The North Western Railway (abbreviated NWR) is The Fat Controller's Railway and was first created in 1914 after a government-funded joining of Sodor's standard gauge railways. The railways involved were the Sodor and Mainland, the Tidmouth, Knapford and Elsbridge Light, and the Wellsworth and Suddery Railways. In 1948, it became the "North-Western Region of British Railways", but this term was never used as the railway kept its operating independence. With Privatisation in the early 1990s, it officially became the North Western Railway.
The railway's motto is "Nil unquam simile", which, translated from Latin, means "There's nothing quite like it!"
The North Western Railway was formed in 1914 by the Government sponsored amalgamation of the three standard gauge railways on the island - The Sodor & Mainland, the Wellsworth & Suddery and the Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge, the latter two already in the process of amalgamation - as a strategic railway for coastal defence against possible danger from Ireland. Albert Regaby, Lord Harwick, always maintained that his gift to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, of a copy of the History of the Island of Sodor, which lays great emphasis on the importance of Sodor as an outpost in the direction of Ireland, was the deciding factor that led to the formation of the NWR.
Lord Harwick was appointed Chairman, while Mr Topham Hatt, formerly of the TK&ER, was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer, and the NWR began operating in 1915. Much construction work was needed in order to connect the three absorbed railways and meet the Admiralty's requirements. The NWR cut a single bore tunnel through the Ballahoo Ridge, allowing it to extend to Vicarstown, where it established its Administrative Headquarters and main Motive Power Depot. A rolling lift bridge, designed by Topham Hatt, was subsequently erected across the Walney Channel, finally connecting Sodor with the Mainland. Repair shops were also established at Crovan's Gate, while much of the routes of the former railways were converted from single to double track.
In 1916, the NWR constructed a single line extension of the Main Line up to Arlesburgh by Government Order. The line was a key part of the NWR's obligations as a strategic railway, for it allowed the Admiralty to regularly patrol the West Coast of the island with armoured trains. It was originally intended to reach Harwick, but by the time Arlesburgh was reached, the immediate threat had passed and further extension was dropped. Apart from the four "Coffee Pots" of the TK&ER and the four 0-6-0 tank engines of the W&SR, the NWR when formed had no locomotives of its own. Throughout the First World War it was worked with locomotives and rolling stock borrowed from the Midland and the Furness Companies, such as Edward. It also acquired a tank engine from the LB&SCR named Thomas.
By 1921 most of these locomotives had to be returned, and replacements needed to be found. This was a time of great difficulty for the NWR as with the end of the War the NWR's military value was ended and Government support withdrawn. This resultec in a locomotive crisis, and Mr Topham Hatt, now also a Director, was placed in charge of finding new motive power. In 1921, he attempted to buy a Robinson Atlantic, but ended up with Henry, an engine riddled with flaws, while in 1923 he acquired Gordon and James, both experimental prototypes.
In 1923 came the Grouping, and the NWR was threatened with either closure or absorption into the LMS system. The NWR Board, however, led by their Chairman Lord Harwick believed in the Railway’s future and fought off the plans. In this they were ably backed by the new General Manager, Topham Hatt, and to such good purpose that by 1925 the LMS had been brought to terms, and the NWR was enabled to maintain its identity. The agreement with the LMS granted the NWR Running Powers across the Vicarstown Bridge into Barrow-in-Furness, and also began a joint suburban service between Barrow and Norramby, at the cost of the NWR curtailing a steamer service between Kirk Ronan and Dublin it had launched in 1920.
Also in 1923, following an agreement with the Peel Godred Power Company, the NWR constructed a branch line from Killdane to Peel Godred to serve the Sodor Aluminium Works, using powers it had inherited from the S&MR. Due to the heavy gradients, the branch line is unique for being worked by electric locomotives. While the branch has provided steady revenue to the NWR, it resulted in the closure of the Mid Sodor Railway. The following year, 1924, the NWR entered an agreement with Jabez Croarie to extend its Elsbridge Branch Line to Ffarquhar to service the Anopha Quarry, providing a new source of traffic.
- The Main Line
- Norramby Branch Line
- Kirk Ronan Branch Line
- Peel Godred Branch Line
- Brendam Branch Line
- Ffarquhar Branch Line
- The Little Western
In the television series, the railway also has the following lines:
- Ulfstead Branch Line
- Toby's Branch Line
- The Loop Line
- The Main Line Loop
- Stepney's Branch Line
- Misty Valley Branch Line
- Introduced in the Railway Series, only part of the railway in the Television Series.
Railway Series Only
- According to The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, the North Western Railway has at least a total of eighty locomotives, the vast majority of which are undocumented in the Railway Series.
Television Series Only
- In the television series, Diesel, Mavis, Bill, Ben and Stepney are owned by the North Western Railway despite being owned by British Railways and private railways respectively in The Railway Series. The Skarloey Railway was under the same management as the NWR from its introduction in the fourth season.