The Sodor & Mainland Railway

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Sodor & Mainland Railway
Industry Railway company
Fate Amalgamation
Successor North Western Railway
Founded 1853
Defunct 1914
Headquarters Kirk Ronan and Ballahoo

The Sodor & Mainland Railway (1853–1914) was a fictional railway that existed on the Island of Sodor in The Railway Series books written by the Rev. W. Awdry. In the books it is known as the S&M and was built when railway-mania was still in force, opening in 1853. The initial aim of the railway was to link Sodor with the British Mainland, though despite its close proximity, there is no direct connection with the Isle of Man's own transport network.



A map of the Island of Sodor showing the Railway system (click to enlarge).

The Sodor & Mainland Railway ran from the docks at Kirk Ronan to the town of Ballahoo via Rolf's Castle and Crovan's Gate, but never actually reached the mainland due to lack of money and misfortunes.

The plan to extend to the Mainland via Vicarstown failed when the tunnel under construction through the Balahoo Ridge collapsed and plans to build a bridge across the Walney Channel was halted by the Admiralty (who ironically in World War I became the driving force behind the unification of Sodor's railways and completion of the same link to the mainland that they hindered the S&M in building).

The S&M did, at one time plan to build a western extension into Sodor's mountain country to connect the expanding industrial town of Peel Godred to the railway network. This plan, like the others, came to nothing and Peel Godred's first railway was the narrow gauge Mid Sodor Railway line, and then later still the NWR's electric Peel Godred Branch, which was built under the powers granted to the S&M to extend to Peel Godred by Parliament in 1853.


Many of the S&M staff originally came from Ireland or Scotland. It provided passenger services, but was primarily intended to be a goods line. Although plans were put in action to start a steamer ferry service from Kirk Ronan to Dublin, nothing much came of it.


The Island of Sodor Railway in the style of Harry Beck (click to enlarge).

The Sodor & Mainland Railway's finances collapsed in 1910 and finally the company amalgamated with other small railways on the island under military pressure in 1914, to form the North Western Railway (NWR), now under the direction of its CEO, Sir Topham Hatt, better known as The Fat Controller.


The S&M's dreams of a link between Sodor and the Mainland did eventually come to pass under the reign of Sir Topham Hatt, who constructed a rail bridge across the Walney Channel.

Only a small length of the operational S&M became part of the NWR mainline: namely the section between Kellsthorpe Road and a point just east of Crovan's Gate. Ballahoo was bypassed by the main line but the S&M's line is still used as a secondary route connecting the town with the rest of Sodor and the mainland, along with the later-built Norramby Branch.

Further north the NWR main-line rejoins the Norramby Branch and with it the S&M's proposed route to Vicarstown. This section includes the S&M's unfinished tunnel under the Balahoo Ridge, though the collapse which stopped progress now means two tunnels exist separated by a cutting.


It is stated in the Railway Series that the Sodor & Mainland Railway had three engines, only one of which (Neil) appeared in the books. It is unknown what other engines worked for the railway, but all three engines that were mentioned had been scrapped by the time the railway became defunct due to them being too small and weak for modern day workloads. However, it is widely believed that Neil is now stored as the centrepiece in the Sudrian Museum.

(S&M no.1 & 3)[edit]

According to The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, there were three 0-4-0T engines - one of which was Neil - with open cabs and square tanks that operated on the Sodor and Mainland Railway from 1856 until the line went bankrupt. They are used for different jobs on Sodor.

Neil (S&M no. 2)[edit]

Neil (S&M No 2)

Neil is a small green tank engine with an unusual box shape and no cab. He is based on the early shunting engines seen in the 1860s around Northern England. He has a Scottish accent.

Neil appears in the book Very Old Engines, helping Skarloey off his truck after the little engine first arrived on the Island by ship in 1864. (The story is told by Skarloey as a memory of 100 years previously). Skarloey said Neil was ugly but kind, and they soon became friends. Little more is known about him.

In Christopher Awdry's book Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, he states that Neil's class is unknown. However, Neil strongly resembles a Neilson "box tank". This was a simple and robust class of engine built in Glasgow and sold all over the world. This would explain both his name and his Scottish accent.


The steam engines were painted dark green with the letters 'S & M' painted on the side of tanks in yellow with red shading.

The carriage stocks were painted tan with black lining.


Despite having never appeared in the Thomas & Friends television series, Neil has nevertheless been included in commercial merchandising lines based on the series.[1]

Commercial models of S&MR characters
Model range Type Characters Notes
Ertl die-cast metal Neil Model introduced in 2002 and discontinued in 2004.
Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway wood Neil Model introduced in 1999 and discontinued in 2001. Available in Bridge and Tunnel Set until 2003. Model also available with a Sodor China Clay Car.


  1. ^ "The Real lives of Thomas the Tank Engine" – Neil (includes photographs of commercial models)