Operating session, lessons learned …

Mark _TD

Last Saturday, a crew of six gave up their afternoon to again put the Border District through its paces, operation wise. VR modellers Mark and Shelton, SAR modeller Andrew, NSWR modellers Craig and Darren and myself formed a group of six. This is the biggest sized group to operate the “District” yet, and I am grateful to all for their input, ideas and company. The image above, courtesy of Mark’s iPhone, shows the state of play at Tatiara Downs as Craig and Mark prepare SAR Train Number 312 – the Roadside Goods for Tailem Bend. Shelton and Andrew have brought SAR Train Number 282 – the Jameston to Tatiara Downs passenger – into the station and are shunting the carriages to the dock (their loco can be seen behind the containers in the OW wagon). Darren is assisting with making up #312 in his role as the Tatiara Downs shunter, a role that should come with extra pay … and as usual I was just fluffing about.



Above, the Tatiara Downs shunt loco, VR Y class diesel-electric number 169, can be seen in the yard, in front of the recently shunted flour mill. The mainline to Border Junction and the “lead” to the grain silos can be seen curving away to the left. This loco is fitted with a Loksound v4.0 decoder and a DCC Sound Y class sound file and is my favourite loco to operate. I think Darren enjoyed using the Y too. Below, you can see the “industrial park” at Tatiara Downs once the session was finished … plenty of industries here to justify traffic levels. From right to left, there is the grain loading complex (to be modelled in low relief), Fertiliser unloading depot, farmers’ co-operative, livestock loading/unloading and fuel depot.


So, what was learned from the session? As always, there were a few shortcomings. The greatest was the lack of provision of a “shunt list” for Tatiara Downs by the host, which put Darren in a world of hurt from the get-go – never mind that he is a New South Wales modeller to boot! My apologies to Darren, I did prepare the list, I just failed to print it out. Also of some disappointment were a small number of signals that didn’t operate as they should have – some loose connections, possibly caused by interference by the fascia curtains. In true “Murphy” style, when I went to fix them the next morning, everything worked fine …


What worked well in the session? I think the “2 man crews” were popular … perhaps it allowed the pain to be shared or even halved?! The above image demonstrates one advantage of the two person crews … the ability to undertake shared problem solving. T332 has worked the Portland – Nankiva railmotor replacement passenger service, and some clever use of the yard was required by Andrew and Shelton to reverse the loco and van for the next morning’s return working. Single slips can be fun, can’t they boys? The image above also shows that I need to crack on with painting and ballasting track …


Another “success” was the revised card sorting stations (feedback received form the previous session) – the example at Jameston being shown above. These have been made longer, wider, deeper and given a little angle, thanks to some 12mm “half round” dowel glued on the back. Another change made for this session was a redesign of all the signal panels on the layout – to incorporate low speed indicators more logically. While I’d say these were a success (despite some LEDs not always showing the correct aspect, as discussed above), I’ll save details about these for a future blog post.


The flow of “traffic” on the layout was also a success – something I’d probably worked hardest on in the lead up to the session. Ensuring trains were balanced and prototypical (in almost all cases, trains are modelled on actual VR and SAR examples, right down to their Train Number) but ensuring there was plenty of shunting and “reasons for being” became a bit of a juggling act, but I think it was pulled off well. Some recent rollingstock acquisitions made this a little easier – the HS hoppers seen at Border Junction in the image above being one such example – a big thanks to Geoff and John in Adelaide for their assistance with this! Conversely, the train below (SAR Train Number 185 – the “Paper Jet”) will benefit from some expected rollingstock arrivals … BLX, VLX, WVX louvre vans.



One of the greatest reflections for me those is that in each of the “trial” sessions held thus far, the afternoon (14:00 – 02:00) “sequence” is used – which includes lots of roadsides and shunts at the start of the session, with through “Jets” and the “Overland” running more towards the end. In the previous two sessions we’ve not made it to operating these trains at the end. I think the next session will employ the morning (02:00 to 14:00) “sequence”, which starts with this through traffic – helping operators to learn the road and really only worry about swapping power at Tatiara Downs. A crew of six seems the ideal number – three pairs … with some slight changes to roles and responsibilities. Thanks again to those brave operators from Saturday just passed – you contributed to a very enjoyable afternoon. You can read a little more about the session at Craig’s blog (http://ca55ino.blogspot.com.au) and see more pictures, that are much better than mine, at Shelton’s blog (http://vrwv.blogspot.com.au).


2 thoughts on “Operating session, lessons learned …

  1. Anthony
    Excellent idea about running the morning sequence for the next session. Yes we don’t seem to get to this sequence so it will be good to run and to re-familiarise ourselfs with the Border District. I must admit, I am now understanding how everything “clicks” together. Sorry to be a slow learner.
    Yes, employing the single slip where you have is a stroke of genius. I would have simply and lazily put a double slip there and not really think about the overall situation. It does make you think it through! Excellent work with the aisle spacing as well. No issues with all of us on the one side at one time! Looking forward to the improvements and the next op session at Border District.


  2. Shelton,
    Yes, the “am” shift starts with the Overland and a couple of Jets … no need to worry (too much) about car cards for these trains! I don’t think you are a slow learner at all … “local knowledge” is essential to operating (both model and actual railways) and my infrequent “trial” sessions haven’t allowed guests to get familiar with the layout – yet!
    I’m glad you enjoyed the trackwork at Nankiva … I am happy that I didn’t make things too easy and use double slips. Hoping for the next session before winter, hopefully with a little more ballast and scenery on the “District” …

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