Culdee Fell Railway

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Railway lines of the Island of Sodor – the Culdee Fell Railway line is shown in purple, in the center of the map.

Template:Culdee Fell Railway

The Culdee Fell Railway

The Culdee Fell Railway is a fictional narrow gauge rack and pinion railway in The Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry. It only appeared in one book, which was Mountain Engines.

The Culdee Fell Railway is based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which Wilbert Awdry visited, with his friend the Rev. Teddy Boston, in early 1963. That summer he wrote a 2-part article about it in his series "Remarkable Railways", for the Church of England Newspaper. The Director of the Snowdon Mountain Railway at the time, A.O.E. Davis, suggested that Awdry might like to include a similar railway on Sodor. A suitable mountain was already marked on the first published maps of Sodor, the 2046 ft-high Culdee Fell.[1]

In the book, the Culdee Fell Railway runs from an interchange station at Kirk Machan to the summit of the Culdee Fell.

Despite the fact that the railway has never appeared in the television series, Blue Mountain Mystery marks the very first time the Culdee Fell Railway was mentioned in the series in a learning segment about the difference between standard gauge and narrow gauge engines. The video states that Mr. Percival, who is the controller of the Skarloey Railway in the TV series, is also in charge of the Culdee Fell Mountain Railway.

(Fictional) History[edit]

According to "research" by the Rev. W Awdry, the railway was the brainchild of the tourist-minded Mid Sodor Railway, who had hopes to extend their line beyond Peel Godred to Kirk Machan at the foot of Culdee Fell, where passengers could board a rack railway to the summit. Initial attempts to establish a company however were thwarted by Lord Peter Barrane, the local landowner – this gave the Skarloey Railway an opportunity to capitalize by running horse-and-trap services from their terminus to a point half-way up the mountain, allowing a shorter and quicker climb. When the situation began to drain tourist monies away from the central portion of the island, local opinion was able to force Lord Barrane's hand.

This resulted in the formation of the Culdee Fell Tramroad and Hotel Company Ltd. Lord Barrane was established as company chairman and was able to have the proposed route modified to skirt his properties on the lower slopes of the mountain, hence the large loop the route takes from Kirk Machan to Skarloey Road, when the original plan was to head straight up the hillside. The Snowdon Mountain Railway had opened only a little earlier, and they provided advice and construction expertise. It is therefore no surprise that the 2 lines are similar in many respects – for example, both use the Abt rack system and have a track gauge (common to other mountain railways) of 800 mm (2 ft 7 12 in). However, the Culdee Fell Railway is twice the length, with shallower gradients at the base, and a much harder final climb to the summit.[2]

Construction started in 1897; the line was inspected in March 1900 and opened to the public on Whit Monday, but after just a month one of the locomotives was destroyed when it derailed and fell down a cliff – the exact cause was never determined, but is believed to have been a stone lodged between the rack rails. The line remained closed until the following season (Easter Monday 1901) while improvements were made.



The locomotives of the Culdee Fell Railway are all 0-4-2 tank locomotives with angled boilers. They have pinion wheels on their driving axles that allow them to climb the steep mountain and prevent slipping. They are also fitted with automatic brakes. At the beginning of Mountain Engines, Awdry describes Culdee thus:[3]

The boilers are inclined to ensure that the boiler tubes and the firebox are always covered by water when on the gradient. This is a standard practice on mountain railways as the locomotive always runs chimney-first up the mountain. The cylinders are mounted towards the cab end of the locomotive (rather than the chimney end, which is more conventional for a steam locomotive), hence Awdry's 'back-to-front' description. The drive to the wheels is through a series of levers that allow the pistons to have a longer stroke than the cranks. This is another common feature in mountain railways.

Engines 1 - 5 were built at the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works in Winterthur, Switzerland in 1900.[4] Nos 6, 7 and 8 were built after the first batch of locomotives, to a more modern design, and were delivered at 2-monthly intervals in 1962. They are fitted with superheaters to improve their efficiency. In Sodor: Reading between the lines, Christopher Awdry notes that the newer engines superseded Ernest (2) and Wilfred (3), but he does not elaborate on what may have happened to the 2 engines subsequently. Curiously, Christopher also states that nos. 2 and 3 do not appear in the stories, whereas, in fact, they do.[4]

All the locomotives carry a purple livery, lined out in orange.

Unusually for characters in the Railway Series, they carry faces on the back as well as the front. The reason for this is while going up, the coaches keep a look out for the engines since the engines' front faces cannot see. While rolling down the mountain, the engines' front faces are still impaired by the coaches. So the rear faces provide the engines their only way to see where they are going.[4]

The Rev. W. Awdry notes that since the stories in the book, the North Western Railway's Crovan's Gate Works has taken over responsibility for major repairs on the Culdee Fell Railway's engines. Originally, locomotives requiring overhaul were sent to either their manufacturer in Switzerland or an unnamed engineering works in England, both long and expensive journeys.

Even though the engines bear a passing resemblance to the engines on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, Christopher Awdry notes that he doesn't believe his father intended any of the engines to correspond with particular Snowdon Mountain Railway locomotives.[4]

No. Name Snowdon Mountain Railway equivalent Notes
1 Godred No.1, Ladas Arrived in 1900 - Derailed and received extensive damage after jumping off the tracks and tumbling down the mountain side. Many parts were salvaged for re-use on other engines, then the remains were scrapped.
2 Ernest No.2, Enid Arrived in 1900, he played only a minor role in the 3rd story of Mountain Engines. Has been superseded by Alaric and Eric.
3 Wilfred No.3, Wyddfa Arrived in 1900, he played only a minor role in the 3rd and 4th stories of Mountain Engines. Has been superseded by Alaric and Eric.
4 Culdee No.4, Snowdon Arrived in 1900. Named after the mountain. He provides the role of narrator for the first 2 stories of Mountain Engines, and plays supporting roles in the 3rd and 4th stories.
5 Shane Dooiney No.5, Moel Siabod Arrived in 1900. Named after a neighboring mountain. Away being overhauled in Switzerland during period covered by book.
6 Patrick No.6, Padarn (originally Sir Harmood, renamed in 1928) Arrived in March 1962 - built to a contemporary 'super-heat' design. A reformed troublemaker after a gallant emergency rescue in high winds. Played major roles in the 3rd and 4th stories.
7 Alaric No.7, Ralph (originally Aylwin, renamed in 1978) Arrived in May 1962 - built to a contemporary 'super-heat' design. Plays only a minor part in the stories.
8 Eric No.8, Eryri Arrived in July 1962 - built to a contemporary 'super-heat' design. Plays only a minor part in the stories.


The story of Godred (Number 1) is based on the real history of the Snowdon Mountain Railway's locomotive No. 1 L.A.D.A.S. which was destroyed after it derailed on the line's opening day. In the book, the engine Culdee tells the tale of LADAS' fictional counterpart, Godred, in the story "Bad Look-Out". In this story, Godred fell down the mountain about a month after the railway's opening and was subsequently sent to the back of the shed, and eventually scrapped for spare parts. Despite the fact that it is stated at the end of the story that Culdee had made the whole thing up, the books "The Island of Sodor: Its People, History, and Railways", and "Sodor: Reading Between the Lines" show that Godred did indeed exist and met his demise when he fell down the mountain.

According to Culdee, Godred was self-centered and held too much faith in his automatic brakes. Culdee, Godred's crew, and the manager all tried to rectify this, but he never paid attention and paid the price.

The Rev. W. Awdry wanted the story to be as close to what really happened as much as possible, but did not want to distress the readers so he amended the story about Godred's demise by saying it was made up.


Ernest (number 2) appears in the story "Danger Points" talking to Culdee and Wilfred.


Wilfred (number 3) first appears telling Culdee of the engines who arrived during his absence, and is later delayed after Lord Harry derails at the summit. He is also seen lecturing Lord Harry about the importance of goods work.

Culdee [edit]

Culdee (number 4) is named after Culdee Fell, the mountain his railway climbs. He is a friendly engine, and has plenty of advice to give to the other engines. He was one of the first engines on the line, being built in 1896, and was used in early test runs on the line. He was also one of the last mountain engines on Sodor to travel to Switzerland for an overhaul.

Shane Dooiney[edit]

Shane Dooiney (number 5) is an engine on this railway who does not actually appear in The Railway Series, although he is mentioned in "The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways" where he is described as being overhauled in Switzerland during the events of the book "Mountain Engines". He is the last engine to be overhauled away from Sodor, all subsequent locomotive maintenance taking place on the island, at the Crovan's Gate Works.

Lord Harry/No.6/Patrick [edit]

Lord Harry (number 6) (also called "No. 6" and "Patrick") was known as a rude and ignorant trouble-maker on the Culdee Fell Railway. The fact that he was named after Lord Harry Barrane (the chairman of the Mountain Railway Board) and his ultra-modern superheated design made him conceited and led to a habit of unnecessary risk-taking. He even went far as to call Culdee a "patched-up old ruin". After scaring his coach and derailing at the summit station, blocking both platforms, he was sent to the sheds in disgrace by the manager, Walter Richards. He was stripped of his name and was known only by his number. Passengers refused to trust him and he was reduced to the level of goods engine, transporting hotel supplies and ferrying railway gangers to and from work. After rescuing an injured climber at the mountain summit by pushing the Truck up "Devil's Back" in a severe gale, he was regarded as a hero and renamed Patrick after the injured climber.


Alaric (number 7) is mentioned in a conversation between Culdee, Wilfred and Ernest in "Danger Points". He is built to a "super-heat" design, and has a designated passenger coach.

He is mentioned for being particularly quiet and polite to the other engines.


Eric (number 8) is mentioned in a conversation between Culdee, Wilfred and Ernest in "Danger Points". He is built to a "super-heat" design.

Like Alaric, he is also rather polite and quiet. He also has his own coach.

Rolling stock [edit]

On the Culdee Fell Railway, a train is formed from one coach and one locomotive. The coach is pushed up the mountain, not coupled to the engine, for safety reasons. The Culdee Fell Railway has 9 56-seater 'saloon' passenger coaches,[4] each of which normally works with a particular locomotive. Catherine is the only coach named in the stories:[4] she operates with Culdee. She looks out for Culdee on the way up the mountain, as he cannot see ahead. She is safety-conscious, and Lord Harry upset her with his risk-taking when he worked with her while Culdee was away being overhauled.

The railway also has 2 maintenance wagons, although only one appears in the stories, known as "The Truck".[2] They are used for goods and maintenance duties and for stores and rescue trains. The Truck is described as the only rolling stock capable of crossing Devil's Back ridge during a gale. For these trains, The Truck is loaded with sandbags and her tank is filled with water to increase her weight. Although she is not allocated to any specific engine, there was a period when she worked exclusively with Lord Harry when the Manager took that engine off passenger trains.

Human characters [edit]

Two people are named in the book: Lord Harry Barrane is the Chairman of the railway, and Mr. Walter Richards is its Manager. In the TV series, Mr. Peregrine Percival is the controller.


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Kirk Machan[edit]

In the books, Kirk Machan is the south-eastern terminus of the railway, at an interchange station with the standard gauge Peel Godred Branch Line[5]


This is a minor station approximately 4.5 miles (7.2 km) from Kirk Machan. It is based on Waterfall station on the Snowdon Mountain Railway[5]

Skarloey Road[edit]

This is a small station approximately 8 miles (13 km) from Kirk Machan. It is near the village of Poll-ny-Chrink, and is on the road from the Skarloey Slate Mines to Peel Godred and Cregwiz (the railway crosses the road shortly after the station). The station is based on Rocky Valley Halt on the Snowdon Mountain Railway.[5]

Devil's Back[edit]

This is a station approximately 10.5 miles (16.9 km) from Kirk Machan. It is halfway along the Devil's Back ridge, a high exposed ridge which the railway runs along. Devil's Back is based on Clogwyn station, which is on the Clogwyn ridge, on the Snowdon Mountain Railway.[5]

Culdee Fell Summit[edit]

Culdee Fell Summit station, is the terminus of the railway, and is approximately 12.5 miles (20.1 km) away from Kirk Machan. It is at the summit of the Culdee Fell mountain, at an elevation of 2,046 feet (624 m).[5]. It often known simply as Summit station although the illustration on page 41 if Mountain Engines shows the station name as Culdee Fell [station].[6]


Despite having never appeared in the Thomas & Friends television series, certain Culdee Fell Railway characters have nevertheless been included in commercial merchandising lines based on the series.[7] The models have been made the same size as the standard gauge characters in the ranges, and hence are made to a completely different scale.

Commercial models of Culdee Fell Railway characters
Model range Type Characters Notes
Ertl die-cast metal Culdee, Godred, Lord Harry, Catherine
Take Along Thomas die-cast metal Culdee
Take'n'Play Thomas die-cast metal Culdee
Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway wood Culdee, The Truck, Catherine (The Truck and Catherine being sold exclusively together in a 2- pack) Culdee has three versions. First was introduced in 1996 and discontinued in 2000. The second version was introduced in 2005 with the apple orchard cars and discontinued in 2008. Third version introduced in 2015. Catherine and the Truck were introduced in 1999 and discontinued in 2002. However, she was available in the Lift and Load Set until 2009.

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topic Children's literature : Freddy Fox, The Wreck of the Zephyr, Peter Danielson, Fuzzbuzz, Here Come the Blobbies, Carol Ellis, The Party Line (books)
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  • Culdee, a medieval monastic order with settlements in Ireland and Scotland
  • Fell, a treeless mountain landscape


  1. Sibley, Brian (1995). The Thomas the Tank Engine Man. Heinemann. pp. 236–8. ISBN 0-434-96909-5. Search this book on Logo.png
  2. 2.0 2.1 The Rev. W., Awdry; G Awdry (1987). The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. Kaye & Ward. pp. 66–76. ISBN 0-434-92762-7. Search this book on Logo.png
  3. Rev. W. Awdry (1972). Mountain Engines. Edmund Ward. p. 6. ISBN 0-7182-0427-1. Search this book on Logo.png
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Awdry, Christopher (2005). Sodor: Reading Between the Lines. Sodor Enterprises. pp. 16, 18, 30. ISBN 0-9549665-1-1. Search this book on Logo.png
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Maps of Sodor". Archived from the original on 11 December 2004. Retrieved 11 December 2004. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  6. Rev. W. Awdry (1972). Mountain Engines. Edmund Ward. p. 41. ISBN 0-7182-0427-1. Search this book on Logo.png
  7. "Culdee Fell Railway". The Real lives of Thomas the Tank Engine. Archived from the original on 2012-08-05. Retrieved 2008-04-17. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)

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