June 2017 operating session (part 2 … slightly more serious)


Above: The quiet scene outside the Southern Dairy at Jameston, with the boss having arrived to check on the day’s progress. Credit goes to Mark for capturing this great image – as well as all other pictures in this blog post.

As mentioned in the previous post, the June operating session saw the second highest number of operators – seven – attending since regular operations commenced on the Border District. NSW modellers Darren and Craig – both NSW modellers (we try hard not to hold that against them … most of the time) and friends since way back in the Beenleigh Model Railway Club days (remember those?!) took on the two South Australian crew roles and did a great job. Two Victorian ex-pats and modellers – Mark (long, long, LONG time friend of the Border District …  and many incarnations previous!) and Jeff (in only his second appearance about the Border, but fast proving to be a valuable team member … even if he does support the Tigers!) somewhat fittingly took on the Victorian Railways crew gigs and also excelled. Iain – the only “purely” SAR modeller in the group and current holder of the “most sessions on the Border District” mantle – tackled the head shunter role at Tatiara Downs and further developed and his increased “local knowledge”. Brendan, the acclaimed “sheriff” of Tatiara Downs (and also a former NSW modeller who is “making good” as a VR modeller!) again cooly and calmly coordinated efforts through the “Downs” for the afternoon – leaving me to generally potter about as Train Control. My sincere thanks to this crew … operations are often about “incremental improvements” and the most recent session stands out to me as one of the best – if not the best (yes, big call!) – yet … even in spite of some of the shenanigans noted in the last post!

Below: The crew of Victorian Railways Train Number (VR TN) 102 goods have arrived at the loading facility at Southern Aggregates and after a little clever shunting (note the Z van on the other siding to the right of the picture), positioned the first two open wagons for loading from the “old” timber side loader (left of scene).

Southern Aggregates action

Railmotors at TAT

Above: A study of two railcars … a Victorian Railways’ 153 horsepower Walkers railmotor and South Australian Railways’ 250 class “Bluebird” share the sidings at Tatiara Downs, ahead of workings later in the session. The Walkers is a Trainbuilder product (a nod to Bruce Harrison), while the Bluebird has come to the district with thanks to the very talented Peter Carter. Our photographer has scaled the decommissioned coal stage to score this vantage point …

So why do I rate the most recent session as the best? Even with a short circuiting whitemetal axlebox/wheelset combination that interrupted proceedings for over five minutes, confounding most of us until Brendan identified the issue? As always, I think it is the result of a number of factors combining – the first being a timetable/sequence that had been tried, tested, tweaked and touched up – to the point that nearly all movements had been reviewed and refined, benefitting from previous experiences. The second was the understanding and approach of all crew members (minor lapses aside …) – taking either knowledge of the prototype, knowledge of the layout or both and combining these, while also working very well together. Testament to this is was that all trains – twenty-eight movements in total – were completed in the allocated time. This is actually possibly the “earliest” finish to a session yet and allowed for an even more relaxed feel without too much “rush”, as well as refreshments and a debrief afterwards. The third – and most important – was the sense of “fun” … operating sessions are there primarily to be enjoyed!

Below: And even more railcars! A Walkers 280 horsepower railmotor pauses at Nankiva (I know, the station name board seems to say “Terang” – but I can assure you this IS Nankiva!) for a short passenger stop. In the foreground, VR TN 81 goods has terminated and is going about shunting … including a load of poles for the SEC siding.

Walkers at NAN

A busy NAN

Above: A busy few moments at Nankiva! VR TN 17 goods for Mount Gambier has arrived in Road 1 (left of scene), ahead of picking up a louvre van from the goods shed before continuing west. Adding a layer of complexity to this seemingly simple task is the presence of VR TN P2 grain, currently loading at the silo to the right of the image.

I believe another significant contributor to the overall positive operating experience is the increased and enhanced reliability of systems within the layout. Two of the biggest “wants” for my sessions … and layout … were an operating signal system as close to the prototype as possible, and the use of the ABLO car card system to govern the movements of wagons and loadings. The latter of these is now well established and widely understood by the crew,  supplemented by a range of operational aides that, for the most part, assist (well, they can do when you read and use them completely …). The former has been improved with big thanks to Brendan, who as well as being the “sheriff” has also taken on the role of “chief signalling officer” on the Border District – recently overseeing a complete rebuild and restructure of everything “below the baseboard” for the signals at Tatiara Downs. The result? Correct, reliable, bright and easily identifiable coloured lights for all signals – as well as interlocking between arrival and departure signals … AND points! As an aside and added bonus – Brendan’s wiring is “military grade” and has put my previous efforts – more “bird’s nest” – completely to shame!

Below: Nearly done … late in the session and having loaded a string of “goofies” (Victorian Railways’ GJF bogie grain hoppers), the classic lines of the VR B class diesel are clearly on show as B75 lifts a loaded wheat train away from Nankiva, headed for Portland and export.

Wheatie leaves NAN

June 2017 operating session (not too serious …)

The gang at TD

The June 2017 operating session on the Border District saw one of the biggest crews, numbering “lucky” seven, in attendance in the two and a half years since commencing regular operations. Back in August 2016 the layout recorded its biggest crew size of eight operators, and there has only been one other time the layout saw a “magnificent seven” – over a year ago in March of 2016. The seven crew members brought together a mix of new and experience … as well as “regular” and “been away a while” … to the session, making for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon as the “AM” timetable was again given a decent shake.

With a goodly amount of operators, all four driving roles were easily filled – Darren and Craig as SAR Crews 1 and 2 respectively and Jeff and Mark taking on the VR Crew 1 and 2 roles respectively. Iain took on the Head Shunter’s gig at Tatiara Downs, while Brendan assumed the position of Station master/Sheriff at Tatiara Downs after a late arrival. I started at TD, but then moved to generally floating about, changing a few points and signals, and neglecting to take any pictures at all (a role often referred to as Train Control). Thanks to those operators that did go a little “gunzel” and allow this blog post to be more than just rambling words …

TD empty at end

The  number of operators allowed the recently revised session timetable to easily be fulfilled – in the near allocated time too (though “sequence” is favoured over “timetable” for our sessions). This may or may not have been assisted by certain members often ignoring both the signals and the need to communicate with Train Control. In fact and with this aside, it could probably be argued that the session was one of the best yet – not withstanding the disruption caused by a Y wagon with a short circuiting issue between wheels and whitemetal solebars that took some time and multiple heads to identify, diagnose and rectify!

Also popular in the session was the constant desire of operators to test and challenge the length and limits of sidings and headshunts (often done so under the somewhat terrible influence of the host … he is a very, very bad man), resulting in the hilarious renaming of some to “Cliff”, “Edge” and other such titles … as well as far too many bad puns on the matter too and plenty of gentle, continual ribbing. In another stroke of irony, not a single operator performed a “Craig” manoeuvre (leaving your train cards behind) – a fitting return and tribute to the man who was last at the ‘District in January. Thanks also to Craig for a few detail “gifts” for the layout, which might just appear in future blog posts …

Iain at TD

However, the “play of the day” without doubt goes to esteemed comedy double act of Iain and Brendan … who not only managed to not attached a take out van to the roadside goods for Adelaide, but then decided to sneak it, 0-5-0 style, into the staging yard … only to attach it to the Mount Gambier goods by mistake! An advertisement for both the Station Master and Head Shunter positions at Tatiara Downs is imminent – such is the level of their behaviour and clearly demonstrating that you really cannot get good help these days! I further look forward to addressing this matter in the “Weekly Notices” for the next session.

Hopefully, a subsequent blog post will allow for some of the great pictures taken from the session (not by me!) to be displayed … with a focus a little more on “trains” than “trials”. A very big thank you and nod of appreciation to the six operators that joined me on the Border District and helped make the June session one of the best and most memorable – for all the right reasons, as well as some of the wrong ones. On such a note, how could I not end this post without the inclusion of the following image …


May 2017 operating session (Part 4 – Tatiara Downs images)

TAT 905

The fourth and final instalment of images from the May 2017 operating session on the Border District are from the largest station and location on the layout – Tatiara Downs. The ‘Downs, or TD as it is more commonly known, is the interchange point for the South Australian Railways and the Victorian Railways. The main inspiration for Tatiara Downs is Mount Gambier, but elements of and influence from Serviceton, Wolseley and Bordertown are also present.

Above, ‘mustard pot’ Alco 858 can be seen leading the morning school train – SAR Train Number 905A – out of the dock platform at Tatiara Downs and headed for Jameston. This train is, in part, a continuation of the Overnight passenger service (SAR TN 905) from Adelaide – which can still be seen in the distance sitting in the platform road. The lead vehicle behind 858 – a DS louvre van – has been transferred from 905 and will be shunted to the goods shed at Jameston upon arrival there.

In the image below, the loco area at Tatiara Downs appears quieter than usual! The big 900 class diesel has shunted the carriages from SAR TN 905 to the carriage siding, while B67 waits to work VR TN 90 back to Melbourne later in the session. Under the “not often used” coal stage, the single Bluebird railcar to work SAR TN 541/542 waits patiently, while further back an SAR 930 Alco can also be spotted.

TAT loco 1

TAT full

A busy time at TD! In the image above, there is plenty happening at Tatiara Downs. The Bluebird seen under the coal stage in the previous image has been shunted to the platform, ahead of working SAR TNs 541 and 542. Further back, in the dock platform, a VR Walkers 280 HP railmotor has just worked the morning service from Portland. In the foreground resident TD shunter, Alco 836, goes about making up VR TN 90 goods … and also has an eye on SAR TN 514 goods too, required a little later in the session.

Below, one of the last of the 930 class locos delivered to the SAR, 965, can be seen lifting SAR TN 6 Melbourne to Mount Gambier goods away from Tatiara Downs and onto South Australian metals. The DWf van immediately behind the loco was picked up from the goods shed at Tatiara Downs, while the next van in the consist (a VR bogie UB van) was collected from Nankiva. A mainline VR loco worked the train (then known as VR TN 7) into TD, before handing over to the Alco seen here. 965 will take the train on to Kybybolite and eventually the Mount …