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 you 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

More from the July 2018 operating session

TD west at start

Above: All is quiet at the Tatiara Downs loco, with a variety of SAR and VR power awaiting their next assignments. The above image was captured at the start of the session – and there was soon plenty of action in and out of the loco depot, with engines being turned, fueled and, at times, stabled. Of the 30 trains movements worked in the session, seventeen had locos start, stop or refuel at the loco depot, making for busy times!

With a big thank you to Brendan, the bulk of the July 2018 operating session has been again caught in a time lapse video. As well as being a great source of entertainment, the video does help assess how “balanced” operations are – both in terms of trains and also operator positions (witness the “filling” of the Tatiara Downs/Jameston aisle early in the video, as discussed in the previous blog post). Three of the four operating sessions this year have been recorded in this manner – a fantastic resource! If you are interested in checking it out, click the following link to view: Border District July 2018 time lapse

July 2018 operating session

Railmotor shunt

Above: VR 280HP Walkers railmotor, 91 RM, is in the process of being stabled in the carriage siding at Tatiara Downs, having earlier worked the morning school train. The shunt loco for the ‘Downs, SAR mustard pot Alco and class leader 830, can be seen in the headshunt, awaiting a clear signal. Image thanks to Mark.

The fourth operating session for 2018 on the Border District saw a crew of seven willing individuals in attendance – and a very, very good session it was! For the first time in some time, the “AM” timetable was attempted, with four roads crews (two SAR and two VR) employed rather than five. The session also saw the trial of a “hybrid” hostler, come fifth crew, come assistant shunter role. In total, thirty trains were operated across the session, undertaken with equal measures of fun and considered focus from the crews.

For the July session, recreating railway operations as they might have been in the winter of 1976, Brendan returned to don his “Sheriff” badge and take the reigns as Station Master and Head Shunter at Tatiara Downs. Iain and Malcolm took on the SAR 1 and SAR 2 crew roles respectively – both getting to do work at Tatiara Downs, Border Junction and Jameston during the session. Darren had the VR crew 1 job, with plenty to do for a number of workings at Nankiva, and Jeff had the VR 2 crew gig with a goodly amount of through trains married with shunting gigs on a wheatie and the VR quarry train.

Mark trialled the new role of “hostler – additional crew – additional shunter” and started out by managing the loco depot at Tatiara Downs (including some very enjoyable by-play around the “woo-ing” of a fuel merchant’s daughter …), then got out and about on the ‘District running four trains before finishing up back at Tatiara Downs with a little shunting. I took on the Train Control and general “operations manager” roles.

Below: The foundation of a great operating session is a team of great operators – and here they are, captured early in the session and spread across two operating aisles (or “pits”). Darren and Jeff, both Victorian crews, are in the far pit and are each making their way to Tatiara Downs. Malcom and Iain are already at the ‘Downs with their SAR trains, book ended by Brendan and Mark who are stationed at this important location on the layout. The facial expressions in this image certainly demostrate the mixture of “fun” and “focus” that makes up an operating session! 

The crew

Line up

Above: With his role including managing the loco depot at Tatiara Downs, Mark has taken the time to capture the engines stabled around the turntable. From furthest away – the VR T class has worked VR TN 89 goods in, and will head out later in the session on the return working, VR TN 90 goods. The SAR red and silver 700 has come in on SAR TN 955 jet, and will return to Tailem Bend before the session’s end on an additional working. The VR B class, with its classic lines and paint scheme, has been stabled overnight and will soon work VR TN 24 morning passenger service to Melbourne.

Putting the modified “AM” timetable through its paces for the first time did show up a couple of minor issues. The greatest of these was the often discussed “balance” between the number of operators across both “pits” – there were several times in this session where it seemed most (all on a couple of occasions!) of us were in the Tatiara Downs/Jameston pit. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the operating pits were wider, but at around a mere 90cm across, it made for some close times – a good thing we are all friends! I think that with a few tweaks to the timetable, this overcrowding will be able to be reduced.

Two new Auscision SAR 830 diesels, both with sound, were given their maiden runs – one working Tatiara Downs and the other on a grain train. The general consensus was that while good, the momentum settings could be dialled back a tad (one was during the session) and that the horn was too quiet while the motor was too loud. In fact, prior to the session I had reset CV63 on both locos from 180 to 50. A friend has gone even lower with his 830s, but I didn’t want to drown the horn out too much. At one point, four of five locos in operation on the layout were of the sound equipped variety – a first for the Border District. What I feared might end up being a cacophony of noise actually wasn’t too bad at all.

Rollingstock was generally well behaved during the session – save for a VR ZF guard’s van that split the road on a couple of occasions, and some dirty wheels and/or track on a few sidings that didn’t get the attention they should have prior to the session. A few paperwork errors and changes caused for a little head scratching too. However, the crew were more than equal to the task … and with plenty of images (and video?) taken during the afternoon, there should be enough material to fill a few blog posts before the next operating session. A big thank you to the July 2018 Border District operators for a great afternoon.

Below: As mentioned above, witness the “log jam” of trains and operators at Tatiara Downs early in the session. Yes, all six crew members are in close quarters in the same aisle (Iain can just be made out behind Darren in the foreground, facing Jameston and having already departed the ‘Downs). As well as a crowding of operators, this also meant for a very full yard at Tatiara Downs – with all five yard roads there currently under occupation.

Crowded 2

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 …

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