After a last minute cancellation of the March Operating Session, the April session went ahead using the “Tuesday 02:00 to 14:00” sequence timetable that was to have been used in March. The crew, somewhat magically, again consisted of six keen and willing folk: Craig as the Train Controller, Mark and Shelton as Victorian crews, Darren and Geoff as South Australian crews and myself as the Tatiara Downs Yard/Station Master/Shunter. The above image shows the Kybybolite (SAR) end of the staging yard before the commencement of the session, with four SAR trains ready for work. The image below shows the other end of the staging – Edenhope (VR) also before the session started, with four VR trains ready and the Overland yet to receive its locos. In the right hand side of the image, the recently ballasted section from Tatiara Downs to Border Junction can be seen.
A few tweaks had been undertaken from the previous two sessions in held in January and February. The greatest being the increased use of Victorian crews as single person crews – facilitating a number of “crosses” at both Tatiara Downs and Nankiva. This meant the session ended up being the “biggest” of the three held so far this year (and also biggest of any undertaken during last year’s “sea trials”) – with 26 “sequences” and 30 actual operations being undertaken in under three hours. Below is an image of the first train in the sequence as it sits at Tatiara Downs, VR train number 846, an eastbound Jet Goods under the control of C508. The previous working/SAR equivalent, train number 847, arrived at Tatiara Downs at the end of the last operating session.
I think the single person crewing adjustments proved successful, particularly as they gave the two Victorian crews a little more “down time” (good for chewing the fat, sinking a brew or taking railfan pictures!) and also the ability to be a little more self-determined in shunting and operating. Below is another image from the start of the session, with VR train number 846, a Jet Goods, waiting at a fairly ordinary iPhone image that highlights the advantage of the single person crewing – the Overland (VR train number 241) can be seen in the foreground arriving at Tatiara Downs, under Shelton’s control, while in the distance Mark’s Melbourne bound Jet (VR train number 846 – from the previous image) can been seen descending the cutting and arriving at Edenhope (staging). The SAR crew of Darren and Geoff were shunting their train, SAR train number 547, at Tatiara Downs at this time.
There were less “issues” operational this session than the previous (a good thing!): low couplers on a few carriages on the Overland (only really an issue for the no longer necessary between the rails uncoupling magnets in the staging yard – these will be removed before the next session); over-tightened bogies on some VR sand hoppers (oh, the perils of Ready-To-Run “plonking”!) and; some loose connections on wiring to signals (though the panels replicate the signals, so aspects could still be seen). Two concerning trends were the most experienced operator’s new habit of “assuming” signals are green and so running them at red because the track ahead “will” be clear … and the Train Controller’s seeming obsession and fascination with trying to shunt trains through walls …
Another “highlight” of the session was the arrival and use of a rake of nine SAR HS stone hoppers – courtesy of Don Bishop and part of the legendary build of over 160 HS hopers back in the Moping Branch Railway days. My sincere thanks and appreciation to Don for providing me with the opportunity to add some more MBR-vintage rolling stock to my Border District Railway – as well as provide the reason for the (coming) extent of the “Southern Aggregates” installation at Border Junction. Darren provided some great ideas regarding even greater operations for this industry during the session. The operation of the “Stonie” also provided for most crew members to share in the experience – with hoppers needing to be “repositioned” in blocks of three for loading throughout the session. The final operation of the “Stonie” fell to Geoff, who initially had to run the completely loaded train to Jameston …
… and once there, reverse the loco and van before running back up the hill, through Border Junction, Tatiara Downs and on to Kybybolite (and eventually Port Adelaide). The above image shows this working having just arrived at Jameston (with a possible celebratory ale in the background?), while below the same train can be seen running (obviously at speed – gotta love iPhones) on the newly ballasted section between Border Junction and Tatiara Downs.
Once again, I extend my thanks and appreciation to the crew that continue to help me realise regular operating sessions. Craig’s experience as a Train Controller from his own layout (albeit NSW based) and willingness to “learn” VR and SAR practices continues to see him, almost sadistically, willingly accept this role and grow and develop with it. The attention to detail shown by Darren and Geoff – also operating “outside” their usual NSW setting, along with Shelton’s enthusiasm for all things VR and growing knowledge, make for great operators. And lastly … to Mark, who as a seasoned Border District campaigner now sits back and watches as others “learn” – and continues to bring insight and thought to the ongoing evolution of the layout and operating sessions. Thanks guys!