July 2015 operating session

The gang

A little after the fact, but the sixth operating session for the year was recently undertaken on the Border District. A record crew for 2015 was in attendance … Mark, Iain, Brendan, Shelton, Darren, Craig and myself. Six of the seven crew members can be seen in the image above (names and identities not matched to protect the innocent!)… except for Mark, who provided the image (and several others in this post). My sincere thanks to “the gang” for giving of their time – it was a very enjoyable session, with all twenty-six workings in the “schedule” (14:00 to 02:00) being successfully completed. The image above also provides the best “overall” view of the layout so far recorded – apologies to those who keep asking for a track plan! From right to left, the locations are: Jameston (only a little in shot), aisle, Tatiara Downs, backdrop, Nankiva, aisle, staging (Edenhope and Kybybolite)/Border Junction.

Initially, I was unsure if seven people would be too many for the Border District – the aisles aren’t huge (slightly less than three feet wide) and their are two duck-unders (not ideal, but necessary to maximise the available layout space) to negotiate at times. However, I am pleased to report that the layout easily accommodated seven operators, both in terms of physical space and actual operation. Seven operators presented the opportunity to try a few different things in terms of operating roles and responsibilities. The usual three “train crew” gigs – single person – were again in play and for the session were taken by Iain, Brendan and Darren. Craig took on the “Train Control” role, which also includes a few operating jobs to add some interest to the role. With a reduced crew the past few sessions, having Train Control for this session was a novelty again that some of us had forgotten! The last few sessions have also seen the Tatiara Downs job be a solo affair for yours truly … so this session saw me enrol Mark and Shelton in “Head Shunter” and “Driver” roles. This was designed to make things a little easier, and allow me to play more of a “Station Master” role (read: bossy giver of multiple instructions, often too quickly and without detailed enough information!). The image below, again captured by Mark, shows the scene across the Tatiara Downs industrial district during the session, with the VR Y class using the headshunt/grain siding to undertake some wagon shuffling. In the foreground, the awesome sheep loading ramp, part of the livestock sidings provided by Don Bishop, can be seen …

TAT industries

In theory, having two more people at Tatiara Downs to assist should have meant one third the work for everyone … well, in theory at least! In practice, this wasn’t quite the case. As both Mark and Shelton correctly identified, I know the trains, train numbers, destinations and even individual wagons, they only operate once a month and don’t engage greatly with such knowledge when working a regular “train crew” role. Additionally, I have the degree of difficulty at Tatiara Downs set quite high … two SAR trains and two VR trains to break up, equal numbers to make up, eight “industries” to shunt, through and exchange traffic and so on. Again, this is fine for me, but for the “once a month-er”, perhaps not so! I did trial some revised paperwork to assist Mark and Shelton, and post session some further feedback should see this develop more for the August operating session. Below, in an image provided with thanks to Shelton, you can see one of the revised pieces of operational paperwork (resting against the backdrop, ON the layout!) – a “kick list” for the shunter at Tatiara Downs …

TAT near miss

Also in the above image, one of the big “failings” of the session can be seen … to the left of the image, an SAR 720 “Big Mikado” can be seen at the head of a short passenger consist – but the train is on the bottle company siding (and flour mill headshunt), not in the platform or dock roads! Yes, this was an error by the host, forgetting to reset the points for the shunting crew …. an error that everyone was quick to jump on! Craig even enjoyed the moment so much he mentioned it in his blog post (http://ca55ino.blogspot.com.au)! I always enjoy the manner in which operating sessions seem to be summarised by the worst possible incident or occurrence, and not just on my layout … I look forward to reading the gentle (or not) ribbings within the “report” provided after each session on Geoff’s “Border Downs Railway” (and when I grow up, I want to be a scribe as good as the Sol!). While I like to think operating sessions are more than just finding and highlighting the “worst” happening, it points to the fun and camaraderie that is part of this hobby. Apart from the error captured above, the July session on the “District” again saw improvements and evolution – the biggest being the re-organisation of the train/sequence cards to provide two separate cards for those train that exchange locos and crews at Tatiara Downs – one for the VR working side and one for the SAR working side. Feedback from all crew was that this change was certainly for the better.

NAN cement and vegies

Other successes were the growing familiarisation of the crew with the trains, layout and some of the local nuances … like the single slips at the Victorian station of Nankiva. Both Darren and Brendan easily shunted the yard at this location – in the past, this task can result in some banging of head and choice words! In the image above, the west end of the yard at Nankiva can be seen, with wagons at both the cement siding and vegetable loading (accessed by one of “those slips”!). Iain continues to “own” the SAR Jameston branch workings, and his ABLO experience means all trains are correctly blocked for destinations … even loads at the front and empties at the back. Craig has also come to “own” the Train Control position, though I am tempted to spice things up for this role by making the Train Controller also the sole “Stonie” operator – a task currently involving all three trains crews at some point.

The upgrade from the NCE PowerCab to the NCE SB5 has meant the accessibility of more throttles – five are used for each session at present, and a sixth can be used at Tatiara Downs if the Head Shunter gets “stuck”. I’m yet to take advantage of this upgrade in terms of installing circuit breakers in each power district (something not possible with the previous PowerCab) but feel that this task, when done, should further improve the operating experience. The image below, again with thanks to Mark, captures the essence of the Border District … group of like minded people getting together to operate trains in a proto-freelanced location, capturing the mid 1970s on both the VR and SAR. Thanks to all those that continue to help bring the dream alive each month … who knows, maybe the August operating session will see more than seven operators? How wide are those aisles again …

TAT shunt and other pit