August 2016 operating session

Y169 at TAT locoAbove: Y169 idles at the Tatiara Downs fuel point, taking on more fuel between working VR Roadside Goods during the August 2016 operating session. The SAR-ness of the location is emphasised by the station, signal gantry, coal stage and SAR passenger cars. Thanks to Mark for the image.

The August 2016 operating session on the Border District saw a previously unrealised goal achieved … 8 operators in attendance for the first time since regular operating sessions commenced in January last year! Roles for the afternoon were: Brendan – Tatiara Downs Station Master; Shelton – Tatiara Downs Shunter; Mark – Tatiara Downs Loco Hostler; Iain and Geoff – SAR train crews; Darren and Craig – VR train crews; myself – Train Control. My sincere thanks to everyone involved for coming out and spending the afternoon running some trains like it was 1976 …

Y169 at NANAbove: Taken a little earlier in the session, Y169 is at Nankiva and in the capable hands of Darren. The train is VR TN 89 down Roadside Goods and will drop off one van and pick up two before continuing to Tatiara Downs. In the background, B85 can be seen under Craig’s control, bringing VR TN 289 Second Division “Overland” Passenger to a halt for the required station stop.

It was great to be able to see how the layout and the planned operations were impacted by the larger than usual crew numbers … such as the luxury of having three bodies in three different roles at Tatiara Downs for one, and myself being able to “just” be Train Control and potter about/see what others were doing/actually have the time to take some photos (first time for everything). There was some great discussion regarding operations before, during and after the session too – a little more on that later.

WT at TAT locoAbove: A VR WT wagon sits at the loco at Tatiara Downs, waiting collection by VR TN 102 Goods. Image courtesy of Mark.

“Weekly Notices” were again used to provide increased operational interest – giving notification of modified workings, additional pick up and/or drop offs, signalling changes and an extra working. There is a significant amount of paperwork that goes towards “making” an operating session – timetable graph, sequence overview (in lieu of an actual timetable – it is more about the “sequence” of operations), train instruction cards (including an “overview” card for all workings for each operator), loco/wagon/carriage/van cards (thank you ABLO!), specific shunting instructions at some locations and also specific paperwork for both the Shunter and Hostler at Tatiara Downs. It was great to see how operators used all this information in the most recent session.

A light hearted and enjoyable aspect of the paperwork is the introduction of the “Craig” award. This is given to the crew member who forgets (the most) to take their train cards with them when operating and is lovingly named in honour of regular crew member Craig, who in initial operating sessions would often leave his train cards behind him. The winner of the “Craig” ward from the August session was Mark … a significant achievement for three reasons: Mark was the only operator to forget his cards; Mark only operated one train (a steam special … more on that in another blog post) and so had a 100% “Craig” rating; Mark lamented at the beginning of the session that he wouldn’t be able to be in the running for the “Craig” as he wasn’t driving any trains!

T377 at NANAbove: VR TN 7 Goods, conveying empty four wheelers for loading at Southern Aggregates, slows as it arrives at Nankiva, with Craig at the controls.

Of course, all operating sessions also provide a “challenge” or two (or more!) for the host … and this one was no exception. A significant amount of time was spent getting signalling sorted before the session, but some tweaking was still needed as operators were arriving. A “Cobalt” point motor starting having conniptions mid session – constantly “clicking” when thrown for the main at Tatiara Downs. A work around was introduced, but a replacement will need to be sourced before the next session. At Nankiva, there was another point failure when a “dowel/piano wire “thrown point lost its piano wire (located during the session and repaired afterwards). There were a couple of derailments – a low coupler tang and an out of gauge wheelset being the culprits. A few locos also suffered from skittish running – dirty wheels the main cause (dirty track too) – with the major offenders being early Austrains locos – I really need to get serious about replacement wheelsets for these engines … my VR C class in particular.

836 at TAT locoAbove: SAR 830 Alco 836, resplendent in “mustard pot” livery, has been called into action. The shunting engine at Tatiara Downs, English Electric 513, had failed mid session and Mark (Hostler) had organised a replacement engine for the Shunter (Shelton). Again, credit goes to Mark as photographer.

As mentioned earlier in this post, there was good conversation around operations during and after the session, with much talk about more prototypical and “immersive” operating and working. As such, the next session on the Border District will most likely see less trains – certainly less “through” trains that do little work other than changes locos/crew – and more focus on both shunting and the “what and how” of this. The Loco Hostler role employed this session was one such example of this – taking time to fuel, sand and inspect locos between workings, as well as ensure locos were positioned and prioritised as needed. It continues to be rewarding to see the layout and its operations evolve, assisted by the input and opinions of the Border District operators – thanks everyone!

702 at TATAbove: Alco 702 arrives at a busy Tatiara Downs with SAR TN 847 Jet Goods, Brendan having been able to move trains and traffic around to allow access for this “hot” train. Here, Geoff will uncouple the engine and hand the 700 class over to Mark, who will have already prepared VR engines for taking over the train as it continues to Melbourne as VR TN 846 Jet Goods.