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Culdee Fell Railway

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Culdee Fell Engine Whistles

The Culdee Fell Railway (CFR) is a fictional narrow gauge rack and pinion railway appearing in the book Mountain Engines written by the Rev. W. Awdry. The stories are based on incidents in the history of the Snowdon Mountain Railway.


Culdee Fell Railway Tales of the Culdee Fell Railway by Agent555 on DeviantArt

Awdry visited the Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR) 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 SMR at the time, A.O.E. Davis, suggested that Awdry might like to include a similar railway on Sodor. Fortunately, a suitable mountain was already marked on the first published maps of Sodor, the 2046 ft-high Culdee Fell.

Culdee Fell Railway The Culdee Fell Railway Halloween Party by LGee14 on DeviantArt

In the book, the Culdee Fell Railway runs from Kirk Machan, where it meets the standard gauge line from Killdane to Peel Godred, to the summit of Culdee Fell. Devil's Back is a high exposed ridge which the railway runs along, corresponding to Clogwyn of the real Snowdon Mountain Railway.

Culdee Fell Railway TheIronEngine on Twitter quotMy artwork of the Culdee Fell Railway

Although the railway has yet to appear 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.

Culdee Fell Railway Culdee Fell Engines by Agent555 on DeviantArt


Culdee Fell Railway Culdee Fell Engines by JamesFan1991 on DeviantArt

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.

Culdee Fell Railway Culdee Fell Railway Pack RELEASED by thejonateers on DeviantArt

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 CFR is twice the length, with shallower gradients at the base, and a much harder final climb to the summit.

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) whilst 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:

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. 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.

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.

The Rev. 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.

Although 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 SMR locomotives.


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. Similarly, in the story "Bad Look-Out" the engine Culdee tells the tale of Godred, who falls over the mountain about a month after the railway's opening and was subsequently sent to the back of the shed, and eventually dismantled for spare parts. Although at the end of the story it is stated that Culdee had made the whole thing up, other records seem to show that it was a true story.

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 added that he had made up the story.


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 (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

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

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.


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

Rolling stock

On the CFR, 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 CFR has 9 56-seater 'saloon' passenger coaches, each of which normally works with a particular locomotive. Catherine is the only coach named in the stories: 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". 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

2 people are named in the book: Lord Harry Barrane is the Chairman of the railway, and Mr. Walter Richards is its Manager.


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. 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.


Culdee Fell Railway Wikipedia