The fourth operating session on the Border District for 2016 gave the second opportunity this year to undertake the revised version of the 02:00 to 14:00 (or “AM” shift) sequence timetable. With the addition of two extra workings (more on them later) making a total of 34 possible train movements, this meant the session could see the most trains operated ever in an “AM” session.
A significant focus of every session is the interchange between SAR and VR (and vice versa) power at the fictional interchange point of Tatiara Downs – a composite of two actual interchange locations: Serviceton and Mount Gambier. The above image, courtesy of Mark, is a great demonstration of this – SAR Alco 702 sits in the background at the head of SAR TN 338 Jet Goods, this train having arrived at Tatiara Downs as VR TN 339 Jet Goods, hauled by VR big power C508. The C is now in the foreground, having made its way to the loco for turning and refuelling before heading east again. Also on shed (right hand side) are VR S and B class mainline locos, awaiting their turn and call up.
With several apologies received, a crew of five operators took part in the April session. A few crew members took the opportunity to try something a little different from their usual role, while others were very content to continue in familiar territory and further develop “local knowledge”. Brendan again took on the Head Shunter role at Tatiara Downs and as the image above (taken at the end of the session) shows, excelled in this role … getting everything done in record time (again), which even afforded him the chance to “sit down” for a bit! Personally, I think Brendan is just about ready to take on the combined Head Shunter and Yard Master role at Tatiara Downs – he just about did so in this session!
With only five operators present, the newly introduced “Tatiara Downs Hostler” role was removed from the job list. VR train crew roles were taken by Mark (who was heard to comment that it was nice to see what the other half of the layout looked like … and then later realised this meant a return to his favourite shunting spot of Nankiva) and Iain (who seemingly relished the chance to leave the familiar pastures of the SAR branch and Jameston and operate some mainline VR trains, including the Overland). SAR train crew roles were taken by Craig (who was so excited to get to operate the branch he may or may not have completely forgotten about the session … but still made the trip over) and myself (also taking on the Train Control role). It is testament to both the operators and their knowledge of the layout that even with only four crew to start and one operator arriving into the session that everything ran almost perfectly to plan and timetable – an awesome job by everyone!
While I say that I took on the role of Train Control, there really was little to do in this space on the day. All operators present did a great job of resetting points and signals on departure, as well as often setting points and signals for the next working to follow them. Discussion before the session began included talk about plans for some additional signalling that would further improve the giving of information to operators, particularly in the case of those times when you need to move from one operating “pit” to the other. The locations of these proposed signals was marked by white sticks for the session, and feedback from the crew was greatly appreciated. Also prior to the session, Brendan shared some recent modelling efforts in brass – a VR Q flat wagon (from Model Etch) and a VR RT rail tractor (from Steam Era Models). Both were very, very nice … I am sure that the Border District now needs an RT!
As mentioned earlier, the session saw the addition of two “extra” workings, introduced for a couple of reasons. The first was to make greater use of Don Bishop’s wonderful “Southern Aggregates” industry (seen in the image above – with efforts underway to embed the facility into the layout). The second was to allow any operator who got “ahead” of the sequence timetable to be brought back to the field. As it turned out, the only operator who really got ahead of the sequence was Brendan – perhaps because the shunter at Tatiara Downs for the session was his recently sound equipped VR flattop T class?! Brendan, Craig and myself all took turns to operate parts of the extra train … a small VR train of empty four wheeled and bogie open wagons to be loaded at Southern Aggregates, but having to head to Tatiara Downs first to reverse.
There were only a few minor hiccups in the session … it seemed most operators had at least one (for some, maybe more …) instance of trying to either change points under a train or run a train through incorrectly set points. Even the host got into the act, resetting the points at Border Junction under SAR TN 547 “South East” goods just a little early, resulting in no less than 7 axles in the dirt! Another problem encountered in the session was with regards to the extra train, where coupler tangs on a few VR wagons caught on the high level gravel between the rails at Southern Aggregates. After previous close attention, the “Stonie” fleet of HS hoppers doesn’t have this problem, so some subtle bending of tangs will take place on the VR wagons before the May session. The only other problem was the failure of one point at Nankiva (dowel and piano wire thrown … the piano wire came loose and dropped) but this was located and repaired after the session.
The session did see, for the first time ever in an “AM” shift, 34 trains successfully operated – a significant achievement. The crew size didn’t seem too “light” as I had initially thought it might … but I do still have some thoughts on timetabling tweaks to make the two SAR train crew roles each a better combination of mainline (a very short hop from Kybybolite to Tariara Downs, or vice versa … not the most engaging) and branchline (down to Jameston, which is much more interesting). As the images above (of Kybybolite – SAR staging) and below (of Edenhope – VR staging) show, I don’t think that more than 34 workings would fit on the layout! Once again, my appreciation to all operators that gave up there Saturday afternoon to work the Border District … each session builds on the previous one and it continues to be an absolute treat to see the SAR and VR come alive once a month – thanks everyone.