January 2017 operating session

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The January operating session on the Border District saw a crew of six in attendance to kick off the 2017 schedule. The “am” timetable was undertaken, with less trains and a greater focus on “immersive operations” being employed. Roles for the rather warm afternoon were (also from right to left in the above image): Craig – VR crew 1, Geoff – Shunter at Tatiara Downs, Brendan – Station Master/Sheriff at Tatiara Downs, Darren – SAR crew 2, Iain – SAR crew 1. Out of shot (possibly because he was holding the camera/phone) is myself, with the combined VR crew 2 and Train Control role.

Below, VR Train Number (TN) 89 roadside goods can be seen, with Y169 at the head of the train in the distance, centre of image departing Edenhope for Nankiva and Tatiara Downs. The staging area on the Border District is both “open” and “through” – representing the rest of VR system/all points east (Edenhope) and the rest of the SAR system/all points west (Kybybolite). Craig is at the controls of his first working, this being very early in the session, further evidenced by the large number of “staged” trains ready and waiting their turn!

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The image above, courtesy of Brendan, captures the usual goings on that typify an operating session on the “District”. From right to left … Iain is at Jameston, sorting his cards for “set outs” and “pick ups”, while Geoff is at Tatiara Downs, breaking and making up trains and shunting wagons. In the other aisle, Darren is charge of a Jet goods and is arriving at Nankiva (hidden behind the backscene), while Craig is at Edenhope/Kybybolite, picking up his train card for his next working. In the foreground, the first “mock up” for the Tatiara District Milling Company” complex can be seen … hopefully to be further progressed this year.

The session was both productive – in terms of showing that the changes/simplifications to trains and workings were successful – and also enjoyable, with the crew focussed on their roles but also up for a bit of banter. With the increased focus on “slowing down and immersing” in operations, greater attention was paid to shunting and blocking trains. Crews also worked hard to ensure points and signals were returned to “protect”, though for some this may be an area for future improvement. Below, the one train from the session that has no shunting (other than a loco change at Tatiara Downs) – the “Overland” overnight passenger from Melbourne to Adelaide – can be seen speeding into Nankiva with double S class locos at the head.

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Also provided courtesy of Brendan, the above image zooms in a little closer to the action at Tatiara Downs – both in terms of trains and operators. VR Train Number 339 has arrived at the platform and the single third series X class power is being cut off. Just under Geoff’s arm is a pair of SAR 930s ready to take over, with this train then becoming SAR Train Number 338. While this exchange goes on, Geoff continues to break up and make up trains for points both east and west. Across the aisle, Iain is working the SAR branch at Jameston.

The session did see a few “issues” – a couple of derailments that were a result of operator error or poorly maintained/positioned rollingstock – but it was great that the focus was more about the operations. The signal system worked without failure, with a big thanks to Brendan for some behind the scenes support which will also result in a rolling upgrade program to the entire signalling and interlocking systems on the layout. The image below shows the “through” staging yard concept mentioned earlier to better effect. There are eight through roads that are able to be accessed from either end, and a further ten stub ended roads (six easily accessed by VR trains and four easily accessed by SAR trains). VR Train Number 846 Jet goods can be seen (top left of picture) sneaking into Road 6 and its final destination.

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Above, more “operator action” can be seen, with the Sheriff laying down the law at Tatiara Downs and his Deputy dutifully taking note! There is plenty for the team at Tatiara Downs to look after – with terminating and originating trains on both the VR and SAR to look after, as well as through trains dropping off and picking up wagons. Additionally, inter system main line trains swap power at Tatiara Downs, so there is rarely a quiet moment! Across the aisle from Tatiara Downs is Jameston, with the addition of a number of structures in 2016 further enhancing the shunting experience there.

Again, my thanks to the January crew for their attendance and ongoing contribution to the Border District! Below, one of the last workings from the session – the railmotor replacement service, VR Train Number 28 from Tatiara Downs to Portland – can be seen arriving at Border Junction. In the background is the substantial rail served industry of Southern Aggregates, while in the foreground is the train’s eventual destination on the layout – Edenhope.

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Another Northern operating session …

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Above: Alco power – a 442 and 44 – combine to lift Train Number 15 (the down northern paper train) through the Cougal Spiral, bound for Brisbane. The scene above was taken at the most recent operating session on Craig’s “Cassino” layout. Some recent superelevation of track is evident in this image …

While the holidays have seen limited progress on the Border District … I’m blaming a combination of hot and humid weather, limited inclination and a fairly significant tidy up of the layout room (more so the storage underneath) … I did manage to make it to one of two operating sessions held between Christmas and New Year on Craig’s layout, the triple decked extravaganza that is “Cassino”!

Craig offered two sessions, which was pretty generous and convenient given the usual family and other commitments that this time of the year can bring. While I missed the “day after Boxing Day” run, I did manage to make it to the session held on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Five other operators and the host meant crew size was a “lucky seven”.

Below: Another Alco (it is the NSWR) – another 44 (there were 100 of them!) – heads one of the first trains I ran in the session – Train Number 50 up empty oil. This train included a number of interesting shunts along the way – and also included a recently received SDS Models “GS” gas tanker. I really like this bridge scene – just south of Casino.

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Above: A 48 heads a short loaded stock train from Kyogle, headed south for the markets no doubt. It can be seen here passing through the Nammoona Ballast Siding, where the impact that photo backdrops can bring – in particular in adding depth to a scene – is on show. The white foam at the front and back of the Alco isn’t snow as a nod to the season – nor was the 48 a Christmas present hurriedly added to the layout – I think 4894 has been so adorned every session I have attended!

Seven operators meant six drivers, with Arthur very quickly “assuming the position” as North Coast Train Control. As is the case with any session I have attended, Arthur more than rose to the task … even when the radios gave out about two thirds of the way through the session, meaning everyone resorted to shouting at him to seek authority to keep moving!

The timetable for the session offered the second twelve hour trick on the North Coast – and combined with the other session, this meant running a full 24 hours worth of trains over “Cassino” across the two days. While a fast clock was in use, it was rarely referred to, as the number of drivers meant that both trains and times could be “way out”. Despite this, all involved enjoyed themselves and all operations were completed well ahead of the scheduled end time for the session!

Below: A scene that helps give an indication of the scale of Craig’s layout – Train Number 17 (down container train from Sydney) has taken the loop at Glenapp, awaiting a cross with the southbound Brisbane Limited (NL2) – which may or may not be a tad on the late side, on account of rollingstock issues! On the lower deck is the same bridge from the second image on this blogpost. Out of shot, Clapham yard sits above Glenapp on the third level … wow!

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Above: The host and owner of “Cassino” – Mr Mackie himself! The hospitality – cold water and beers in particular – was certainly appreciated, with the mercury hovering above 37 degrees for the better part of the afternoon. Of course, Craig looks after his crew and the shed was cool and pleasant, with thanks to the air conditioning being cranked for the session.

Craig has made some clear progress adding some scenic elements since my last visit – but in his own estimations, there are at least another ten years of work ahead on “Cassino” in this department! Thanks again Craig – trips to “Cassino” are always enjoyable adventures where you really can be immersed in driving a train a significant distance … contrasting completely with operations on my positively diminutive layout (by comparison)!

As well, the session made for a great way to see out 2016. To read more detailed accounts of this session, view more pictures and get a sense of just how much “fun” running trains on a big layout can be, you can head to both Craig’s blog and Shelton’s blog

Below: Topping and tailing this post – another view of Train Number 15 – this time passing through Border Loop. Unfortunately, the train has obscured the view of some of Craig’s recent scenicking efforts – including a fettlers’ camp and associated paraphernalia. 

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