Nearly ready for the March operating session …


“There was movement at the station …” well, not quite … or not yet at least! However, there was soon to be movement at a few stations on the Border District, with the March 2017 operating session not too far away.

Above, all is pretty quiet for early in the afternoon at Jameston in south eastern South Australia. The hot Summer has continued deep into March, and local visiting the station has sought some shade for his car …

Below, things are also quiet at Nankiva in the far western region of Victoria. At the eastern end of the railway yard here, vans are being loaded with local produce from the Edenhope Valley and surrounding area, soon to head to the markets in both Adelaide and Melbourne.

NAN east

NAN west

The western end of the yard at Nankiva is equally as quiet as the east, as can be seen above. An empty oil tank awaits collection from the afternoon goods service. The local freight agent will soon be busy at the goods shed in the distance, ahead of receiving and dispatching consignments.

But the award for “quiet” on the Border District must to go to the whistle stop of Border Junction – located along the mainline between Melbourne and Adelaide, and also serving as the junction for the branch line to Jameston.

The peace and quiet in the image below will soon be broken, with many trains from both South Australian Railways and Victorian Railways making their way past Border Junction – most travelling through at speed, but a few stopping and serving this rural outpost …



February 2017 operating session


With the weather not quite mirroring that of a western Victorian/eastern South Australian summer (hot: yes, humid: no … usually a very dry heat further south at this time of the year!), the February 2017 operating session on the Border District saw a crew of five in attendance. Iain and Darren again took on the SAR 1 and SAR 2 crew roles respectively, Brendan tackled the Tatiara Downs gig on his lonesome (but with a badge to keep him company …), Mark headed out onto the mainline for the first time in a while with the VR1 crew gig and I again proved it impossible to do two things at once (I am male …) attempting to combine Train Control with the VR 2 crew job.

Tackling the same timetable for the second time in two months had the potential to be a bit “same/same” – especially with four of the five operators undertaking the same role as for last month – but the session proved different in many ways to the one in January. To begin with, the notional “2 am” start time saw the flouro lights turned off and the shutters half open to provide an “immersive” feel (or was it to pretend to not be so hot?). While the signals, carriage lights, marker lights, headlights and platform lights (well, on some stations at least) all looked great, reading sequence cards and car cards did prove slightly challenging! As the session went on, the shutters were fully opened and the lights turned on … a good concept/idea in theory, but possibly needing a few tweaks to be entirely successful!

It was also great to see operators attempting to return signals to danger and points being reset to the main after the passage of trains – which has me wondering if the Train Control role could be completely removed? Tatiara Downs again proved to be a wonderful chokepoint at times, occasionally causing some gnashing of teeth and words muttered under one’s breath! The resultant thinking here is that there are possibly too many trains still being broken and or made up at TD … and as such another timetable and traffic change, albeit subtle, could be on the cards.

There were a greater number of “fails” than usual during the session. The Overland derailed for the first time in years  – a long spell of hot weather resulting in a little track movement. The first of my Trainorama single ended 930s was rendered inoperable due to split gears, resulting in some interesting light engine movements to ensure the South East passenger remained on schedule. The greatest fail though may just have been the host, who remembered to take his cards to avoid being accused of “doing a Craig” … but quickly learned it is better to ensure you grab the cards for YOUR train … and not someone else’s!

Images from the session provided here are all with thanks to Mark – the host also getting a “fail” for the lack of photographic recording. As always, my thanks go to the crew – a great group of guys who continue to help the Border District evolve, improve and come alive.

In the lead image at the top of this post, VR Train Number 261 goods can be seen having been held at Border Junction, with B67 in charge of loading for Tatiara Downs, Jameston, Naracoorte and Mount Gambier. Train Control have finally gotten their act together, and the signal aspect has changed to yellow over red (caution normal speed) – meaning the signal into Tatiara Downs must still be at “protect”. Guess that Station Master has his work cut out (again) too …

Below, the return working of the train in the first image – VR TN 262 goods from Tatiara Downs to Melbourne – can be seen storming through the platform road at Nankiva with the B class in notch 8. The return (up) run has been much faster – and less “stop/start” – than that of the down, with the crew getting “high greens” (green over red/clear normal speed indications) all the way from Tatiara Downs to Edenhope.



In the image above, Mark has captured a busy moment at Tatiara Downs, as the South East passenger – SAR Train Number 905 – arrives in the background at the station. This train has travelled overnight from Adelaide and will continue on to Jameston, where it will terminate – but not before a goodly amount of passengers disembark. Some of these will end their journey here, but others will change trains and board VR TN 24 passenger. 4BE in the foreground is one of four carriages making up this train today, which will travel east to Melbourne. It is early morning – around 6am – but being summer the sun has been up for while. However, the lights are on in the cars of both trains – helping those passengers that need to leave their seats and find new ones. Ah, changing trains …

The final image from this session finds Y169 shunting wagons from VR Train Number 90 roadside goods at Nankiva. The crew have a little work ahead here, as they “drop 2 and pick up 1” … and may have a few terse words for the shunter at Tatiara Downs with regards to how their train has been blocked! As the opposing signals are all set for “protect”, the Y has been given authority to shunt back through these signals by a yellow aspect on the dwarf signal on the headshunt – out of shot to the left.


January 2017 operating session


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!



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.



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.



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.


Another Northern operating session …


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.




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!



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. 


Greetings of the season …


Above: A string of VR 4 wheelers are positioned ahead of loading via the vintage timber bins at Southern Aggregates, Border Junction. There will be more than a few shunting moves ahead to get all the wagons loaded …

Best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you to all those for their continued interest and input into the Border District … and its progress (slow as it might be at times …)!

November 2016 operating session


Better late than never … maybe? While it is getting deep into December, below is a brief account of the November 2016 operating session held on the Border District – the eleventh and final session for 2016. Many thanks to Mark and Shelton for providing the images for this blog post.

In the image above, Mark has captured an interesting view at Tatiara Downs loco, with the SAR carriages to form Train Number 166 currently laying over next to the coal stage. Darren will run this train a little later in the session. Below, Shelton has had time to step off his train (VR TN 89 Goods from Portland to Tatiara Downs) at Border Junction, while waiting for a clear signal to head to TN 89’s final destination. Perhaps the yard is a bit busy ahead …



With a few apologies received, a crew of six worked the Border District in November. Shelton and Craig had the VR crew jobs, Darren took the SAR branch role, Iain took on Tatiara Downs Yard Master duties and Mark worked both the other SAR crew gig and also hostled at Tatiara Downs loco. As usual, I took on Train Control and generally tried to boss the team around …

Above, Mark has again shown his knack for capturing unique aspects and images of the Border District … a very different view of the loco area at Tatiara Downs shows a collection of motive power in residence. Also in view are some oil pots and a VR guard’s van … the shunter must be hard at work! In the foreground is the soon to be ballasted mainline from Tatiara Downs to Kybybolite. In the image below, Shelton has recorded VR TN 261 Goods passing through Nankiva … B67 is at the head of this working and has graciously dipped the headlight to pass through the station!



November saw the 02:00 to 14:00 session undertaken – with the usual “tweaks” made for previous learnings employed. As in October, it was great to again see operators get to take on roles they hadn’t done before, or hadn’t done for some time. Craig and Shelton managed the VR side of things well (with Craig even working an additional Jet across the entire layout), Mark was very comfortable both out on the main and hostling at the loco, Darren did a great job in his first time on the Jameston gig and Iain handled Tatiara Downs well, without the support or presence of Brendan … but more on that a little later!

In the scene above, it would appear that the VR is poised for a takeover of Tatiara Downs, with at least three blue and gold locos in attendance and on shed … a Y, a second series X and a third series X. Below, Iain handled the Tatiara Downs gig fairly well without the “king” – Brendan – to assist … but also found a way during the session to add himself to Border District folklore, managing to balance his shunt engine – SAR 836 – with no wheels on the track at all! At last we now have a “doing an Iain …”! Both images with thanks to Mark.



Shunting incidents and accidents aside, the session was another great one … a fantastic way to finish off 2016. Eleven sessions have been conducted this year and my thanks as always go to those friends that visit the “District” each month … local knowledge and operations both continue to evolve, and a good time is had by all. Over the past two years, there have been twenty-two operating sessions on the Border District … and I look forward to them continuing in 2017 (and beyond).

One continued “evolution” on the Border District in 2016 has been the focus on a more immersive approach to operations … slowing things down and thinking/acting like the real thing. The images above and below, again courtesy of Mark, depict an example of one way in which this is being attempted. Craig is in charge of double flattop Ts, loading grain at Nankiva to head to Portland for eventual export. This working is assisted by an “operations” card at Nankiva that explains how the grain is to be loaded – time taken, how many wagons, etc. I look forward to more of this focus in 2017 …


October 2016 operating session


Above: T377 and VR TN 4, with Darren at the controls, has just completed shunting and loading at Southern Aggregates. The driver will soon head down to the phone box and seek permission from Train Control to continue to head east. Darren commented that in the many sessions he has attended, this was the first occasion he actually got to “work” Southern Aggregates!

With a few apologies received, a crew of six participated in the October 2016 operating session on the Border District. This was the second month that the revised “flexible” timetable was utilised and it again proved very successful in accommodating a fluctuation in the number of operators. The afternoon was a thoroughly enjoyable one, with a focus on slower and more immersive operations, but some great banter and conversation as well.

Below: In an unusual (but welcomed!) rostering move from the Tatiara Downs Loco Depot, “Big Mikado” 730 is providing the power for SAR TN 147/148 today. Craig is bringing the Webb steamer to a halt at Border Junction for a “take outs” stop, before continuing westwards to Tatiara Downs. A centenary car can be seen to the rear of the consist – chartered by a local football club for an end of season trip and marshalled inside the Goods Brake.



Above: Paul is looking after Y169 at Nankiva – with VR TN 17 goods terminating and VR TN 26 goods originating. There is plenty of shunting to do here, but Paul seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself … and it was great to watch a different operator go about tackling this task.

Roles for the afternoon saw a few changes to what might be considered the “usual”, with many operators trying a different role (or at least, a role with different workings) for the first time. Iain put his hand up to work Tatiara Downs – brave, but also opening up the SAR Jameston branch gig for someone else – which Craig gladly took. Brendan ably supported Iain at Tatiara Downs (master and apprentice … or sheriff and deputy?), while Paul and Darren each took on the two VR crew jobs. The remaining SAR/VR crew gig was shared between Brendan, Craig and myself – with a couple of trains cancelled – and I also took on the Train Control position. It was rewarding to see and feel the sense of enjoyment from the crew – thanks to all who attended!

Below: A busy few moments at Nankiva. As Paul continues to break up VR TN 17 goods and make up VR TN 26 goods in the yard, a railmotor replacement working – VR TN 42 – arrives at the platform. Darren is in charge of this train, headed by T357, which was one of the “wrinkles” in the session, with the loco hauled train standing in for the “failed” Walkers 280HP railmotor.



Above: … and an even busier few moments at Tatiara Downs! Iain and Brendan have clearly been a model of efficiency, with Road 4 being “empty” in this shot. SAR Alco 950 is at the head of the empty down “Paper Jet” (SAR TN 185) in Road 1, while the trailing Goods Brake of SAR TN 312 roadside goods can be seen in the foreground of Road 2. VR blue and gold B67 stands at the head of VR TN 880 fast goods in Road 3, while mustard pot 836 – the TD shunter for the afternoon – goes about breaking up and shunting loading in Road 5. The session showed that two operators at Tatiara Downs certainly helps to make life a little easier …

The October session saw – for the first time and at last – the full utilisation of the completed signalling system on the Border District. Dwarf and low speed signals were installed and operational at Nankiva, while “outer/repeater home” signals for both Tatiara Downs and Nankiva and “departure” signals for Edenhope and Kybybolite were all lit. There are still a few gremlins to sort out – “yellow” aspects that perhaps look more like “red” (especially to some operators, hey Craig?!) and a few lights on panels that need sorting – but I was really please – and proud – to have finally hosted a fully signalled session. Even more impressive was the manner in which operators used and followed these signals!

Below: Craig eases 950 and SAR TN 185 empty “Paper Jet” through the crossovers at Border Junction, leaving the mainline to head down the branch to Jameston. Upon arrival, the OBfs loaded with soda ash and bogie opens with pulp paper will be shunted off, and loaded louvre vans full of toilet rolls for Adelaide, Sydney and Perth will replace the empty louvre vans being conveyed here.



Above: Not long after the passage of 950 and SAR TN 185, Paul is in charge of B67 and VR TN 880 fast goods. On this day, VR TN 18 roadside goods has been cancelled, so VR TN 880 includes loading that would usually be conveyed by this working. At Nankiva, Paul will drop off the first two wagons – an empty louvre van for loading of vegetables (for Central Markets in Adelaide) and an empty open wagon for loading of grain (for the Mill at Tatiara Downs).

The session did, of course, provide for a few light hearted moments. Iain managed to achieve at least one “Brendan” – believing there is more track available than there actually is … so perhaps this is a “Tatiara Downs” thing? Craig managed the only “Craig” of the session , leaving behind a card for the CD van that was added to SAR TN 166 at Tatiara Downs (the TD crew could share a little of the blame – but ultimate responsibility falls to the driver for not “checking the cards/brakes” before departure). Craig also featured in the two biggest highlights. The first, perhaps being too excited about having a steamer to run, saw him not only left the Goods Brake of his train behind, but then reversed, at speed, through a red signal to go back and collect it! The second saw Craig fall victim to the “terrible two” at Tatiara Downs – who, having completed their shunting and work for the session, uncoupled half of Craig’s final working as it passed through the station – with Craig not realising this until his arrival at Kybybolite!

Ten sessions have been undertaken so far on the Border District this year – each one building and improving on the previous. As always, my sincere thanks and appreciation to those friends that come along, operate and contribute to making the layout and operations what they are!

Below: Two of the final workings for the session can be seen at Nankiva. X33 and B75 are powering VR TN 834 “Overland” towards Melbourne, with Paul at the controls and enjoying the “big wheel” assignment. T335 and T332 are in Darren’s capable hands – shunting  loaded grain wagons before following the “Overland” – as VR TN P4, bound for Portland and export.