightly delayed arrival and exciting morning …). Brendan made himself at home looking after all things Tatiara Downs – undertaking both the Station Master and Head Shunter roles.

On the other side of the border, Darren eased back into life on the ‘District in the VR crew 1 spot (9 workings – 6 of them passenger services!) with Mark getting his shunting fix through working the VR crew 2 spot (only 5 trains, 4 of them goods workings, 2 of them taking the bulk of the session). I had intended to take on the VR crew 3 gig, as well as Train Control, but started out as SAR crew 2 for Iain and didn’t end up running a train after his arrival.

Below: Having already arrived on Road 1 (the empty track between the railcar and louvre vans) to undertake a station stop, RM91 has then pushed back down the main before taking the loop. This move is in anticipation of a cross with an opposing passenger service – VR Train Number 35, the afternoon “Flyer”. This move is a common safeworking practice on the old Victorian Railways when two passengers trains were to cross on a single line. The louvre vans are sitting in the Edenhope Valley Vegetable Growers’ siding and once loaded with produce for the market, will head east to Melbourne on VR TN 880 Fast Goods. Scene captured by Mark – who was also the driver of the Walkers’ railmotor.

VR 28 waits for a cross

Overland at TD

Above: The classic Victorian Railways’ combination of back to back S class locomotives – in the even more classic blue and yellow colours – get the “Overland” underway, bound for Melbourne. The crack overnight express between Adelaide and Melbourne (and vice versa) is the highest priority working on the Border District. Image with thanks to Brendan – who by the look of the yard has also done a great job of clearing things up, ahead of the end of the session. The large black tower in the background (next to the radio antennae) is Jeff’s phone and tripod – filming a time lapse sequence as discussed below.

An early noted highlight of the session was the manner in which all operators reported in to Train Control, as well as resetting points and signals upon passing. To continue the “immersive operations” approach, all drivers were asked to sign their locos in and out of the Tatiara Downs loco depot – not too heavy on the paperwork side, but adding a reason for a little “pause” to workings.

In terms of mishaps, there weren’t too many … as is the intended outcome of operating sessions on the Border District! One highlight was a two part “Craig” (forgetting your train cards), with the honours shared/owned between Jeff and Brendan. Darren scored the only (noted) SPAD, quickly pointed out (somewhat gleefully) by Mark, to whom Darren was talking to at the time! Jeff also enjoyed shunting with the double crossover at Jameston, but at times found it difficult to remember which way the points were set …

However, Jeff’s wagon sideswiping ways were easily forgiven, as he instigated a new Border District tradition … commencing the operating session briefing while chowing down on jalapeño poppers (thanks Jeff – an awesome idea!). Not content with that, Jeff also recorded the entire session at Tatiara Downs via time lapse – so watch this space for a very interesting future posting. There may also be another filming surprise, given an additional and extra working during the session …

As well as video, the photographic coverage of the session was extensive – plenty for some interesting and focused future blog posts (a big thank you to Mark and Brendan for making this possible). Nearly three years in to regular operations, and 31 sessions “in the books”, the Border District continues to provide enjoyment (and a little challenge …) each month – due largely to the fantastic crew and friends I’m fortunate to have – thanks everyone!

Below: Another “how’s the serenity?” moment on the Border District, captured by Brendan. All appears quiet at the sleepy locale of Jameston, South Australia, as the operating session draws to a close. However, take a little closer look … as in the background, various wagons go about being loaded and unloaded …

JAM 2

More images from the October session

950 at JAM

Time really does fly when you are having fun! At least, I’m pretty sure I’ve been having fun? The last operating session on the Border District took place more than a fortnight ago, and I’ve only just now managed to quickly add a few more images from this session to the blog. The first pair of pictures are provided with thanks to Mark – who continues to find new and interesting vantage points and scenes on the layout!

Above, a very dirty Alco in 950 goes about shunting the industrial siding behind the goods shed at Jameston. The inspiration for this part of Jameston is all Millicent (south eastern South Australia), as can be seen in the image on the wall, above the train. Hindsight is always 20:20, and the area here (and remainder of the layout for that matter) will benefit greatly from the addition of a backscene, flush with the layout’s edge, in the near future.

Below, the same grubby 950 continues to go about shunting, now back in the yard at Jameston. Loads and empties have been pulled from the industrial siding above, which serves Top Brand Fertilisers (catering for both bulk and bagged products), an Agricultural Merchant (“Millicent and Sons” – giving a nod to the aforementioned inspiration), the Jameston Farmers’ Co-operative and Southern Dairy. The Alco will continue to go about making up SAR Train Number 152 before heading west.

JAM shunt

JAM mill shunt 1

The next pair of images take a step back for a slightly wider view of two of the yards (or at least, parts thereof) on the Border District.

Above, another Alco in 956 can again be seen at Jameston, going about breaking up SAR TN 263 and making up SAR TN 264. In the background is the Apcel Paper Mill – a significant source of traffic on the Jameston branch. The entire loading of these trains on this day is actually all traffic to or from Victoria and the mill – loaded briquettes coming in, used to power the mill … and loaded paper vans going out, with toilet rolls and paper products for the good folk of Melbourne and surrounds. Empty paper vans in and empty briquette wagons out balance the traffic nicely.

Below, the quiet (“how’s the serenity?”) of the yard at Tatiara Downs can be felt, with this image captured immediately at the commencement of the operating session. In the foreground, a number of VR and SAR vans sit in the Goods Shed (still at “mock up” stage), while in the distance a VR 280 HP Walkers railmotor waits in the dock road at the platform, ahead of working the afternoon school train. The six track yard here, pretty much empty in this picture, can have all roads occupied at times during the session!

TAT goods shed

October 2017 operating session

255 at JAM

Above: A Bluebird railcar casts a solitary image as it stands at Jameston, ahead of working SAR Train Number 542 – the daily except Sunday passenger service to Adelaide. In the background, another OB wagon of super phosphate (fertiliser) awaits unloading. Thanks to Mark for this cracking shot – one which really captures the intended “feel” of the Border District.

The October 2017 operating session was another “milestone” session – the 30th (yes … the big 3-0!) session held on the ‘District over the last three years. Such an accomplishment this was … the owner didn’t remember this fact until AFTER the session! With a couple of late apologies received, a crew of six took on the revised “AM” timetable for the session – resulting in a very enjoyable afternoon’s worth of work in and about western Victoria and south eastern South Australia, circa 1976. Brendan returned to the familiar haunt of Tatiara Downs as the Station Master/Sheriff/Boss – and did a great job with a new timetable and a few very busy periods. Mark continued his South Australian sojourn by working the SAR Crew 1 role, which included the most “shunt intensive” working (and one of my favourites) – SAR TN 547 South East Goods.

Craig took the SAR Crew 2 job and although having not worked the ‘District since July, needed little re-orientation (yes, even despite being NSW railways modeller!). Jeff, much like his premiership winning football team – go the Tigers, dominated the Victorian side of things while working the VR Crew 2 gig. Jeff ably supported his father, Ian, who did a great job as a first timer on the Border District (it clearly runs in the family …) in the VR crew 1 role. I juggled between Train Control, Loco Hostler at Tatiara Downs and also ran most of the trains assigned to the VR Crew 3 position.

Below: There is certainly plenty of Alco power on hand at Tatiara Downs to start the session! On the left and to the front is the classic “back to back” pairing of 958 and 946, set to work SAR TN 240 “Overland” Passenger to Adelaide. Next is 702, which will be second out on SAR TN 338 Westbound Jet Goods. To the right is single ender 931, the assigned power for SAR TN 6/7 Mount Gambier Goods. 836, the shunter for Tatiara Downs, rests on the road behind the mainline power.

TAT loco

255 and RM27 at TAT

Above: Two completely different approaches to railmotors by two different railway systems are on show at Tatiara Downs station. On the left is an SAR 250 class “Bluebird” while on the right is a VR 153HP “Walkers” railmotor. Thanks to Mark for this interesting image.

The afternoon saw a continued focus on “immersive” operations, with the scene for the session being set through the use of the recently developed “working descriptions”. There are simply an A5 page of information about the trains/workings for the afternoon – their influence/link to the prototype, as well as a few tips and tricks and the occasional bit of humour. They are designed to inform and inspire all operators – from rookies with little to no knowledge of the prototype, through to those who know the areas and operations very, very well – all without providing too much of “information overload”. Only in use for their second time, reception has been generally positive and a big nod must go to Mark, as these descriptions are inspired by some of the operational aides used on his “Arden Street” layout.

Also in use for the second time was the “flexible operator numbers timetable and approach” – which facilitates anywhere from three to nine operators being able to work the session without needing to make any changes. Truth be told, this approach could keep up to fourteen operators busy if two person crews were employed – but those who have visited the Border District would know that fourteen people would struggle to all fit in the layout room! The flexible approach certainly worked with late apologies being received – in fact, only two trains of the possible thirty-four didn’t run in the session.

Below: Compare this shot with the image two above – presenting a very different looking Tatiara Downs loco, just past the midpoint of the session. All the previously present SAR power has headed out on assignments – with only the Bluebird railcar flying the South Australian flag. Two examples of mainline VR power are now on shed though – X45 to take out the eastbound VR TN 954 Jet Goods and S304 to work VR TN 90 Goods. I guess the images above and below show that there can be plenty of “blue” about the Border District …

Blue at TAT

ZF at TAT 1

Above: A ZF Brake Van brings up the rear of VR Train Number 90 eastbound Goods at Tatiara Downs. This is one of the final workings for the session, so the yard at Tatiara Downs is a little less “full” than earlier. In the background, louvre vans for express loading and a VR 280 HP Walkers railmotor can be seen in the dock platform.

The session only saw a handful of minor hiccups. A couple of train cards were found to have insufficient or incorrect information (the dreaded “cut and paste” error strikes again!) and one loco took off like a rocket from staging, having been incorrectly dialled up (to be fair, the loco number on the intended engine is a little hard to read …). There were also issues with some points – a couple being incorrectly set (perhaps taking on three roles for the afternoon may have been two too many for me at times …) and two “wire and dowel” thrown points had their wire actuator drop out (easily fixed after the session, and points were still able to be thrown by hand during the session). However, none of these matters detracted from the afternoon. In some ways it was disappointing that the 30th session didn’t see any operator perform a “Craig” – although maybe this should be viewed more as a positive and that it has taken 30 sessions to get people to remember to take their cards with them!

As always, what makes or breaks operating sessions are people – and the October session again reminded me how fortunate I am to have a great group of friends and crew to bring the Border District alive each month. The session saw equal amounts of attention to detail and the usual banter/gentle ribbing that is often associated with operations. An added bonus this month was having Jeff’s dad, Ian, attend – all the way from Port Fairy – and share some first hand accounts of experience with the areas, locations, trains and operations modelled in the debrief afterwards – great stuff!

Below: Another ripping shot courtesy of Mark – capturing Alco 950 shunting SAR TN 152 Goods at Tatiara Downs.

950 at TAT

Even more pictures from the September session …

GS at JAM

A week out from the October operating session on the Border District, I realised I still had plenty of photographic coverage from September – with thanks to various crew members – that was yet to be shared. So, here ’tis …

The images above and below are again taken at or around the branch station of Jameston – and are both provided courtesy of Brendan. Leading off the blog is another view of some of the facilities at Jameston, this time focused on the goods shed. The barrel roof building and substantial loading platform are all based on facilities that once stood at Bordertown. The rear industrial siding trackage,  discussed in a previous post, can be seen in the background. Below, South Australian Railways Alco 956 has received a “highball” (green over red) signal, giving clearance to depart Jameston for points west with another south east goods working

148 JAM depart

Bluebird

The image above is a great capture of one of the busiest areas on the Border District – the staging yards. In the foreground, an SAR “Bluebird” railcar waits to be one of the first workings out from the yard. There are 8 through tracks and 10 stub ended tracks here – capable of holding 18+ trains, that serve both VR and SAR workings and provide an “off layout” destination and/or origin for workings. Below and in a far more quiet and less busy scene than the one above, a couple of Victorian Railways “L” sheep vans can be seen awaiting loading from the livestock cooperative facilities at Tatiara Downs. Thanks to Shelton for these two pictures.

TAT sheep

SAR 166 at TAT

The final set of two pictures are provided with thanks to Mark. Also taken at Tatiara Downs, the image above captures South Australian Railways Train Number 166 undertaking shunting en route, attaching a “CD” passenger brake van for express and parcels loading, before continuing west. The final image, below, is another example of operators finding perspectives and angles often not seen on the ‘District. Captured long before drones were thought of, this aerial view taken at Border Junction sees SAR English Electric 909 (right of image) heading off the Jameston branch and onto the main line, bound for Tatiara Downs. Sister engine 907 (left of image) is sitting on the Southern Aggregates siding, behind the dwarf shunting signal, waiting for 909 to pass before being able to head down the branch.

900s at BJN wide

More from the September session ..

147 JAM shunt

With thanks to Mark and Brendan, here is some more photographic coverage from the most recent operating session on the Border District. In the images above and below (courtesy of Mark and Brendan respectively), South Australian Railways’ Alco 956 – resplendent in the short lived “blood nose” livery of 1976 – can be seen going about breaking up Train Number (TN) 147 Goods and making up TN 148 Goods on a fine and sunny weekday afternoon at Jameston. It would appear the good people of Jameston prefer Holdens to Fords …

JAM cars and trains487 JAM shunt

Still at Jameston, Brendan has captured a few images of the back industrial track here, which takes significant inspiration from a similar arrangement at Millicent. Above, “mustard pot” 858 can be seen on the aforementioned track, shunting OB and OBf wagons at the “Top” fertiliser depot. The Alco is working an “extra” goods service, conveying wagons loaded with superphosphate fertiliser and returning with empties. The image below captures the range of industries along the back track – a bagged super shed (also part of the “Top” facility), an agricultural merchant (“Millicent and Sons” – paying homage to Jameston’s parentage), the Jameston Farmer’s Co-operative (with the barrel roof building here inspired by a similar one at Milang) and the Southern Dairy structure (taking cues from a wonderfully “must be modelled” facility at Murray Bridge).

Ind at JAM

SAR 186 at JAM wide

In the image above, a little more of the Southern Dairy building can be seen in the background, as a rather grubby Alco 950 goes about breaking up the recently arrived SAR Train Number 185 “Paper Jet”. This working also includes making up the return train, TN 186, and is the biggest to operate on the Jameston branch, serving the paper mill. Loading for TN 186 includes box and louvre vans full of paper for Adelaide, Sydney and Perth, empty open bogie wagons that previously conveyed pulp paper to the mill and empty four wheeled open wagons that have brought in soda ash. Below, 950 shows off just how “grubby” grubby can be, with a very clean, bright yellow Western Australian van providing the contrast. Thanks to Mark for the images above and below.

SAR 186 at JAM