North Western Railway (fictional)

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For articles about real railway companies named North Western Railway, see North Western Railway (disambiguation).
A map of the Island of Sodor showing the Railway system (click to enlarge).
The Island of Sodor Railway in the style of Harry Beck (click to enlarge).

The North Western Railway is the main railway company featured in The Railway Series of children's books by the Rev. W. Awdry. Although the company's name has never been specifically stated in the books, it was mentioned as such in tie-in books such as The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways by the Rev. Awdry, and also on some maps that were drawn to accompany the Railway Series.

The railway is situated on the fictional Island of Sodor and is usually referred to as the Fat Controller's Railway after the nickname of its chief executive or chairman Sir Topham Hatt.

The railway's motto is "Nil Unquam Simile", which is Latin for "There's nothing quite like it"!

In the television series Thomas & Friends, which is based on characters from the Railway Series books, the NWR is the main standard gauge railway on Sodor but the railway is known as the "Sodor Railway", "The Fat Controller's Railway", or "The Big Railway" in episodes focusing on the Skarloey Railway.

NWR railway lines[edit]

The Main Line[edit]

North Western Railway
Barrow-in-FurnessThe Other Railway
Barrow Engine Shed
The Walney Channel
Ballahoo Tunnels ("Henry's Tunnel")
"The Works" (Crovan's Gate)
Crovan's Gatefor Skarloey Railway
Skarloey Railway
Kellsthorpe Road
Kirk Ronan Branch
Rolf's Castle
Kirk Ronan
Peel Godred Branch
Peak hours only
Kirk Machanfor Culdee Fell Mountain Railway
Transfer siding (CFR)
Culdee Fell Mountain Railway
Peel Godred
Sodor Aluminium
Gordon's Hill (1 in 75)
Brendam Branch (Edward's branch line)
Sodor China Clay
Brendam Docks
Crosby Tunnel
Ffarquhar Branch (Thomas' branch line)
Knapford Harbour
River Els
Toryreck Junction
Lead and Uranium mines
River Els
Hackenbeck Tunnel
Anopha quarry
Tidmouth Tunnel
Tidmouth Engine Shed
Arlesburgh Branch (The Little Western)
Peak hours only
Tidmouth Docks
River Tid
Arlesburgh Westfor Arlesdale Railway
Arlesdale Railway

The Main Line runs from Barrow to Tidmouth. It is run by the Fat Controller's biggest engines. The most important train is the Express (called the Wild Nor' Wester), which is usually pulled by Gordon the Big Engine. Other services are run by Henry the Green Engine, James the Red Engine, and a diesel engine named Bear. Donald and Douglas also perform many duties on this line, and other locomotives work here. Following their purchase by the Fat Controller, Pip and Emma run a faster passenger service from Sodor to England. It connects with the Skarloey Railway at Crovan's Gate, where the Fat Controller's Works are located.

Notable locations on this line include the main engine sheds at Tidmouth, Gordon's Hill and the Ballahoo tunnel in which Henry was bricked up.

Ffarquhar branch line[edit]

The Ffarquhar branch line (or Thomas' branch line) runs from Knapford to Ffarquhar. It was originally part of the Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge Railway. When the Fat Controller took over, the original locomotives were replaced and the line was extended to serve the quarry at Ffarqhuar but was at one time planned to go a few miles further east to Ulfstead. Thomas the Tank Engine was put in charge, with his coaches Annie and Clarabel and for many years ran the line single-handedly. Toby the Tram Engine was later brought to help on the quarry line, and after the rebuilding of Knapford Harbour Percy the Small Engine took charge of general goods traffic. A diesel railcar named Daisy assists with passenger services. The Ffarquhar Quarry Company owns a diesel shunter called Mavis, who sometimes comes down the branch line. Most passenger services run between Knapford and Ffarquhar but some commence and finish at Tidmouth.

As well as the quarry and the harbour, notable locations on or near this line include the dairy, the bridge where Thomas went fishing, Mrs Kyndley's house and the old lead mine (which has been reopened as a uranium mine).

Brendam branch line[edit]

The Brendam Branch is Edward's Branch Line. It goes from Wellsworth to the harbour at Brendam. It also links the china clay pits at Brendam with the main line. Edward the Blue Engine is in charge here, assisted by BoCo the diesel. Donald and Douglas help out. The Sodor China Clay owns three small tank engines, Bill, Ben and Timothy, who work at the clay pits and at the docks. At peak times, passenger services also run along the main line to and from Tidmouth.

Some locations on this line featured in the stories include the Vicarage (where Trevor the Traction Engine lives) and the scrap yard.

The Little Western[edit]

The Little Western (also known as the Arlesburgh Branch, or Duck's Branch Line), is the newest on the NWR, having been reopened to regular services in 1967. It is known as "The Little Western" because the stations on the line are decorated in the style of the Great Western Railway (GWR for short). Duck and Oliver (both ex-GWR engines) are in charge, and the passenger coaches are ex-GWR autocoaches named Isabel, Dulcie, Alice and Mirabel.

The line runs along the coast from Tidmouth to Arlesburgh West, where it connects with the Arlesdale Railway. It is used for transporting ballast, and is also very popular with tourists. Freight services are mainly handled by Donald and Douglas, who are also based on the branch line. When the line was first opened in the 1920s it connected with the Mid Sodor Railway and there was an intention to build further up the Sudrian western coast to Harwick but this extension was never built. When the Mid Sodor closed in the late 1940s, the Arlesburgh branch became used only very rarely.

Peel Godred branch[edit]

The Peel Godred branch line runs from Kildane to the aluminium works at Peel Godred and connecting with the Culdee Fell Railway at Kirk Machan. Although the line has never featured prominently in the Railway Series books or the TV series, according to the Rev. Awdry, the line uses electric locomotives powered from the power station at Peel Godred. Christopher Awdry says in the book Sodor: Reading Between the Lines that goods traffic is hauled by engines similar to the British Rail Class 87 electric locomotive. Passenger trains consist of electric multiple units.

The construction of this branch was largely responsible for the closure of the Mid Sodor Railway.

The Peel Godred branch was seen in one illustration in the book Mountain Engines but without any indication that it was an electric railway. However, in Henry and the Express an electrified line is visible.

Ulfstead branch[edit]

In the CGI series the Ulfstead Branch Line runs from Maron to Ulfstead Castle.

Other branch lines[edit]

On the maps of Sodor are shown three other branch lines that run from Vicarstown to Norramby via Ballahoo, Ballahoo to Crovan's Gate and Kellsthorpe Road to Kirkronan. Parts of these branches were first built by the Sodor & Mainland Railway. Apart from a brief glimpse of Kirkronan in the 1860s and the prominent appearance of Kirkronan Station in Series 5 of the TV series, none of these lines have featured in either the books or TV series, and nothing is known of the locomotives that worked them.


According to "research" by the Rev. Awdry the railway company was formed in 1914 from a government-sponsored merger of the two standard gauge rail companies that existed on Sodor. These were:

The three railways were extended and brought into one system as a means of coastal defence and were connected to the British mainland by a Scherzer rolling lift bridge designed by Topham Hatt. The bridge runs from Vicarstown to Barrow-in-Furness.

The company first had its headquarters at Vicarstown but were moved along with the main engine sheds to Tidmouth in 1925.

The main repair works for the railway are at Crovan's Gate close to the interchange station with the independently owned Skarloey Railway. Connections to Sodor's other railway companies are at Kirk Machan for the Culdee Fell Railway and Arlesburgh West for the Arlesdale or 'Small' Railway.

The North Western Railway has had running rights into Barrow Central since the agreement with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1925. Until the construction of the Jubilee Road Bridge in 1977, the NWR had rights of car-ferry and worked an intensive and profitable service. British Rail had running powers over the Bridge to operate the joint NWR/BR suburban service from Barrow to Norramby.

On through or express trains engines from the NWR are detached at Barrow and "Other Railway" engines take over. Since 1925 the NWR has also had its own loco shed, turntable and servicing facility here. There is also a joint goods yard for exchange traffic.

When the railways in the United Kingdom were nationalised Sodor was affected too with the North Western Railway becoming the North Western Region of British Railways however the railway was allowed to keep a large degree of independence from the rest of the network; this is why steam traction was preserved on the railway. The other railways on the island were not affected by the nationalisation. Since privatisation the railway has again become the North Western Railway Company and unlike most post-privatisation train companies is responsible for the running of the freight and passenger operations and for the maintenance of the track and infrastructure of the railway.

On some promotional items to tie-in with the Railway Series books dating from the 1970s the NWR is called Sodor Rail and uses a logo similar to the famous British Rail one now used by the organisation National Rail.

Rolling stock[edit]

The locomotives and rolling stock of the North Western Railway are also the main characters that feature in the books. For further information, see: