Major characters in The Railway Series
This article profiles the most significant characters of the series. Only characters who appear in the books have been profiled in this article and, in the case where a character has appeared in both series, only the book aspect has been addressed. The numerous less-significant characters – i.e. all those not included on this page – are described in Minor characters in The Railway Series.
- 1 The Fat Controller's railway
- 1.1 Steam engines
- 1.2 Diesel engines
- 1.3 Rolling stock
- 2 Skarloey Railway
- 3 Non-Rail Characters
- 4 'Human' Characters
- 5 Minor characters
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The Fat Controller's railway
Thomas the Tank Engine is an 0-6-0 tank locomotive, based on the LB&SCR E2 Class. He is painted blue with red lining and is No.1 in the North Western Railway fleet. Thomas was given his own branch line, which he operates with his two coaches, Annie and Clarabel. He was built and arrived on Sodor in 1915.
He is a cheeky engine who takes great pride in his branch line, and believes himself to be extremely important to the running of the railway.
Thomas is also the most-featured character in the eponymous television series, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (the original name for Thomas and Friends).
Edward the Blue Engine is a 4-4-0 tender engine, the first character to appear in The Railway Series. He is painted blue with red stripes and is No.2 in the North Western Railway fleet. He is one of the oldest engines on the railway, and is kind and friendly to everyone. He was built in 1896 and arrived on Sodor in 1915.
Edward is also one of the main characters in the television series.
Henry the Green Engine is a 4-6-0 tender engine. He is painted green with red stripes and is No.3 in the North Western Railway fleet. After a major accident with the Flying Kipper, Henry was rebuilt with a different boiler and a new Belpaire firebox (though the firebox is never identified as a Belpaire, its shape is distinctive, and Crewe, where Henry was sent for rebuilding, was well known for such boiler and firebox conversions). He is one of the biggest engines (like Gordon), and can be quite highly-strung at times. He was built circa 1920, arriving on Sodor in 1922, but rebuilt in 1935.
Henry is also one of the main characters in the television series.
Gordon the Big Engine is a 'Pacific' 4-6-2 tender engine. He is painted blue with red stripes and is No.4 in the North Western Railway fleet. He is the biggest engine on the railway, and usually pulls the Express. He is also very boastful and proud, but good at heart. He was built in 1922 and arrived on Sodor in 1923.
Gordon is also one of the main characters in the television series.
Gordon is named after a rude boy that lived on the Awdry's street when Christopher was a child.
James the Red Engine is a mixed-traffic 2-6-0 tender engine. He is painted red with gold stripes & dome and is No.5 in the North Western Railway fleet. Although he is quite vain and hot-headed, he loves showing off his red paint. He was built around 1912/1913 and arrived on Sodor in 1924.
James is also one of the main characters in the television series.
Percy the Small Engine is a saddle tank engine of indeterminate origins. He is painted green with red stripes and is No.6 in the North Western Railway fleet. He is a cheeky little engine with a strong sense of adventure, a high work rate and doesn't let anyone push him around, which sometimes gets him into trouble. He arrived on Sodor in 1934 during a railway strike.
Percy is also one of the main characters in the television series.
Toby the Tram Engine is an 0-6-0 steam tram engine who works on the same branch line as Thomas. He is painted brown and blue and is number 7 in the North Western Railway fleet. He is a wise, experienced engine who knows all there is to know about running a branch line. He was built in 1914 and arrived on Sodor in 1951.
Toby's cowcatchers and sideplates (that cover his wheels) mean he is ideal for taking stone trucks to and from the quarry at Ffarquhar, as the railway runs close to the road. Toby has his own coach, Henrietta, who is painted chocolate brown.
Toby is also one of the main characters in the television series.
Duck the Great Western Engine (real name Montague) is an 0-6-0 pannier tank locomotive. He is painted in Great Western green and is officially number 8 in the North Western Railway fleet, although he carries a cast GWR number plate on his cab sides (5741). He currently runs his own branch line, The Little Western. He is a hard worker who believes that "there are two ways to do things: the Great Western way, and the wrong way." He was built in 1929 and arrived on Sodor in 1955. Prior to his arrival on Sodor, he worked at Paddington. This fact is revealed in the story "Gordon goes Foreign".
Duck was one of the main characters in the television series until season 7, and was a major character in seasons 12 and 17.
Donald & Douglas
Donald & Douglas are identical 0-6-0 tender engines who came from Scotland on trial. Not wanting to be separated, and knowing that one of them would have been scrapped on remaining in Scotland, they decided to travel together and hope for the best. Although the Fat Controller was only expecting one engine and intended to send the other back to Scotland, he changed his mind after hearing how they performed in the snow and decided to keep both engines in his fleet.
The 'Twin Engines', as they became known, were painted all-over black on arrival at the island, but are then painted in blue with red stripes to match Gordon, Edward and Thomas. Donald & Douglas were given the numbers 9 and 10 respectively, as well as nameplates. They are practical, no-nonsense engines who can be relied upon for any task. They were built in 1899 and arrived on Sodor in 1959.
Donald and Douglas are based on the Caledonian Railway 812 Class locomotives. They were also significant characters in the television series until season 12.
Oliver the Western Engine is an 0-4-2 tank locomotive who 'escaped' from the Other Railway where he was due to be scrapped. He first appears in the book Enterprising Engines, where his rescue by Douglas is described. Also escaping with Oliver were his faithful coach, a GWR autocoach called Isabel, and a GWR brake van named 'Toad'. His daring escape made him popular with the engines, which perhaps made him a little overconfident. He was built in 1932 and arrived on Sodor in 1967.
After arriving on Sodor, Oliver was restored, painted GWR green, and allocated loco number 11 on the North Western Railway books. However, he was allowed to keep his GWR number '1436'. He was assigned to work with Duck on his branch line, "The Little Western", hauling Isabel and a second autocoach, Dulcie, both of whom have also been restored to full GWR livery.
When Oliver arrived on Sodor, he was not used to handling trucks, as he had operated a passenger branchline up until this point. While shunting his first ballast train, an incident resulted in Oliver landing bunker-down in a turntable well. On his return from the Works, the trucks continually harassed him, teasing about his accident with an irritating song- "Oliver's No Use At ALL!". With Toad's help, Oliver learned how to deal with them (albeit after having pulled one truck apart! - see S.C.Ruffey for the full story). Since then, he has gained experience and sense.
Oliver is based on a GWR 1400 Class 0-4-2T tank locomotive. These engines were fitted with a mechanical system allowing the driver to control the locomotive remotely from the cab of an 'autocoach', such as Isabel.
The story of Oliver's 'escape' is related by the Rev. Awdry in The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. He was named after Revd Awdry's neighbour in Rodborough, Stroud as was Mavis.
Oliver has appeared in Enterprising Engines and, of course, the stories in the next book in the series, Oliver the Western Engine. He had a cameo appearance in the next volume, after which he was not seen again until Henry and the Express.
Oliver was named after Oliver Wicks – the Revd Awdry's next door neighbour in Rodborough, Stroud – who was a much respected member of Stroud Baptist Church.
Bill & Ben
Bill & Ben are twin tank engines who work for the Sodor China Clay Company. They are painted yellow, have four wheels each and have their names attached to their sides on brown nameplates. Apart from their nameplates, they are absolutely identical—which can be confusing to engines who don't know them well. They are smaller than the other engines they work with. They were built and arrived on Sodor in 1948.
They are young and cheeky and love playing jokes on the big engines, but are kept in order by Edward and BoCo. They work in the china clay quarry and at Brendam Docks, where they are kept busy shunting trucks.
Bill & Ben are based on two 0-4-0 tank engines built by Bagnall's of Stafford. They worked at Par in Cornwall and were named Alfred and Judy. They are unusually low, allowing them to fit under bridges that taller engines could not. The real examples are both preserved at the Bodmin and Wenford Railway.
Diesel was the first diesel engine to arrive on the Island of Sodor. He visited on a trial from The Other Railway in Duck and the Diesel Engine (vol 13 in The Railway Series). The character was based on a British Rail Class 08 shunting locomotive.
The character "Devious Diesel" in the television series was based on Diesel.
Daisy is a unique diesel railcar, painted green with yellow lining (similar to the livery of British Railways' DMUs in the 1960s), and was built in 1960 specially for use on the Ffarquhar branch of the North Western Railway. She first appeared in the book Branch Line Engines.
Daisy arrived on Sodor after Thomas had an accident and needed major repairs. She was lazy at first, refusing to do any work that didn't appeal to her and claiming that she was "highly sprung", and thought herself far cleverer than the other engines. But an incident with a bull and a stern warning from the Fat Controller showed her the error of her ways, and she is now a valuable addition to Thomas' branch line.
Daisy is undoubtedly based on the Class 101 diesel multiple units (DMUs), but is a one-off, being a single railcar (akin to the Class 121 'bubble cars'), with a driving cab at each end. Although normally considered to be a Class 101, Daisy is always depicted with the distinctive valances around the buffer beams that distinguishes the earlier 'light-weight' prototype units made by Metro-Cammell. This is because the original model was built by amalgamating two of Tri-ang's R157 models. This would also account for Daisy's refusal to pull a milk van to the dairy, as the lightweight units were not strong enough to haul wagons.
Diesel engines like Daisy were becoming a common sight on branch lines during the early 60's, and therefore it can be implied that Daisy's introduction into the series is a reflection of the contemporary state of railways at the time. Some of the stories involving Daisy reflect problems that were faced by railway staff when it came to dealing with 'highly sprung' diesel engines in the earlier phases of their usurpment of steam.
BoCo is a Co-Bo diesel who works mainly on Edward's Branch Line. He is painted in the green livery used by British Railways in the 1960s. He first appeared in the book Main Line Engines. He was built in 1958 and arrived on Sodor in 1965.
BoCo was received with some hostility by Bill and Ben, who called him a "Diseasel" due to a misunderstanding (the word "Diseasel" is also a portmanteau word combining the words "Disease" and "Diesel" and characters are heard commenting that "Coughs and sneezles spread diseasels"), and by James, who called him a "buzzbox". Edward accepted him right away, and soon the others were won over. BoCo is a friendly engine who enjoys a joke, and he is always ready with a kind word when needed.
BoCo is a Metropolitan-Vickers Type 2 diesel-electric locomotive, named after its unusual Co-Bo wheel arrangement. The bogie beneath the power plant carries three powered axles ('Co') and the other carries two ('Bo'). This arrangement was designed to maximise the routes over which the engine could work. Another unusual feature of the Metrovick Co-Bo is the use of a two-stroke diesel power plant rather than the more standard four-stroke. They suffered from mechanical unreliability which, according to Christopher Awdry, The Fat Controller managed to cure in BoCo's case.
He either works at The Sodor China Clay Works or at The Main Part Of Sodor At Knapford Station.
Twenty of these engines were built by Metropolitan-Vickers in 1958 as part of British Railways' Modernisation Plan. One 'Metrovick' (D5705) has survived and is preserved at the East Lancashire Railway in Bury.
It should be noted that BoCo's name is always spelt with a capital B and a capital C. The name, obviously, is derived from the fact that he is a Co-Bo diesel. Rev. W. Awdry decided that "BoCo" flowed better than "CoBo", and sounded more affectionate.
In the Railway Series, BoCo carries his North Western Railway number 'D2', whereas in the television series he carries the number D5702, which is in the range of numbers assigned to the real "Metrovick" locomotives by British Railways. In reality, D5702, built in October 1958, was withdrawn in September 1968 and cut up in November 1969.
The Bear was originally known as D7101.
As described in the books, D7101 first arrived on the Island of Sodor on a trial for The Fat Controller. He was accompanied by another diesel engine, D199, who talked about taking over the railway, which Bear didn't like. Later in the same story, Bear suffered from a failed ejector and had to be rescued by Henry. He befriended his rescuer, and The Fat Controller decided to give him a second chance. Bear was given a new number, D3, and a new coat of paint, and D199 was sent away in disgrace.
The Bear attracted his nickname because of the sound of his engine, which is loud and gives off a growling sound he can't help. The Bear was one of the later additions to the Railway Series universe, arriving in 1967. He is based on the British Rail Class 35 "Hymek" B-B diesel-hydraulic locomotive, first built in 1961.
Bear mainly pulls passenger trains, and sometimes pulls the Express if Gordon is not able to do so. He wears the two-tone green livery he would have carried when built (all-over British Railways loco green, with a narrow band of a lighter, lime green along the bottom of the sides, cream-white cab window surrounds, and a small yellow warning panel). When he arrived he wore British Rail 'Rail Blue' livery.
Like D199, The Bear's number, D7101, is fictional but plausible; the final Class 35 was numbered 'D7100'.
He first appeared in the book Enterprising Engines and he has been seen and mentioned several times since. He has several cameos, one very noticeable cameo is in The "James And The Diesel Engine" Story: "Old Stuck-Up" where he is shown with BoCo and the other engines in the shed.
Mavis is an 0-6-0 diesel-mechanical shunting engine. She belongs to the Ffarquhar Quarry Co. rather than the Fat Controller, and works mainly shunting stone trucks in their quarry. She sometimes brings Toby's trucks down the line when he is busy. She is painted black, with yellow-and-black "hazard" stripes on her radiator and cab back. Mavis is based on a BR Class 04, some of which were fitted with the sideplates and cow-catcher for use on the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway, the same line that Toby came from. She was built and arrived on Sodor in 1962.
When she was young she was convinced that she knew it all and that Toby with his worn-in rules and methods was a "fusspot", but discovered that sometimes there is nothing wrong with taking advice - ignoring Toby's advice on truck-management-skills brought Mavis to a literal standstill at a level crossing near Ffarquhar where iced rails allowed the trucks to turn the tables on her. To Mavis' indignation rescue came in the form of 'fusspot' Toby. The two became friends however when she rescued him from a collapsing bridge. She is now allowed to come down the line from time to time, and is a useful addition to the branch line.
She first appeared in the book Tramway Engines She was named after Rev Awdry's neighbour in Rodborough, Stroud.
Mavis has also appeared as a character in the television series. Her function here is confused somewhat however - though she still works in various Quarries and carries her Ffarquhar Quarry Co. markings she seems to be fully under the authority of the Fat Controller. Also, in more recent series, she is a motherly figure to the other engines rather than her "Young and still makes mistakes" personality.
Pip & Emma
Philippa (or Pip for short) and Emma make up an InterCity 125 High-Speed Diesel in The Railway Series. They have had problems with their cooling system and came to the railway when Gordon was on a journey. They soon made friends with all the engines.
They have had three appearances, one in Gordon the High-Speed Engine, and two others as main characters in Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines and Thomas and His Friends. Following Privatisation, the Fat Controller has decided to purchase them in order to run a faster service to London.
Pip and Emma are based on the British Rail Class 43 HST and are painted in the original InterCity 125 livery of yellow and blue. After being purchased by the Fat Controller, the words "InterCity 125" and the BR Logo which were painted on their sides were replaced by "NWR" and have red nameplates with yellow writing.
Pip and Emma are also the names of two siblings characters in the Agatha Christie novel A Murder is Announced. The phrase "pip emma" was also used in the signalese developed by the British Army signallers in the First World War to mean post meridiem, or p.m.
Annie and Clarabel
Henrietta is Toby's four-wheeled GER non-articulated coach.
Skarloey Railway locomotives numbers 1 to 6 each have real-life equivalents, with the same numbers, on the Talyllyn Railway.
Skarloey (No. 1) is one of the oldest engines on the Island of Sodor. He is a wise engine who knows everything there is to know about running a railway. He has great respect for coaches, passengers and his fellow engines, and often gives advice to the younger engines when it is needed. He also acts as a narrator in several of the stories.
When he first arrived in 1864, he was proud and arrogant, and believed himself too good to pull trucks. He also suffered from a short wheelbase which made him unstable and gave him the nickname "Bucking Bronco". He was given an extra set of wheels and a cab, which made him more pompous still. However, he was eventually shown the error of his ways. From then on, Skarloey was a hard worker, running the line with Rheneas until he was worn out.
Rheneas (No. 2) is one of the oldest engines on the Island of Sodor. Rheneas is known as the "Gallant Old Engine" because he saved the railway by getting a train home after a breakdown.
He was built in 1865 by Fletcher, Jennings of Whitehaven, the same company that built Skarloey. He arrived shortly after Skarloey, but was at the start the more sensible of the two engines. He was a determined engine, and by the early 1950s he was running the railway alone. In Four Little Engines, he was sent away to be overhauled and did not return until seven books later, in Gallant Old Engine.
Sir Handel (No. 3) is named after the owner of the Skarloey Railway, Sir Handel Brown. He worked on the Mid Sodor Railway under the name Falcon. He is a pompous character who thinks that pulling trucks is beneath him, and will do anything to get out of jobs he does not want to do.
He was built in 1904 at the Falcon Works in Loughborough for the Mid Sodor Railway, when he was painted blue and carried the name 'Falcon'. After that line closed, he was sold to the Sodor Aluminium Company and then to the Skarloey Railway, which at the time was desperately short of locomotives. Sir Handel did not cope well with the neglected track on his new railway, and would often derail - sometimes deliberately. He was given special wheels with broad tyres to cure this problem, which were soon known as "steamroller wheels" by the other engines.
In the 1980s, he was invited to the Talyllyn Railway. This story actually had some basis in fact, as the Talyllyn Railway had paid tribute to the Railway Series by repainting their locomotive Sir Haydn to resemble Sir Handel. Sir Handel was actually based upon Sir Haydn.
In the recent TV series, Sir Handle has a kind and wise personality like Skarloey, Rheneas, and Duke.
Sir Handel first appeared in Four Little Engines.
He was built in 1920 for the Mid Sodor Railway by Kerr Stuart of Stoke-on-Trent, and was therefore given the name 'Stuart'. Like Sir Handel, he was later sold to the Sodor Aluminium Company and then to the Skarloey Railway. Following an accident with some slate trucks, he soon lost his funnel and was fitted with a Giesl ejector which made steaming far easier.
In the 1990s he was sent to the Talyllyn Railway. As with Sir Handel, this was based upon the Talyllyn Railway creating a "lookalike" engine, in this case by repainting the locomotive Edward Thomas.
He first appeared in Four Little Engines.
Rusty (No. 5) is a black diesel-mechanical locomotive built by the Ruston & Hornsby company from which he gets his name. He was acquired direct from the manufacturers in 1957. His equivalent engine on the Talyllyn Railway is Midlander.
He is a reliable, practical and friendly engine who mainly works on maintenance duties, although he can also pull passenger or goods trains if the need arises.
He arrived in the book The Little Old Engine.
Duncan (No .6) is a well tank locomotive, built by Andrew Barclay of Kilmarnock in 1928. He arrived on the railway second-hand, as a replacement when Peter Sam had his accident at the quarry. He was rough and bad-mannered, and believed himself to be overworked. He would often sway and lurch along the track – what the Thin Controller referred to as "rock 'n' roll". He had a number of accidents as a result. Although his behaviour has greatly improved, he can still be grumpy and cynical. His exact origins are unknown, but he did once work in a factory, according to Peter Sam.
He arrived in the book The Little Old Engine.
Terence the Tractor
Terence the Tractor is first seen in 'Thomas, Terence and the Snow' in the book Tank Engine Thomas Again (1949). He can go "anywhere" thanks to his caterpillar tracks and once famously helped Thomas out of a snowdrift.
Bertie the Bus
Bertie is the friendly bus that first appears in the story in which he rescues Thomas's passengers whilst in a snow drift, and has his most famous adventure when he challenges Thomas to a race.
Trevor the Traction Engine
Trevor the Traction Engine was rescued in the story 'Saved from Scrap' and spends most of his time working in the orchard alongside Edward's branch line. He is used for all sorts of odd jobs.
Harold the Helicopter
Harold the Helicopter is a friend to The Railway Series characters, although they share a friendly rivalry. He is owned by the Island's coastguard and lives at Dryaw Airfield. He was built in 1949 and appears in 1956.
The Fat Controller
Sir Topham Hatt, The Fat Controller, is the head of the main rail company on Sodor. He is a firm but fair leader for whom the engines have the greatest respect.
Other human characters
- For other human characters see Minor human characters in the Railway Series.
The minor characters are described in their own article, Minor characters in The Railway Series, or in the articles about the railways on which they operate:
- Skarloey Railway characters
- Culdee Fell Railway locomotives
- Arlesdale Railway locomotives
- Mid Sodor Railway locomotives
- The Rev. W. Awdry; G Awdry (1987). The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. Kaye & Ward. p. 126. ISBN 0-434-92762-7.
- Awdry, Christopher (2005). Sodor, Reading Between the Lines. Sodor Enterprises. p. 9. ISBN 0-9549665-1-1.
- Awdry, Christopher (2005). Sodor: Reading Between the Lines. Sodor Enterprises. p. 13. ISBN 0-9549665-1-1.