A(nother) visit to the BDR …


As well as ushering in Spring, the first day of September 2016 afforded me the opportunity to head south and again join the esteemed crew of the Border Downs Railway, or BDR, to undertake an operating session on this very well thought out SAR and VR H0 scale layout – heavily influenced by both ABLO and the Moping Branch Railway (MBR). Geoff was, as always, the consummate and accomomodating host, with a pre-session layout tour to allow for re-familiarisation and to check out the recently completed scenery … and a great dinner as well (thanks Chris!). The image above was captured during this “tour”, with the nicely completed landscape really setting that “southern South Australia” scene. In the foreground is the Border Downs to Donald line, while in the background is the Yumali to Coonara line and the sand loading facility at Ki Ki in the distance.

The BDR crew are also very accommodating, putting up with my “FIFO (Fly In Fly Out) from up north occasional appearances” at sessions. A goodly sized crew was in attendance for this particular session, with Geoff undertaking the Train Control/CEO role, Steve in charge of all things “Border Downs” (the major station on the layout) and no less than six train crews: Don, John, Ray, Sol (Ron), Tony and myself. The Thursday session undertaken is one of a few in Geoff’s “new” timetable that requires five crews … so was well suited to my visit … but also with a few extra trains also in operation to accommodate the six of us, including the sand train and a “scout special” that may or may not have looked more than a little like a second division of the Overland. In the following image, the serenity that Steve enjoys as the Station Master/Head Shunter at Border Downs is clear for all to see …


The session was thoroughly enjoyable – a combination of three important factors: a very well planned set out layout; meticulously organised timetables and workings; and a really great group of guys operating the layout. To the first point – I’ve often waxed somewhat lyrical in the past about Geoff’s design and use of space … and hope that the image below is one that helps to demonstrates this. The lower level here is “Yumali” – the first station out from Riverbend (think Tailem Bend) and the run up the helix (which really puts Yumali on the “middle level” …), while the upper level here is “Donald” (think Keith) – the last station before the run down to Border Downs. The newly completed scenery at Donald made its debut at this session, though the image below doesn’t nearly do it justice …


As good and clever as Geoff’s layout design is, I feel it is then taken to the next level by his informed and knowledgeable use of timetabling and train workings … as per the second point in the above paragraph. Sure, it helps that Geoff is a former SAR employee and current Train Control in real life … but his ability to develop a timetable with some very, very close to prototypical timings and crosses, along with all those “extras” that are needed to keep a model railway operating session interesting, is truly a credit to him. As always, I learned a good amount from spending a bit of time pouring over the timetables Geoff has created, and asking lots of (too many?) questions! In the image captured below, the sand train seen in an earlier image has since departed Ki Ki, as another SAR goods rolls through in the Coonara to Yumali section of the layout.


In my opinion, the third ingredient required for a successful operating session/model railway is the crew, and as mentioned above the BDR is fortunate – not unlike my own Border District – to have a wonderful group of operators. I feel there are three important attributes needed in “good” operators: knowing what to do (and asking if you don’t … it is often about “learning”), being able to do this/put this into action (again, assistance may be required here …); and, most importantly, enjoying yourself while you do the first two. Modelling and operation are supposed to be enjoyable activities … and sessions on the BDR certainly are! It is a case of taking the task at hand a little seriously, but not taking yourself too seriously. In the following image, the need to work together when operating is again on show – with the Train Controller having orchestrated a crossing at Yumali between two trains/crews: a local passenger train and a goods working …


During the session, I had the opportunity to work four trains with a good degree of variety: an empty “Stonie” (which crossed the loaded Stonie at Coonara – causing so much excitement that all images captured of this meet are blurred!); the up roadside goods ex-Border Downs (SAR TN 312 – with a great combination of shunting and mainline running, just like the real thing); and two “Jets” – one eastbound (swapping power at Border Downs) and one westbound (with power running through).

As also mentioned previously, Geoff’s involvement with and influence from the Moping Branch Railway is clear – in terms of both design and operation – for his current layout. The BDR uses the ABLO card system to help give operating sessions “meaning” (in fact, Geoff is responsible for having sourced all the ABLO cards for the Border District …), with the Moping being one of the “first” ABLO layouts to use this system. The image below shows another MBR-like aspect I see on the BDR … the clever use of running tracks through a scene more than once. In the foreground is the yard at Border Downs – with up and down Jet goods each waiting patiently, but in the background an extra stock working can be seen descending the grade from Coonara, then heading on to Ki Ki, Yumali and Riverbend. However, note how the two scenes do not encroach on or detract from each other.


A big thank you again to Geoff for his hospitality during my visit – a day before his birthday, no less! Thanks also to those BDR regulars – Don, Steve, Ray, Sol, John, Tony and Bob (in absentia at this session) – that suffer my occasional trips south and are always up for both a helping hand and a laugh. A complete surprise came at the end of the session, in the usual partaking of cake and tea/coffee (for those so inclined), when the CEO presented me with a certificate for having accomplished 5 FIFO operating sessions on the BDR! I look forward to the next opportunity to run some more trains on the BDR and will sign off with another image of my final working of the session, as an AN BL “brick” brings a westbound Jet into the loop at Coonara for a meet … runners are that the scenery may even start to spend to this side of the layout soon.


September 2016 operating session

The most recent operating session on the Border District saw a crew of four in attendance, the four most “experienced” operators on the District – Mark, Iain, Brendan and myself. The session saw the debut of the “new” timetable, after some great discussions and input following the August session, which reduced the number of trains and increased the time to allow a more “immersive” approach to operations. The revisions also make it far easier to accommodate the fluctuating number of operators between sessions, with anywhere from three to eight operator “roles” being able to be accommodated with no change to operating session paperwork – a significant “improvement”. The session certainly had a relaxed and fun feel. Thanks to Mark for again taking some snaps – credit all images in this blog post to him!


An example of the “immersive” operations can be illustrated by looking into the image above. Here, VR B85 arrived at Tatiara Downs with VR TN 25 down passenger working. The B class left its train in the platform road and headed to the loco for refuelling. While this was taking place, the Tatiara Downs yard pilot reversed the wooden CE passenger brake van to the other end of the short consist, ready for departure. This was done by a VR Y class, the Tatiara Downs shunt engine for the afternoon. The above image is taken at the completion of this sequence, with B85 heading out of the yard to reverse back onto its train – VR TN 34 passenger service to Melbourne. However, before getting underway the train will await the arrival of SAR TN 281 passenger service from Adelaide, which forms a connection for those brave souls wanting to undertake a daytime trip from Adelaide to Melbourne.

A “highlight” of the session was the manner in which workings and operations were interwoven … ably assisted by the approach of those operators present. Points were reset to the main and signals reset to danger by operators. As already mentioned, the feel was certainly relaxed. That said, it is interesting to note that a fast clock with a 4:1 ratio was also running and operators had little difficulty maintaining the “schedule”. Indeed, the session finished 15 actual minutes/1 hour scale time ahead of that planned! However, the session is in no way governed by the fast clock – a “sequence” approach is taken so that operators, experienced or less so, never feel under the pump.


Above, T335 can be seen shuffling wagons around Nankiva yard … a fictional medium sized township in far western Victoria. The flattop T had earlier arrived on VR TN 29 goods, with cement, oil and pole loading for various industries and distribution points – and empty vans for loading vegetables. The T will work back east on VR TN 18 goods, with vans of produce loaded for the markets in Melbourne, as well as empty oil and cement pots. Shunting Nankiva can be fun, but also challenging – with two single slips often forming a trap for young (and not so young) players!

As mentioned previously, the “new” timetable and approach to operation allows for variety in both the number of operators and roles they undertake. For the September session, Brendan maintained his role and standing as the “King” of Tatiara Downs, undertaking both the Station Master and Head Shunter roles there. Mark took the main VR crew role, working a range of Victorian trains – passenger and freight. Iain did the same as the main SAR crew, again with a range of goods and passenger workings, mostly heading down and back on the Jameston branch. I took a combined VR and SAR crews role, as well as playing Train Controller too.


In the image above, a teacup B sits well out of period for the alleged 1976 period of the layout! Resplendent in orange and silver, B83 is at the head of VR TN 880 fast goods, which on this day also includes loading from the cancelled VR TN 18 roadside goods. This little “wrinkle” reduced the number of trains, but also added to the operational interest of the session. The B can be seen in the loop at Nankiva as a westbound “Jet” goods barrels past on the main line.

Operating sessions … and model railways … are first and foremost about people – the September session again reinforcing this fact very strongly. A big, big shout out to Mark, Iain and Brendan, for their continuing efforts and understandings that assist in bringing the Border District alive each month. However, it isn’t all serious business all the time … and there were (more than) a few laughs as well at the previous session.

One such “running joke” on the Border District is the naming of unfavourable practices after operators that are regular offenders of such. As of the most recent session, it seems we have at least four of these nutted out/covered:

A “Craig” – forgetting to take your train cards with you.

A “Mark” – failing to read (FULLY read) the instructions/directions.

An “Anthony” – incorrectly routing trains, particularly after declaring to all and sundry that the road IS set correctly (some Train Controller he is …)

A “Brendan” – believing there to be more track available than there actually is.

Can you guess who might then be responsible for the image below?