November 2015 operating session


The Border District seeks to represent and recreate the railways in western Victoria and south eastern South Australia as they were in the summer of 1976-1977. How appropriate then that the tenth operating session on the “District” for 2015 was undertaken on a very, very warm Saturday afternoon, akin to many of the days in that season of 76-77! Fortunately, the passengers travelling in the train as captured in the above image are enjoying the air-conditioned comfort that the “Overland” provided …

The usual “third Saturday of the month” for the session brought about a few issues in November … the biggest being a clash with the Branchline Modellers Forum, held in Coffs Harbour the same weekend. As a result of this … and some other commitments, distractions and priorities … the crew size was the smallest yet for an operating session this year – three! Mark and Iain joined myself, and after a brief period of pondering how to proceed with a session usually planned for four or five people, we decided to do away with both the “Train Control” and “Tatiara Downs Station Master/Head Shunter” positions. Doing away with the former has happened often, with the most common crew size this year being four … but a session has never been attempted with no one manning the main station of Tatiara Downs! That said, we were keen to give it a crack, resolving to share shunting duties across the three of us.


The image above of Tatiara Downs reveals that this plan, in general, worked a treat … Mark has nearly completed breaking up SAR TN 87 (the roadside goods from Tailem Bend to Tatiara Downs), which included making up SAR TN 147 goods from Tatiara Downs to Jameston – seen with SAR English Electric 907 at the head in the foreground. Creeping into the station in the background, with headlight blazing, is SAR TN 281 passenger to Jameston. Iain is at the controls of SAR “Big Mikado” 730 and, after a brief station stop, will continue down the branch – with SAR TN 147 to follow later in the session.

No Station Master or Head Shunter made for plenty of shunting for everyone … but all three of us are equally happy running and shunting trains, so all was good! No Train Control meant throwing signals and points ourselves … and in many cases throwing them for the next movement after your own. Comment was made after the session that the signalling and safeworking seemed to be the “best” of any session yet … but we would be biased, I guess?! Or maybe it was a case of the fewer the operators, the fewer the mistakes …


The session was very enjoyable, but was still not without a challenge or two (a good thing). Above, VR TN 29, the roadside goods from Ararat to Tatiara Downs with VR T377 at the head (background), has been held outside the arrival signal due to some congestion in the yard. Two other VR locos, B75 and Y169, are busily breaking up and making up trains … and seeking to create some space for VR TN 29 to join in the fun!

The image below shows more of this congestion, much later in the session. Also showing good use of correct signal aspects with a “clear medium speed” departure, B67 hauls VR TN 880 fast goods away from Tatiara Downs, Melbourne bound. SAR 907 has returned from working SAR TN 147 and SAR TN 148 goods down and back the branch and has shunted a few wagons into the industrial sidings (left foreground). VR B85 has worked VR TN 63 passenger from Melbourne and is shunting the carriages (right background, with the carriages out of shot) to the dock platform for the return working next morning.


The session saw the 14:00 to 02:00 timetable undertaken and despite the small number of operators (quality not quantity, it was decided!), a 6:1 fast clock was also in operation along with the usual “sequence” cards … just for interest. This was somewhat ambitious, given no Head Shunter to help at Tatiara Downs, but as it turned out we only ran over time by about two hours … not too shabby at all.

Another “plus” for the session was the photographic coverage provided, with all there operators often sighted with a throttle in one hand and a smartphone with camera in the other! Even the host got in on the act, as evidenced by the images in this post – something I often struggle to do. Below, the shortest train of the session – VR TN 18 roadside goods from Tatiara Downs to Ararat – can be seen at Nankiva, having just dropped off a bogie louvre van to the vegetable siding (out of shot in the background) and an empty GY to the silo (foreground). This little train will then continue east – just a T class, two 4 wheelers and a guard’s van …


As well a little trains, the session also saw a goodly amount of “big” trains – two “Jets” (express goods trains between Melbourne and Adelaide, and vice versa), a block grain train, the “Paper Jet” to and from the mill at Jameston and the “Overland” – the crack overnight express train between the capital cities of Victoria and South Australia.

The two images below capture these last mentioned workings … the first is of the rear of the “Overland” as it departs Tatiara Downs and heads east for Melbourne as VR TN 834, having exchanged two SAR 930 class Alco diesels for two VR S class streamliners …


… while the second image captures SAR TN 186 – the Jameston to Adelaide “Paper Jet” – working up the grade from Jameston and passing through the small halt of Border Junction. The track immediately to the right of the train is the mainline to Victoria (traversed by the “Overland” only a few minutes earlier), while further right is the staging area that represents all those “off layout” destinations and locations.


I’ll conclude this post with a big thanks to both Mark and Iain for braving the hot day and contributing to a great session … very efficient and very enjoyable! Now, back to that air-conditioning in the “Overland”, the very epitome of cool and comfort, as it can be seen speeding through Nankiva, heading eastwards and Melbourne bound …



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