July 2017 operating session … in a little more detail

VR TN 25 at TAT

Above: VR TN 25 – often referred to as the “Peanut” – has arrived at its ultimate destination of Tatiara Downs, receiving a waved greeting from the Station Master. Once the handful of passengers have disembarked and the few parcels have been unloaded, the driver will head to the other end of the Walkers railcar and work back east. Image with thanks to Mark.

The July 2017 operating session on the Border District saw a crew of six in attendance to attempt a revised “PM” (16:00 to 02:00) timetable. The session, which was the 28th since regular monthly workings commenced, saw a number of firsts for the “District”. One of the most notable of these was the use of five operators/road crews, with Darren and Iain taking on the two South Australian Railways crew positions and Brendan, Mark and Craig tackling the three Victorian Railways crew jobs. This left the combined Train Control and Tatiara Downs Station Master/Head Shunter role to fall to yours truly.

The use of five crews received generally favourable reviews, and will certainly be trialled again. The increased number of “crosses” between trains helped to slow things down a bit in terms of operation – one of the intended goals, particularly with an increased focus on operations being more “immersive” and closer to the prototype. The combined Train Control and Tatiara Downs role proved a little challenging at times, but was also a great learning experience. That said, crews did an awesome job of providing support, as well as setting signals and points for each other (under TC instruction) and returning things back to “protect” once trains had passed.

Below VR TN 34 – the return working of VR TN 25 in the above image – can be seen passing through wheat country in western Victoria. This picture really does help highlight the difference that painted track, ballast, basic scenery and a photo backdrop (in the case just a photo, well placed!) can make to a layout – image thanks again to Mark.

VR TN 34 at NAN

TAT loco

Above: Victorian Railways T357 shares the loco facilities at Tatiara Downs with SAR railcar 255 “Curlew”. The single Bluebird has just worked SAR TN 281/282 and will be stowed overnight, while the T is refueling ahead of working VR TN 4 quarry train to Southern Aggregates for loading and then on to Geelong. Image thanks to Mark.

Another first was the use of “Working Descriptions” at the commencement of the session – another element in the “immersive operations” focus. At the risk of providing more/too much paperwork, these were a simple A5 sheet for each operator designed to set the scene in terms of their trains for the afternoon. The intent was to give a little background, as well as the “why” for each working – particularly as all trains  borrow heavily or replicate completely ones from the prototype. Generally, the “Working Descriptions” were well received and I look forward to developing this concept further.

Two of the most enjoyable firsts happened about Border Junction – the smallest station on the “District” – and both will probably score their own blog post in the weeks leading up to the next session. The first involved all five crews and their trains being at or about Border Junction (no, not “Flinders Street” – though it did seem a little like it!) at the same time (meaning all five operators were also in the one “well” at the one time, with me left on my own in the other … ah, the serenity …). The second involved the inaugural and unintended running of the Stonie without the need  to head down the branch to reverse the loco and van – the first known “pull-push” operation on the Border District!

Below: X33 works through Border Junction – and the fairly simple station facilities – at the head of VR TN 313 Fast (note: not “patient”, despite what some might think, speak or write …) Goods, bound for Tatiara Downs. Image with thanks to Brendan.

VR TN 313 at BJN

VR TN 11 at NAN

Above: S311 and S306 sit in the loop at Nankiva, waiting for passage of an eastbound Jet Goods, before continuing to Tatiara Downs. This working – VR TN 11, locos with van attached (BONA) – positions the motive power for the “Overland” to Melbourne (see picture below). Image with thanks to Brendan – capturing a great vantage point from the platform/backdrop side of the station.

There were a couple of “oops” for the session, as is sometimes/often the case – regular operating sessions being good for promoting “incremental improvements”! The first of these were a few errors in a some of the sequence cards – a result of “rushing” the paperwork for five operators. A big apology goes to Iain, who managed to score a sequence card that, while titled for his train, contained absolutely no other relevant information! The other “oops” was a little more worrying – some sub-standard running qualities of a couple of locos and a number of wagons, with engine stalls and wheels off being experienced more frequently than usual. Time to check wheels, track and pickups even more closely, me thinks – as “trouble free running” is usually (and desirably) the experience for a session on the “District”.

Of course, “oops” weren’t just limited to the host. With such an enjoyable afternoon, it was hard to know where to begin – so I thought it best to start by assembling a possible “greatest hits” compilation across all operators. Darren – deciding a platform shunt/time for passenger loading of the SAR overnight passenger service was unnecessary, instead departing directly from the carriage siding. Iain – performing the only acknowledged “Craig” of the afternoon (surely, why bother – it is only a single card for a railcar?!). Brendan – stretching his legs beyond Tatiara Downs for the first time in a long time, only to find himself at the mercy of Train Control and so retaliating by defacing the lovingly and painstakingly created sequence cards with humorous/smart comments. Mark – enjoying both the wearing of suitable night clothes and the inaugural “VR bogie hoppers shunt” at Southern Aggregates (I guess you need to be in pyjamas to tie yourself in that many knots?). Craig – relishing the chance to run not one but two wheaties – both needing to be fully loaded – and realising that ten hoppers was two too many to be able to run around. So men – how did I do? Feel free to offer up your opinions, responses and retorts through the comments section …

Gentle ribbing/public shaming aside, the session was again another very enjoyable one – it is maybe interesting to note that the five operators present are the five most frequent/regular ones and have the most “sessions” on the Border District under their collective belts. The session certainly again reinforced that good friends and good crews are the recipe that make for good operating sessions – thanks gentlemen!

Below: S306 and S311 – travelling at speed – stretch VR TN 834 “Overland” through the curve and into Nankiva, bound for Melbourne. Delays on the South Australian side of the border have once again seen this train run late (often referred to as the “Overdue”) – but the train cuts a classic figure, regardless of how late it might be running! Image thanks to Brendan.

VR TN 834 at NAN

A busy moment …

walkers in dock

… in the dock platform at the Tatiara Downs railway station (yes, a little imagination needed to see beyond the MDF!). In the foreground and front of image is the recently arrived Victorian Railways 153HP Walkers railmotor – chartered by a group of “ner-do-well” model railway inclined folk … hmmm?! Behind this is a bigger sister – a VR 280HP Walkers – which will work the “regular” railmotor from the ‘Downs to Portland in the afternoon. Furthest along the dock road and in the distance is a South Australian Railways CD van, which will head to Adelaide later on as part of the consist of SAR Train Number 166 – the overnight “South East Mixed”. Good times …