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 …


May 2017 operating session (Part 3 – Jameston images)

JAM 263

Moving back over the border and into South Australia, the third set of images from the most recent operating session on the Border District are all from the branch line terminus location of Jameston. Inspiration here is drawn from a combination of the actual towns of Millicent and Kingston in the south east, as well as Jamestown in the north of the state.

Jameston’s biggest “reason for being” is the Apcel Paper Mill, located at the western end of the town (and taking cues from the actual location of Snuggery). Above, one of two trains that work the mill each weekday – South Australian Railways Train Number 263 Goods (returning as SAR TN 264 Goods) – can be seen shunting out empty Victorian Railways’ open wagons and replacing them with ones loaded with briquettes (used as source of fuel to power the mill). The working also includes swapping empty louvre vans for ones loaded with toilet paper and other paper products. SAR TN 264 Goods will hand over the empty briquette opens and loaded paper vans at Tatiara Downs. From here, they will be worked back to Melbourne on Victorian Railways TN 90 Goods.

JAM station

Facing the opposite way to the lead image but taken not long after, the station, yard and other industries at Jameston can be seen in the above picture. The orange workers’ sleeper in the centre of the image is being worked backed on SAR TN 264 Goods “inside” the Goods Brake – not surprisingly provided today by the ubiquitous 8300 van. Iain has already collected the sleeping van from the carriage siding and is clearly paying equal attention to both breaking up SAR TN 263 Goods and making up SAR TN 264 Goods.

Below, it is action a plenty at Jameston, with not one but two trains … yes, this doesn’t happen that often! A single Bluebird railcar (255 – “Curlew” – with thanks to the amazing Peter Carter!) is working SAR TN 541 Passenger service as it arrives at Jameston, while English Electric 907 waits at the head of the loaded SAR TN 582 Stonie for Osborne/Port Adelaide. The handful of passengers on the Bluebird will endure the ground level platform and dual gauge tracks here, before the railcar works back to Tatiara Downs and Naracoorte as SAR TN 542 Passenger. Upon arrival at Naracoorte, the single 250 railcar will join with the 250 railcar and 100 trailer combination from Mount Gambier, before continuing to Adelaide. It would appear that the photographer hasn’t been as quick on the shutter as he would have liked, with there being no “gap” between the Bluebird and 900 …

JAM 542

May 2017 operating session (Part 2 – Nankiva images)

NAN 89 and 241

After focussing on images captured around Border Junction in the first blog post from the May 2017 session, we now head “over the border” to Victoria and the small but important rail served town of Nankiva.

In the image above, Jeff has brought his first ever working on the Border District – Victorian Railways Train Number 89 Goods – to a stand in the loop at Nankiva. Not too long after having had the B class bring this train to a halt, double S class diesels can be seen barreling through on the mainline at the head of the Overland (VR Train Number 241), Adelaide bound. Once the crack overnight express has passed, Jeff can go about shunting here (drop off one, pick up one) before also continuing westwards …

NAN 12

Seen above a little later in the session, the two S class diesels have been captured on film again, but this time working VR Train Number 12 BONA (light engines and van) back eastwards. It is 1976 and the VR are very, very frugal with their motive power – long layovers at far flung locations were not on! This working replicates the prototype, where the locomotives from the westbound Overland would often work as light engines back to Dimboola to haul the next morning’s eastbound passenger service to Melbourne. The Ss in the images below have a “green over red” clear normal speed indication on the departure signal as they leave Nankiva, heading towards Edenhope.

NAN 339

Above, on the eastern outskirts of Nankiva, newish VR power in the form of X45 can be seen bringing VR Train Number 339 Jet Goods upgrade and under the signal gantry (the work of Nick Lapthorne – thanks Nick!) with a decent load in tow. Usually, VR TN 339 would cross the previously depicted VR TN 12 light engines and van working here … but the often experienced delays on the western line see the Jet well behind its “normal” operating time on this day! After passing through Nankiva and Border Junction, the Jet will swap the VR loco for a South Australian one at Tatiara Downs, before continuing west to Kybybolite … and eventually Adelaide.

May 2017 operating session (Part 1 – Border Junction images)

BJN 582

The May 2017 operating session on the Border District was the first in two months, a line having been ruled through the planned April session as it coincided with the Easter long weekend. The time without operations was put to good use though – Brendan accepted the position of Border District C.S.E. (Chief Signalling Engineer) and the “March to May” period saw all control panels, signals, points and interlocking at Tatiara Downs rethought, rewired and improved across a number of “signal working bees”. Indeed, the underneath of this section of the layout is now immaculate, exceptionally tidy and something to behold, rather than an eyesore and bird’s nest of wires! A big, big thanks to Brendan for his time and effort – it was great to see the hard work pay off during the May session, particularly with yellow signal aspects appearing clearly as yellow, rather than “shades of red” as had been the case in the past!

A slightly different approach has been taken for blogpost recounts of the most recent May session – with all images in a post focussing on one particular area of the layout. For this first post, the hamlet of Border Junction and surrounds is the centre of attention – which also includes the significant industry of “Southern Aggregates”. In the lead image above, a bird’s eye view (or drone … though probably not in 1976?) gives a slightly different perspective of “loading the Stonie” at Southern Aggregates. Below, Victorian Railways X45 stretches Train Number 339 Jet Goods out through the curve from Border Junction, not too far from Tatiara Downs and handover to South Australian Railways’ power.

BJN 339

BJN 905

While the April operating session was postponed/cancelled due to Easter, the May session could have gone the same way. Dates for operating sessions were set at the beginning of the year and I hadn’t noted the May session coinciding with the “Modelling the Railways of NSW” convention in Sydney, to which several operators were heading. Additionally, a number of other operators tendered apologies due to work, play and/or travel plans. However, a crew of four participated in a session that was about quality, not quantity! Regulars Brendan and Iain took on their “favourite” Tatiara Downs Station Master and SAR Crew 1 roles respectively, first timer Jeff took on the VR crew 1 gig (and did a great job of quickly grasping both the role and how the layout as a whole operates) and I grabbed a combination of Train Control and the best bits from both the SAR crew 2 and VR crew 2 jobs.

In the image above, SAR branch line power in the form of 858 has paused at the platform at Border Junction, heading  a “replacement set” of carriages working a connection from the South East Overnight passenger (Train Number 905). The lead louvre van (grey DS) will be shunted to the goods shed at Jameston before the mustard pot Alco brings the green and cream consist back through Tatiara Downs and on to Kybybolite. Below is another aerial view of the Southern Aggregates facility, with 907 going about loading SAR Train Number 582 “Stonie”. The two tracks and operating limitations here make getting nine hoppers loaded a challenging but enjoyable task!

BJN 581

BJN 263

The May session trialled the most recent revision of the “am” timetable … and while I am probably biased, I feel this is proved to be the best yet, with a good mix and balance between prototypical accuracy and interesting operations that weren’t overly complicated or confusing. With a small crew (and a mix of experienced heads and a new operator) it was great to see a focus on taking time, working together and doing things right – including the resetting of signals and points upon passing … and the checking of card cards and consists to ensure they matched up. The session was relaxed and enjoyable … thanks to Jeff, Iain and Brendan for being a part of it!

Above, SAR 956 Alco, with the short lived “blood nose” austerity paint scheme on show, has been captured on film passing Southern Aggregates at the head of SAR Train Number 263 Goods for Jameston. Below – in the background/top of image – B67 can be seen heading from left to right as it leads VR Train Number 90 Goods out of Tatiara Downs towards Border Junction. In the foreground and heading from right to left, B85 leads VR Train Number 25 Passenger – supposedly miles away in the “Edenhope to Nankiva” section. Images from Nankiva, and also Jameston, will feature in the next blog post …

NAN 25

March 2017 operating session … part 4

Coal tower gets used

What? Four posts (five actually, if you include the “Nearly ready …” post) for the one operating session? Never been done before, possibly never to be done again …

I’ll blame the ridiculously good amount of ridiculously good images captured courtesy of Mark, whose pictures again provide 100% of the photographic content of this post. Thanks Mark!

Above, Mark has snaffled a shot of the star of the March operating session … Webb “Big Mikado” 730. The steamer worked two trains – SAR Train Numbers 147 and 148 goods, from Tatiara Downs to Jameston and return, as proving trials ahead of some possible hysterical society operations. The loco can be seen at rest under the coal stage at Tatiara Downs loco.

Below, Mark has recorded SAR English Electric 909, which today has provided the power for SAR Train Number 281 passenger. This train provides a connection from the daily Adelaide to Mount Gambier Bluebird railcars at Naracoorte and then works all stops to its final destination of Jameston. The big diesel has just had a spin on the turntable at Jameston, ahead of working back through Border Junction, Tatiara Downs and Kybybolite to Adelaide with SAR Train Number 166 – the thrice weekly “South East” overnight passenger. The good people of the Border District are certainly blessed with several passenger services each day – provided by both the SAR and the VR.


A bust moment at JAM

The “Paper Jet” – SAR Train Numbers 185 and 186, are the focus of the final two images here. This train works express from Adelaide to Jameston, conveying pulp paper, soda ash and empty vans for the Apcel Mill, and returns with empty open wagons (from pulp paper and soda ash traffic) and plenty of loaded vans full of paper products for parts west – Adelaide, Perth and even east to Sydney in some cases.

Above, SAR Alco 956 is running around the recently shunted return working (SAR Train Number 186), having spent a goodly amount of time breaking up SAR Train Number 185 before making up this train,. The empty OBf opens conveyed soda ash to the mill, while a seemingly ever present SAR 8300 Goods Brake will carry the markers and bring up the rear …

Below, 956 can be seen a little further into her journey, awaiting the green at Border Junction to exit the branch. The reason for the pause – the eastbound “Overland” overnight express between Adelaide and Melbourne is due through on the main very soon. Once clear, 956 will receive a red over green indication and permission to continue through to Tatiara Downs …

Paper awaits the green