September 2017 operating session

SAR 147 at BJN

The September operating session – the seventh session on the Border District for 2017 – saw a crew of five in attendance. Given a few other events on that day/weekend, the smaller crew size brought about a “milestone” in the twenty-nine operating sessions on the ‘District to date – the first to be composed entirely of Victorian Railways modellers (someone present may have claimed a slight interest in NSWR, but that was swiftly quashed!). The reduced number of operators also gave a chance to put the revised “flexible operations/number of operators” plan into action. Mark and Brendan headed “over the border” to take on SAR crews roles 1 and 2 respectively, while Jeff and Shelton stayed true to the Victorian Railways, taking on VR crews jobs 1 and 2. I manned Tatiara Downs, as well as occasionally “pretending” to be Train Control too.

The session was both enjoyable and successful – due in large part to the approach and attitude of the operators on the day – thank you gentlemen! Jeff excelled in the “VR 1 crew” role – so much so that he was even able to be thrown an extra working (from the not used “VR 3 crew” list) to slow him down! Shelton also had no issues with the “VR 2 crew” job, despite it being his first time on the Border District in ten months! Brendan and Mark made the SAR side of things and Jameston branch their own – and were so relaxed undertaking their tasks/trains that there was plenty of time for going beyond mere “gunzel” shots to grab some interesting images (credit the two in this post to Mark).

There were only two “downers” for the session – and both were of my own making. For the up SAR “Paper Jet”, I had neglected to turn the waybills in the card cards for collection from Jameston prior to the session kicking off – an error quickly spotted and righted by Mark. Secondly, there were a few cases of sequence cards containing incorrect information that had crews scratching their heads for a bit – Shelton, Jeff and Brendan all enjoying this “treat”. It would appear that the CEO is a little too fond of the “cut and paste” function and needs to read (an re-read) sequence cards a little more closely! These issues aside, the flexible approach to operator numbers, built into both the timetable and sequence, worked as intended.

Another benefit from such an enjoyable and relaxed session is the bounty of images provided to me afterwards (a good thing, given I managed to again not record a single shot) – so there could be a few “photo posts” upcoming in the blog with images from the September session. The two here are simply to whet the appetite – the lead image sees 956 bring SAR Train Number 147 Jameston Goods to a stand at Border Junction, ahead of  the guard unloading “take outs” from the DWf van immediately inside the Goods Brake. The image below is also taken at Border Junction and captures a meeting of classic English Electrics. In the foreground, 909 on SAR Train Number 166 up “South East Overnight” passenger heads off the branch and towards Tatiara Downs, as 907 (background) continues to shunt at “Southern Aggregates” with SAR Train Numbers 583/584, the afternoon “Stonie” working.

900s at BJN


No August operating session … but operations elsewhere and a little more from July

SAR TN 583 at BJN

Due to a combination of factors, the decision was made that there would be no operating session held on the Border District in August. However, I still managed plenty of model railway “operations” during the month. This began with helping out a couple of friends at the Strathpine Model Railway Show (organised by the Railway Modellers’ Club of Queensland … or “RMCQ”). Keith Trueman exhibited his “Lesney Park” (EM gauge, British Railways) layout for the second time, and Aaron Simpson debuted his “Yarradale” (H0 scale, Victorian Railways) layout, based on the Yarra Valley. While the location is freelanced, Aaron’s layout simply oozes VR branch line goodness and captures the feel of the intended location very well. It was great to be able to provide a little assistance (well, before the flu hit me …) and see two members of the “Victorian Railways Modelling Group Queensland” exhibiting layouts side by side!

Also in August, I had the chance to join another operating session on Duncan Cabassi’s N scale “UP/BNSF Joint Division” empire. This again provide both lots of fun and lots of learning. Duncan has a great crew and I have enjoyed getting to meet and chat with a number of other modellers. The month of operations away from the Border District was to be rounded out with a session on Craig Mackie’s NSW “Cassino” layout, but at the last minute Craig fell victim to one of the many nasty flu strains going about in these parts of late. Get well soon Craig!

In reflecting on these opportunities and experiences in operations, I realised that while I had talked about how “stacked” we managed to make Border Junction in a previous post, I hadn’t yet blogged about the second “interesting” event at Border Junction that occurred during the July operating session … so here goes! In the lead image above, all looks pretty straight forward and normal at “Southern Aggregates”, with South Australian Railways Train Number 583 empty limestone train (known as the “Stonie”) being shunted for loading by 907. This task is slightly challenging, as the rake of nine hoppers are only able to be loaded three at a time.

SAR TN 584 at BJN 3

However, once this task was completed, the crew of the now loaded “Stonie”(South Australian Railways Train Number 583A) encountered a problem. The Train Controller, who also happened to be undertaking the roles of Station Master and Head Shunter at Tatiara Downs, had in his infinite wisdom mistakenly let the empty “Paper Jet” head down the branch to Jameston. The “Paper Jet” (SAR TN 185/186) is both a big train and a priority working – and it consumes most of the available trackage at Jameston to do its work. As such, there was no way the loaded “Stonie” could also head down the branch to reverse the engine and goods brake, as is the usual operating practice.

The solution? Firstly, the decision was made to bring the loaded “Stonie” back to Tatiara Downs and so avoid any conflict with the “Paper Jet” further down the branch. Effectively, the SAR TN 583A working was cancelled. However, the arrangement of track, sidings and points at “Southern Aggregates” means that a loaded train is facing the wrong direction … and the Train Controller wasn’t going to allow a 4000 tonne train to be pushed backwards! So an SAR 700 Alco diesel was dispatched from Tatiara Downs loco depot (having previously worked a Jet Goods in from Adelaide) to pilot/pull the “Stonie” (now SAR TN 584) back to Tatiara Downs – which would then allow the original train engine to be moved to the correct end of the consist to continue west.

The image above captures the beginnings of this move from the rear, with the 900 class diesel in the foreground facing the wrong way and “pushing” the train backwards. Keen eyes might just be able to make out the 700 class diesel at the other end (just to the left of the main line signal post and below the red marker light). Below is the same train but viewed from the other (“pulling”) end, with the 700 Alco belching black smoke as only Alcos can (yes, a little imagination needed …). Hmmm, two photos taken at the same time in different locations? There must have been a few gunzels about that had heard of this unusual “pull-push” working – a first on the Border District. A big thanks to Brendan for the cracking images, and also to the crews involved in problem solving and coordinating this interesting move.

SAR TN 584 at BJN 1

… oh, the carnage …

Chaos at BJN

As mentioned in the previous blog post, the July session on the Border District brought about some interesting occurrences, with the most significant located at or around the smallest station on the layout, Border Junction. The above images speaks a little to one of these – the “Flinders Street Station” like traffic levels experienced through “the Junction” at one point! Please ignore the foreground and right hand side of the picture – which always looks busy as it is the area which contains the “through staging” yards of Kybybolite (SAR/West) and Edenhope (VR/East).

Our real interest above is to the left hand side and then centre(ish) of the image – with SAR Train Number 148 Goods loading and unloading “take outs” at the platform (though it appears the DWf performing the role of “take out” van might not have been marshalled inside the Guard’s Brake, as required …). Normal enough you say? Well then look further down the line behind TN 148 … and you might just be able to make out an 830 Alco at the head of SAR Train Number 134 Extra Empty Super, holding at the outer home. You want more? Next to SAR TN 134 and again in the distance, but now on the VR main line, VR Train Number P4 Loaded Grain can be seen, ex-Tatiara Downs and having just passed through Border Junction. And for even more … also present but out of image (further to the left) is VR Train Number 4 Quarry Goods, loading JQF hoppers at the facility at Southern Aggregates.

For those good at maths … yes, that is four trains in or around Border Junction at the one time – easily a record. Add to this the fact that when the above picture was taken, the fifth operator/train was shunting Nankiva (just to the right of the image – around the curve VR TN P6 is heading) and so placing all five operators in the same operating “pit” at the same time. This is not necessarily unusual, but something which normally happens on the other side of the layout! Perhaps this was all part of a nefarious scheme to keep the other operating pit clear and free for myself? Hmmm … regardless, the ensuing “carnage” made for some fun moments – thanks to Brendan for capturing the image!

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 …

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