Saturday, 4 February 2017

Operating Philip's Creek

Despite Philip’s Creek being in existence for around 20 years, it is only in the last few years that I have given much thought as to how the layout may be operated in a way that is a vague approximation of operations on the Main North during the steam/diesel transition era. However, before I could put anything in place, I had to get my mind around a few things.  

Firstly, I needed to recognise that the layout is built around a single station somewhere on the Main North albeit with two small branch lines that join the mainline in the vicinity of Philip’s Creek. It can never be a long main line run with several major stations with industries providing destinations and a demand for freight and passengers. For Philips Creek, other destinations are represented by the staging yards at either end of the point to point layout. The only industries on the layout are the coal mine at Philip’s Creek, the timber mill on the Mount Windeatt branch line and wheat silo on the as yet unnamed branch line. So rather than some form of timetable for the whole line, I am pushed towards operating a defined or set sequence of trains passing through the station including any necessary actions associated with goods collections and delivery.

The second issue I needed to resolve was an approximate location for the fictitious Philip’s Creek on the Main North. I have always wanted to incorporate coal, wheat and timber facilities into the layout and this desire does influence Philip’s Creek’s approximate location. While one more coal mine near the Main North does not indicate a specific area in the late 1960s Hunter Valley, it probably does set a northern limit around Muswellbrook. However, the desire to incorporate wheat and timber does narrow the possible locations. I am not aware of any wheat silos being linked to the Main North by rail south of Singleton. Similarly, the southernmost timber milling that potentially could be connected to the Main North is the former state forests approximately east of Muswellbrook in what is now the Mount Royal National Park.  

Consequently, for operational purposes, I have located Philip’s Creek somewhere between Muswellbrook in the north and the Hunter River bridge at Singleton in the south. An additional coal mine in that vicinity is not unrealistic and a second branch line just south of the current Merriwa branch line is possible. While I am not aware of any rail links to the state forests around Mount Royal, it is a feasible scenario.

Locating Philip’s Creek in the area between Muswellbrook and Singleton has lead to a few constraints and assumptions. 

It defines the tonnage that each locomotive can haul based on the Working Timetables for the Northern District. Fortunately, a very kind person has uploaded a selection of these working timetables to the internet and they can be found at

I also understand that in the late 1960s, the capacity of the Hunter River bridge at Singleton limited the Class 60 Garretts to a single locomotive, thus restricting the amount of coal moved south from Muswellbrook in one train to 1150 tons (Working Timetable for Goods and Passenger Trains also Loads for Trains p363. 1200 tons permitted in some circumstances). Trains pulled by a Class 60 heading north were restricted to 650 tons (ibid p361 up to 775 tons in some circumstances).

To ensure my FO carriages get an outing periodically, I have also assumed that local passenger services run from Newcastle to Muswellbrook, rather than Singleton as I understand they did in the 1960s. In addition, the lack of turning facilities at Philips Creek means that wheat from the branch line must proceed to Muswellbrook before being sent south to Newcastle and beyond. Finally, as a major crossing point, the length of the Philip’s Creek crossing loops will dictate the length of some trains particularly wheat trains moving along the Main North.

The following spreadsheet extract shows a sample of the sequence developed to date. Currently there are 33 separate activities.

For most activities, the Up and Down trains cross at Philip’s Creek. However, the red and yellow cell colourings flag movements where extra attention is required. They are a consequence of limited space in the staging areas at either end of the layout. Because of the staging area space restrictions it is necessary for the longest trains to cross at Philip’s Creek so that each can occupy the space vacated by the other (red cells). Not ideal, but it is a necessary compromise. Even with this adjustment, overcrowding does occur and so several optional pick-up goods have been scheduled to permit a rebalancing of rolling stock (yellow cells).

There are no specific timings associated with the sequence and each item is run and ticked off when time permits. When complete, the sequence is restarted.
The choice of locomotives for each activity is dependent on availability of suitable locomotive at the respective staging area. The estimated load for each train will normally determine the locomotive’s suitability however, there are a few usual combinations reflecting usual operations as captured in photos taken at the time:

·         6018 usually hauls the coal train between Muswellbrook and Port Waratah;
·         A double headed diesel combination of 44, 45 or 442 usually hauls the block wheat trains to and from Werris Creek;
·         The local passenger service is usually hauled by 3390 or a 48 class;
·         The mail train is usually diesel hauled;
·         5248 usually hauls the wheat train on the branch line;
·         5069 usually hauls the coal train (usually a mix of CCH and LCH) to and from the Philip’s Creek coal mine;
·         The 30 class is permanently allocated to the Mount Windeatt branch line

 So, at this point in time, I have process that provides a form of operation that works reasonably well for block loads (wheat and coal) and passenger services. However, the composition of pick-up goods trains is still a ‘hit or miss’ affair depending on what happens to be in each staging area at the time. It doesn’t take account of any demand for specific loads or the need to relocate empties for future loads. I know some modellers use a card system to address this but this is something that will be tackled at a future time if and when I get motivated.

In the meantime, at least now I have some structure and reason why specific trains move through Philip’s Creek rather than ad hoc running based on whatever takes my fancy on the day. Hopefully this also means that most of the rolling stock, locomotives, carriages and wagons at least get some use periodically.


  1. Phil
    Aberdeen has a silo, its of the corrogated Iron type and has been there for some time. Going to Aberdeen also gives you the meat works, stock unloading and then the Oak siding near MBK. Timber came off the Merriwa branch as well as wheat and the explosive vans for the military depot at Denman.

    From memory garratts were allowed 1200 tonnes on the up and I'm pretty sure they could take 1000tons to MDI. That allowed for 2xmainline or 3x48 to take the load over the range when there was relay working of trains with garratts.

    In the transition period there were several bridges that had speed restrictions on them especially many of the short culvert types but in that period the coal operations were pretty well limited to the 1200 tonne loaded, and only wheat trains were allowed over that with 2xmainliners.

    Such loads were worked from WCK at 1800 tonnes with 3 main liners, first train to take up the usual afternoon shifts had that load and stowed it at MDI, the 3 engines would go back light to WT, one would be stabled there with the other two going light to WCK to pick up the next working. The stowed 44 would stay there for wheat train assists, with a 48 also going down for the lighter rear end banking of smaller than 1000tonne trains.

    Each of the 1800 tonne wheat trains would pick up 400 tonnes at MDI from the stowed first train, as that allowed them to take 2200 tonnes through to PTW.

    Per way were very restrictive and they reluctantly allowed the double garratt operation on the short north at 1200 tonnes max, but in theory based on the single load they were capable of taking a 1320 tonne train based on tonneage signal allowances.

    In the transition period with steam the main north beyond Maitland still had a lot of lower weight rail than the short north which was mainly 104lb rail while the north had 96lb

  2. Col,

    Thanks for the information. One of the advantages of locating Philip's Creek in the area between Singleton and Muswellbrook is that the industries you detail generate a variety of goods traffic (albeit 'off stage') that must then pass through Philip's Creek in both directions.

    When I consulted the Load Table, I was surprised at the relatively small permissible load for Garratts. I assumed that it was due to the sharp grades climbing up from the Hunter River bridge. However, the Load Tables are riddled with footnotes and qualifications that probably permitloads of up to 1000 Tons to Murrurundi. As an aside, the document in style and appearance reminds me of the old Army Law Manual that I had to study in the late 1970s - and just as confusing!

    Sadly, my ability to replicate wheat movements that you describe is inhibited by the space restrictions of my layout, in that the staging areas at either end of the layout quickly become overcrowded if I run a wheat train significantly longer that 18 BWH. It's something that I know I have to address.

    thanks again Phil

  3. Phil, I have just found and looked at the 1974 WTT, I know its outside the steam era but the heavy garratts hauled the same load as the main liners of the day the only disparity is that of the lower rated 43cl. Loads on the down are as follows
    BMD - Mtland 1020, Mtland - Singleton 920, Singleton MBK 820,
    MBK - Wingen 840, Wingen - MDI 735.

    MDI - Farley 1220..

    As its been a while since I was up in the area especially in those days, and could not locate the TT, I was going on memory and the thing is I never witnessed any of the garratt workings north of MBK, and all of the workings on the NCLE side were all on coal train workings, with the tonneages equally the above.

    The coal workings included a lot of all bogie trains while some of them especially the MBK workings were more often than not mixed loads of CCH/LCH vehicles a some UT workings. As the orders for CH types began flowing into the working the 4 wheelers were gradually removed.

    For modelling purposes it is all but impossible to replicate real workings, as I tried a 58 S truck train with BV with a garratt at the front, the length of the train on the layout all but took up the whole back wall at Akuna which is 5.900m in length That was a common load for a garratt on the short north, very much under the weight but was the length. the actual load not much more than a freighter could haul, but the length would have killed them.

    The other aspect is that the 1800 tonne wheat trains were often all block BWH/WH types or they could have a lot of RU's on the back. Not all were 1800 tonne loads though and many in the 900tonne which were 15 Wagons and BV for a main line loco. If you can set up a replica of a train of that length take the visual approach and see if it looks too long often in modelling a short train of around 10 bogies look quite good.

    1. Col,

      Thanks for the clarification on the permissible loads.

      For my operations, for mainline diesels, it is the passing loop length that really dominates. A block wheat with double heading mainliners and around 16-18 BWH just fits and looks the part.

      cheers Phil

  4. I love how even a fictitious layout can get us so emerged in research! I suppose at the end of the day we're all just wanting to establish some form of operational rhyme and reason as to what our layout is supposed to represent, and what we choose to run on it. But when we get the balance right, it's a nice feeling to know that even on a so-called freelanced layout we can still mimic a slice of real life operations.

    1. Phillip, thanks for the comment.
      When you think about it, in some respects a prototypical modeller is similar to a writer of historical fiction. The writer creates a fictional story in the context of historic events. We create and operate models located in a fictional place in a manner that hopefully has some alignment with historical practices. I have found that the best historic fiction are those stories that closely align to actual events and hence to motivation for more detailed research.

  5. Phillip
    Good say. The title of my layout Essence is the result of a lot of rethinking of what I wanted to achieve. While I had a lot of concepts in my mind along with the advantage of being a steam fireman and later becoming a driver (non steam qualified) I needed to shrink those ideas and concepts. That came about by a single article in what is now a defunct (sadly) magazine AJRM, written by James McInernie called capturing the essence, its been a while since I have had another look at the article but its an excellent read.

    I always knew that with a layout even if one had a huge room it would be pretty well impossible to capture the workings of a real railway and its operation, compromises are so often the need, and necessity. To capture even a branchline terminus in 80% size let alone fully is not possible, owing to the need of compression.

    But it is possible and relatively easy to look at a busy station and main line with the essential items that show the overal locality of somewhere, on the Central Tablelands, what traffic ran through the area, types of loco's, the buildings, capture the time frame with the trains, and buildings, along a main street. Many locations had their railhead or station some distance from the town, with only a minimal few houses and shop types in the main street. All of which can be shrunk into a room.

    Running trains that represent the area with what is now available in RTR actually is pretty easy today when compared to when I first bought my first model in 1965.

    1. Couldn't agree with you more Colin, and likewise Phil. Compression, and capturing the essence is essentially what model railroading is all about. Keep that in the context of historical events, and you'll end up with a layout that is believable. I'm always one who prides myself on knowing a little bit about everything, and a lot about nothing, (which my wife so often reminds me of!) So I always enjoy reading about what other modelers have researched. Thanks for sharing this post Phil, and for your comments also Colin.