Impromptu October 2018 ops

Ss at Nankiva

Above: Streamliners unite! Classic bulldogs abound at Nankiva, with a slightly grubby S315 at the head of Victorian Railways’ Train Number 89 Goods in the loop. The weathered S has some shunting ahead (3 off and 1 on) but has also kept the main clear to allow S311 and S306 to pass by at speed, in charge of VR TN 241 Overland Express Passenger for Tatiara Downs (handing over to SAR power) and eventually Adelaide.

A combination of school holidays and an interstate visitor saw an impromptu operating session take place on the Border District. Given the short timeline for organisation, and scheduling on a Friday afternoon, crew size was smaller than usual – but an enjoyable and engaging afternoon of immersive operations was had by all.

It all started when Brendan threw out notice that Aaron Denning, the man behind Infront Models, would be in town and was looking to undertake a few visits to layouts or even participate in operating sessions. While Aaron models NSW railways, he admitted to having a soft spot for the SAR and ANR, so an invite to the Border District was duly arranged. This was to be the first in a two leg “operating session roadshow”, with the afternoon session to be followed by an evening session on Darren Lee’s awesome NSW Wattle Flat layout.

A crew of five were in attendance – Brendan assuming his usual position of “the sheriff of all things at Tatiara Downs” (even despite losing an epic “scissors, paper, rock” battle beforehand …), with Darren and Aaron (yes, that does rhyme) taking the SAR 1 and SAR 2 crew roles respectively. Jeff returned to the VR 1 crew job, trialling some of his suggested changes/feedback from the previous session, while I took on a combined role as VR 2 crew and Train Control.

The session used the AM timetable (02:00 to 12:00), slightly modified from the September 2018 session after feedback received from a few crew members. The impromptu session ran very, very well – the only blemish being a VR M four wheeled cattle wagon which jumped the points (later found to be a result of slightly under gauge wheels). For a first timer – and NSW modeller as well – Aaron coped admirably with the overload of information to start the session. He was soon running like a seasoned professional on the ‘District – handling the myriad of paperwork, ABLO car cards, SAR colour light three position signalling aspects and all.

A “hard stop” to the session was employed, given the need to travel to Darren’s for the next session. Despite this, Brendan still managed to get everything done at Tatiara Downs (that is why we call him the sheriff, he certainly cleaned up that town … though check out the next image to get an idea as to just “how” he goes about this sometimes), with the rest of us road crews only missing out on our final two workings – not too shabby for two and half hours of ops, SAR and VR style.

My thanks to the crew who attended and participated – a great way to end the school holidays. Thanks also to Aaron for taking a chance on the Border District – hopefully there will be a return trip for another operating session some time in the not too distant future.

Brendan also brought his camera along and recorded the impromptu session on the Border District via time lapse – you can view the footage on his YouTube channel by clicking the link here: Border District October 2018 time lapse

Below: A high horse-powered shunter! Leader of the Victorian Railways’ third series X class locomotives, X45, collects a lonely DWf four wheeled van from South East Bottle Company siding, prior to running VR Train Number 954 eastbound Jet Goods. Jeff is at the controls, and the image comes courtesy of his gunzelling efforts on the day. Brendan is in charge of the SAR 830 in the picture, also going about shunting – and somewhat nefariously engaging Jeff to spare himself too much to do across the main line at Tatiara Downs!

X45 shunts TD


More pictures from the September 2018 operating session

Sept set outs

Above: A great trackside capture at Tatiara Downs, thanks to Mark. While the Tatiara District Milling Company facility looms in the background (well, the mock ups of this complex, at least …), the foreground provides another view of the revised location for the goods shed (thanks to Don Bishop) near the Tatiara East industrial precinct, with Iain Kennedy’s SAR loading gauge again making a cameo.

Below: A slightly grubby Alco 965 (a modified Trainorama model) arrives at Jameston on the late morning “all stops” service from Naracoorte (South Australian Railways’ Train Number 905A Passenger). Usually rostered for a single 250 Bluebird railcar, Mark has lucked out in recording this as a loco and carriages working today – and B end leading, no less!

Sept spurline strength

Nankiva action 2

Above: Serious Victorian Railways’ blue and gold power at Nankiva, captured by Darren. X31 (right) goes about loading Victorian Railways’ Train Number N2 Grain, soon to head east to Portland and export, while on the mainline B67 passes by in charge of VR TN 24 passenger for Melbourne, having just completed a station stop. As in the lead image, the structure in the background – the Edenhope Valley Vegetable Growers’ Co-operative – is still at “mock up” stage.

Below: An ingenious solution from Darren while working the Victorian Railways’ Quarry train – the loaded hoppers on the near track like to make use of the grade at this location, so Darren has ensured the brakes are well and truly on! Four of the six hoppers have already been filled – with the fifth hopper positioned under the loader. Intended improvements here are the motorising of the point, the flattening of the aforementioned grade and possibly the addition of uncoupling magnets (the latter still under consideration).

Southern Agg


Above: Later in the morning and back at Nankiva, things are a little busy again with two trains in attendance. In the foreground, Darren is at the control of double flattop Ts (T332 and T335) and has nearly completed loading of VR TN N4 Grain – taking some of the bumper grain harvest to Portland for export. In the background, Jeff is in charge of Y169 and VR TN 81 Roadside Goods, organising both set outs and pick ups from the Vegetable Growers’ siding.

Below: Border Junction or Flinders Street Station? No less than three trains and three operators in attendance – and two of them passenger workings – at the smallest station on the Border District. The VR Walkers 280 HP railmotor (RM 91) is holding on the main for a clear signal before continuing west on the morning school run to Tatiara Downs, while the mustard pot Alco (858) and centenary cars arrive with the morning worker’s train for Jameston. In the background, the VR Quarry train goes about loading at Southern Aggregates.


A little more from the September operating session


As mentioned in the previous post – and many others – a good crew of operators are the key to a good operating session. In the above image, Darren has managed to capture this with the “picture worth a thousand words”. The Tatiara Downs/Jameston “pit” (right of image) finds Brendan and Iain both hard at work, immersed at the ‘Downs – so hard in fact for Iain that it appears to have resulted in some serious chin scratching! Over at Jameston, Geoff is working out his next move in reversing the loco and goods brake on the Stonie before continuing west. In the Nankiva/Border Junction “pit” (left of image), Jeff continues to go about breaking and making the late morning VR roadside goods, while I’m in the distance, focused on the goings on in the staging yards as the session draws to a conclusion.

Below is another image that also catches the “immersion” and focus of operators on the Border District. As hostler and “west signal box” at Tatiara Downs, Mark is studiously checking the hostler’s notes ahead of his next move. Jeff is nearby, undertaking a little shunting and presenting as a similar picture of concentration (what a shame that neither of our footy teams could match this in their games this weekend …). In the background at Jameston, Iain and Geoff are going about their work – Iain waiting entry to the yard on a goods, with Geoff preparing the westbound passenger service for departure.

Crew 1

September 2018 operating session

Sept schemes

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!

Nankiva action 1

TAT east

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.

Tatiara departure

Sept Stonie

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!

Crew 2

Some more pictorial coverage of the July 2018 session …

TD east at start

Being only a few weeks out from the next (September) operating session on the Border District, it seemed a good time to review and post a few more pictures from July. The above image of the Tatiara Downs East industrial precinct is now somewhat historic, with a number of changes to track work, layout and industry location being undertaken here after the last session. The reasons behind the changes are threefold: (1) to improve and enhance the operations at Tatiara Downs; (2) to better reflect and mirror some of the prototypical elements at Naracoorte and Mount Gambier – two of the main inspirations and influences for Tatiara Downs; (3) to better put Don Bishop’s awesome South Australian Railways’ Goods Shed on show, front and centre (rather in the distance, as seen above). It will be interesting to see how the changes look – and more importantly work – so stay tuned.

The image below is another that speaks loudly of the Border District – the “Southern Aggregates” facility at Border Junction. This structure dominates this area of the layout and generates traffic for both the SAR and VR systems. Jeff is working VR Train Number 102 quarry train and is only recently arrived, with the first wagon loaded and the second now in position. To the immediate left of the train is the main line from Border Junction to Tatiara Downs (with the outer home signal displaying a red over green/clear medium speed aspect for an approaching train), while down a little lower and further left is the line from Edenhope (staging) to Nankiva. This image also works quite well as a companion piece to an earlier blog post: A trip on the Border District’s “quarry train”

Southern Aggregates

Top Super JAM

The back track serving a number of industries at Jameston has been captured above, with thanks to Iain. No less than four industries and five spots are served here: “Top Brand Fertilisers”, served by both a bulk silo and a shed for bagged loading; “Millicent and Sons Agricultural Merchants”, with the name taking a cue from one of Jameston’s prototype influences; “Jameston and District Farmers’ Co-operative”, modelled after the Milang Butter Factory (with an addition to further add character); and the “Southern Dairy” facility, based on a similar industry and structure at Murray Bridge. With the exception of the silo, all other industries here are modelled in relief and all structures are the work of Don Bishop. These buildings, along with the “Southern Aggregates” complex, were the subject of Don’s “Getting the Details Right – Getting Buildings on the Layout” presentation at the 2016 Modelling the Railways of South Australia Convention (MRSAC). To learn more about this annual convention – full of great information and now in its twenty-third year, click here.

Below is another Victorian Railways’ working, with Darren shuffling and shunting wagons about at Nankiva as he makes up VR Train Number N4 loaded grain, bound for Portland and eventual export. The area here is also one that has seen changes recently as a result of operations – witness the shiny new flex track in the foreground – giving me some sense of satisfaction in not rushing the scenery on the layout (ok, maybe not that much …). The structures for the Grain Elevators Board (GEB) facility here are also underway, to be comprised mainly of suitably modified Walthers Cornerstone kits. To the left of the image is the large “Edenhope Valley Vegetable Growers” complex – with design work and decisions now finalised, this structure may just make its way onto the layout in the not to distant future, with thanks again to Don Bishop. For some background and rumination on this project, see the earlier Edenhope Valley Vegetable Growers – development blog post.

Nankiva grain shunt

Staging: visible, open and “through” …

Staging looking east

Above: The staging yard on the Border District, viewed from the eastern end. This end is also referred to and known as Edenhope. In the background, the main line can be seen “up high”, along with the important location of Border Junction, where the branch to Jameston breaks off from the main. In the far distance at the end of the staging yard, the entry to the tunnel which takes trains to Tatiara Downs can be seen, looking a little like a black square. Image taken at the commencement of the July 2018 operating session.

The staging yard on the Border District is an important part of successful operating sessions. It does double duty, providing an area to store trains, as well as serving as locations and destinations “beyond” the layout. On the Border District, the staging yard serves trains travelling west (known as Kybobolite, South Australia) and also east (known as Edenhope, Victoria). The names for staging help to give both location and context to my proto-freelanced layout. And while trains certainly did run through Kybybolite in real life (on the SAR south east line to Naracoorte and Mount Gambier), the Victorian Railways never actually made it to Edenhope. The line further north to Carpolac was probably the closest, though in my fiction the line through Edenhope continues eastwards and junctions with the existing VR system at Balmoral.

The concept and set out for the Border District’s staging yard took significant inspiration and cues from the work of US model railroader David Barrow, of “Cat Mountain and Santa Fe” fame. Open and visible staging seemed like a good idea to me, but it wasn’t until I saw it in use on David’s layout (through the pages of magazines) that I was convinced. Why “open” and “visible”? Primarily, so that operators can see and access their trains more easily. The first step when starting operations is to “pump up the air” – and the time which this would take on the prototype allows operators to check their ABLO cards for their train, cross referencing with their actual consist by checking loco, carriage and wagon numbers. This task would be very hard to do in hidden staging!

The “through” aspect to staging on the Border District also serves more than a single purpose. It allows a continuous run around the layout for locomotive and rollingstock testing – and also for simply “playing” outside of operating sessions, particularly when friends visit. It also facilitates through trains not needing to be turned between operating sessions, also saving on having to reverse waybills for some trains. I’ll confess though – there have been times where I have wondered if, for prototypical and operational fidelity, the use of two separate staging yards – one for Kybybolite/SAR only and the other for Edenehope/VR only, may have been a better approach. However, there is no denying that an additional benefit of a single staging yard is the less real estate it takes up.

The “Kybybolite/Edenhope” yard on the Border District provides 18 storage roads, comprised of 8 “through” roads and 10 “stub ended” roads. The through roads vary in length from 1.8m to 3m (the latter length needed for a ten car Overland or half decent looking Jet), while the stub ended roads are much smaller, from 0.6m to 1.8m long (though long enough to provide storage space for a single railmotor). 4 stub ended roads are dedicated to SAR trains, with 6 dedicated VR trains – the main determinate here being the direction they face (so as to not need to “back” trains in). The through roads can be used to hold VR and/or SAR trains, and with an increasing focus on “immersive operations” resulting in less “through” trains on the layout, the through roads are being used more and more to stage both a VR and an SAR train for a session – essentially, a single through road can function as 2 stub ended roads.

Below: Looking at the staging yard in the opposite direction to that in the lead image. Serving as “Kybybolite”, four stub ended SAR sidings can be seen in the foreground of this image. In the background, the edge of the platform at Border Junction can be seen to the right, while the “Southern Aggregates” facility can be seen further along on the other side. The “high line” in front of this is the main line to Tatiara Downs, while the VR line out of staging to Nankiva sits just below this, curving up behind the low hill to the far left.

Staging looking west

… and a little more from the July 2018 operating session

Red and blue

Above: “… keep your eye on the red and the blue.” SAR Bluebird railcar 255 “Curlew” pulls into the platform at Tatiara Downs, working SAR Train Number 542 passenger service to Naracoorte (and then Adelaide), as a “lady in red” makes her way over to the train. Image thanks to Mark.

Below: Wearing the short lived “blood nose”/austerity paint scheme trialled in 1976, SAR 956 arrives at Jameston at the head of SAR Train Number 547 south east goods. A decent load trails the Alco on this day, so the driver can expect plenty of work shunting the variety of industries and sidings at the branch terminus. Image thanks to Iain.

547 arrives JAM

Operators 2

Above: A railway at work … exhibit A. Darren is shunting the consist for VR Train Number 24 passenger service to the platform at Tatiara Downs. Once there, he will allow boarding time and await a “top green” signal indication to depart for Melbourne. Brendan is making up SAR Train Number 263 goods for Jameston, shuffling around empty and loaded wagons which have arrived earlier on VR Train Number 7 goods. Image thanks to Mark.

Below: Mustard pot 858 stands ready at Jameston, working SAR Train Number 330 passenger service back to Naracoorte. To the left of the Alco, a Victorian Railways louvre van on SAR Train Number 263 goods – the train being marshalled in the above image – can be seen. Once train 263 has arrived and cleared the points, train 330 will be able to depart. Image thanks to Iain.

330 departs JAM

Operators 1

Above: A railway at work … exhibit B. From left to right in the background – Jeff is focussed as he loads VR Train Number 102 quarry train at the Southern Aggregates facility, just to the west of the Border Junction station. Malcolm is guiding his train to its destination in the visible, open and “through” staging yard (Kybybolite for the SAR/west and Edenhope for the VR/east), while Anthony looks on and checks the progress of the session against the sequence/timetable graph. Image thanks to Mark.

Below: As can be seen on the Tatiara Downs east panel, an operational “wrinkle” included in the July session was the spiking of the points from the mainline to the dock at Tatiara Downs, rendering the dock, mill and bottle company siding out of use. While including such wrinkles in a session is fun and provides some variety, this one wasn’t completely planned … brought about by the last minute failure of the Cobalt point motor controlling the point! Image thanks to Iain.

TAT east panel