July “trial” operating session …

Recently, the Border District underwent yet another “trial” operating session … this time using the “first’ part of the timetable, from 02:00 to 14:00. Six goodly gentlemen gave up their Saturday afternoon to run the railway with me – thanks to Mark, Keith, Shelton, Craig, Darren and Paul for joining in the fun. The “Magnificent Seven” it certainly was – in terms of being the “right” number of people for an operating session, and also being the smoothest and most successful trial operating session to date. Below is an image captured of the staging yard (Edenhope/Kybybolite) at the conclusion of the session …

Edenhope and Kybybolite

The session undertaken sees 20 trains rostered … a big ask for only two “crews” (driver and guard), so the session is split half way through. 11 trains were successfully operated … Keith and Darren as one crew, Mark and Paul as another and Craig and Shelton working together as the Yard Master and Head Shunter at Tatiara Downs. As for previous sessions, the role of Train Controller fell to yours truly – though for this session there seemed far less (no?) running of red lights and unauthorised movements – well done fellas, I rarely needed to get the grumpy pants on! Below, SAR Train Number 541 (Eastbound Passenger train from Tatiara Downs to Jameston) can be seen arriving at Jameston – the eleventh and “final” working of the session …

SAR 541 Pass 1

From previous sessions, the “two person” crew has evolved as THE way to operate on the layout – one person taking the throttle and acting as “driver”, the other looking after the ABLO car cards and taking the role of “guard”. Both driver and guard are responsible for ensuring they have read the “train card” that outlines the basics for that particular working. Big kudos to the two train crews for their efforts – all trains ran as they should and all wagons ended up where they were meant to be … a significant achievement, given it was Paul’s first visit to the layout and Keith’s first “formal” operating session on the District. Below, the penultimate working for the session, Train Number 62 – the VR Goods from Nankiva to Portland – can be seen ready to depart, with Keith and Darren having completed shunting of the train …

VR 62 Goods 1

Several “improvements” were made prior to undertaking this session, and I think they can all be considered as successes. The first, and most significant perhaps, was the rostering of two people to work Tatiara Downs instead of only one – a “Head Shunter” joining the “Yard Master”. Essentially, this replicates the two person train crews used for the other positions – one person to drive the shunt loco and one to manage the cards. This job, even when shared between two people, still isn’t for the faint of heart … well done to Shelton and Craig for the manner in which they undertook their roles and the work they did. Below is a view of Tatiara Downs just after the “carnage” … with the westbound SAR South East Goods (Train Number 152) having cleared out some of the mess …

Tatiara Downs 1

I’m still a little concerned that the complexity of the job/s at Tatiara Downs makes for a little too much challenge and so not quite as much fun … I really don’t want to have an operating layout where there is a “role” (or roles!) that people dread.  During the session, the team at Tatiara Downs had to shunt seven different industries, make up two trains and break up one more, as well as helping to hostle locos exchanging VR and/or SAR power for three “through” trains. Too much? Too hard? Maybe, even though feedback suggests that the most recent session saw the Tatiara Downs job be the most “fun” of any sessions so far. That said, I’m still inclined to simplify the myriad of wagons and destinations that the crew here has to deal with. Below is a shot of the loco facility at Tatiara Downs – I’d say during a quite moment, but for most of the session the loco was a quiet place, with all the chaos happening out in the yard …

Tatiara Downs 2

Another possible reason for Tatiara Downs being a little more user friendly is the recent changes to the yard and trackwork. After a visit to the Toowoomba model train show earlier this year, many a conversation with Mark provided the impetus for some much needed improvements at Tatiara Downs. Before too long, an additional road had been laid in the yard, along with a far more “SAR-like” yard ladder arrangement. The changes really have allowed what I envisioned for Tatiara Downs to be realised – resembling Naracoorte’s facilities much more accurately, though still quite “representational”. Below is a helicopter view of the yard at Tatiara Downs, taken from the east end and again snapped at the conclusion of the session …

Tatiara Downs 3

The final “improvement” undertaken prior to the operating session was perhaps the most work, but also hopefully showed the least … achieving balance in the workings of trains – particularly in terms of wagons being shunted on and or off trains. A good amount of time was spent pouring over working timetables, notes and articles – also ensuring trains and their composition would align with sidings and industries. Some great feedback was received regarding this – particularly from operators who had been involved in previous sessions. There is still a good degree of “challenge”, but nothing as hard as having to spend two hours (real time) shunting one location! Below is another view of VR Goods #62 as it departs Nankiva, the session nearly done …

VR 62 Goods 2

So what next? I think (hope?) regular operating sessions are not too far away. I’d still like to tweak the timetable a bit, ensuring there is a good mix of “through” trains and “shunt” jobs for both crews. The timetable used for the most recent trial session almost does this already … almost. Two person crews will certainly stay, as will the two person job at “TD”. It was also good to see that for the majority of the session, one operating aisle didn’t see all of the “magnificent seven” in the one place at the one time!

Again, my sincere gratitude to the “super six” that, with this most recent trial session, have helped me realise a long held ambition – prototypical operation of a model railway. Who knows … next time around, someone might just put their hand up for the Train Controller role?! More immediately though, some ballast, track painting/weathering and scenery completion needs to be undertaken on the layout. As I ponder where I’ll tackle this first, I’ll leave you with one more “end of session” image … SAR Alco 946 at Jameston, heading for the turntable … an image clearly showing that paint, ballast and scenery would enhance things!

SAR 541 Pass 2

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