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North Western Railway (fictional)

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 Awdry, and also on some maps that were drawn to accompany the Railway Series.

North Western Railway
IndustryRailway company
PredecessorSodor & Mainland Railway
Wellsworth & Suddery Railway
Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge Light Railway
Successor North Western Region of British Railways (1948-1990)
North Western Railway (1990-present)
HeadquartersTidmouth (originally Vicarstown)
ParentBritish Railways (1948-1990)
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 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. The Adventure Begins marks the very first time the name North Western Railway is used in the television series.


NWR railway linesEdit

The Main LineEdit

North Western Main Line
Barrow-in-Furness  The Other Railway
Barrow Engine Shed
The Walney Channel
Ballahoo Tunnels ("Henry's Tunnel")
Norramby Branch
"The Works" (Crovan's Gate)
Crovan's Gate
Skarloey Railway
Kellsthorpe Road
Kirk Ronan Branch
Rolf's Castle
Kirk Ronan
Peel Godred Branch
Peak hours only
Kirk Machan
Transfer siding (CFR)
Culdee Fell Railway
Peel Godred
Sodor Aluminium
Ulfstead Branch
Ulfstead Castle
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 West
Arlesburgh-Harwick Branch Line to Harwick

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 mainly 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. In the TV series, main line services are carried out by Gordon, Henry, James, Emily, Murdoch, Molly, Hiro and Rebecca.

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.

Thomas the Tank Engine, Edward the Blue Engine, Percy the Small Engine, Duck the Great Western Engine and Oliver the Western Engine all worked on this line before Thomas and Percy went to run The Ffarquhar branch line, Edward to run The Brendam branch line and Duck and Oliver to run 'The Little Western' (The Arlesburgh branch line). Two Diesels named Diesel and D199 both also worked on this railway before being sent away in disgrace. Two red engines, one that had an unknown basis, though the most likely candidates are either an LNER A2 or an LNER B13, and another one who had the same basis as James, but with red driving wheels, and two blue engines, 98462 and 87546, appeared in The Three Railway Engines. 98462 and 87546 were sent away for being rude and it is unclear what happened to them after that and we do not know what happened to the red engines either. One of the Red Engines, the one who attempted to push Henry out of the tunnel to no avail, also appeared in the book Henry the Green Engine in the story Henry's Sneeze. We do not know what happened to him/her after this, but it can be assumed that he/she works on another side of the North Western Railway.

Ffarquhar branch lineEdit

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).

In the TV Series film, The Adventure Begins (which is based on the first two books in the Railway Series, The Three Railway Engines and Thomas the Tank Engine), Edward, Gordon and James say that there used to be coffee pot engines working on Sodor and Edward said that they used to run branch lines, but they were all closed down, but he then said, 'though I think one might still be on a siding somewhere'. When Thomas is given his branch line, he meets the old number 1, called Glynn (who Thomas addressed as 'Mr. Coffee Pot') tangled up in weeds. It is presumed that Glynn used to run this branch line.

Brendam branch lineEdit

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. Marion also works at the China Clay Pits. 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.

In the TV series, work is carried out by Edward, Boco, Bill, Ben, Donald, Douglas, Derek, Salty, Porter, Timothy, and Phillip.

The Little WesternEdit

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 Duck and Oliver run it, who both come from 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. Oliver was saved with his break van, Toad.

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. It has appeared in many seasons and appeared in Tale of the Brave and the Arlesdale Railway appearead alongside it in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure. In Wilbert the Forest Engine, the Fat Controller was planning to purchase an engine who looked just like Wilbert, but sadly this character hasn't appeared in any books. In the cancelled book, Barry the Rescue Engine, the character Barry, who was based on a BR Standard 2 Mogul, was most likely stationed to on the Little Western, but this is pure speculation seeing how the book was never released to the public.

Peel Godred branchEdit

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 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 branchEdit

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

Arlesburgh-Harwick Branch LineEdit

Also, in the CGI series, another branch line, the Arlesburgh-Harwick Branch made its debut in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure.

The Branch Line, runs from Arlesburgh Junction, on Duck's Branch Line to the seaside/fishing town of Harwick.

It is run by Ryan, who runs goods and Daisy who runs the passenger service.

Other branch linesEdit

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 Kirk Ronan. Parts of these branches were first built by the Sodor & Mainland Railway. Apart from a brief glimpse of Kirk Ronan in the 1860s and the prominent appearance of Kirk Ronan 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 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, as well as why none of the branchlines were affected by the Beeching axe. 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 organization National Rail.

Rolling stockEdit

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


The steam engines are painted primarily blue with red lining, secondarily green with red lining and tertiarily red with yellow and black lining with either the words "NORTH WESTERN" or the letters "N W R" painted in yellow letters with red or black shading on the side of the tanks or tenders, and the numbers painted in yellow with red or black borders on the side of the cabs, tanks or tenders. The diesel engines are painted either BR black, BR green or BR blue. The diesel shunters are painted with black and yellow hazard stripes, and the mainline diesels are painted with yellow warning panels.

The carriages are painted brown with yellow lining and NWR lettering and numbering.

The wagons and brake vans are painted either dark grey, dark green, or brown with black frames and "N W" painted on the sides in white.

After nationalization, two logos (or crests) were used during the period, similar to the ones of British Railways. The first logo (1948-1956) was the "Lion and Wheel" (sometimes nicknamed the "Cycling Lion"), showing a Lion standing over a spoked wheel upon which the words "British Railways" were displayed. The second logo (1956-1965) featured a lion holding a wheel (which gave rise to the nickname "ferret and dartboard"), sitting in a crown, with the words "British" and "Railways" to left and right. From 1965, the BR/Sudrian Corporate Image and "Double Arrow" logo was adopted.