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James the Red Engine

James the Red Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic tender locomotive from The Railway Series of children's books by the Rev. W. Awdry, and the spin-off TV series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. James is a mixed-traffic engine, which means he can pull coaches and trucks. He has a 2-6-0 ("Mogul") wheel arrangement and is engine number 5 on the North Western Railway, the Fat Controller's railway on the Island of Sodor.

He first appeared in the Railway Series in 1946, in the book Thomas the Tank Engine. Two books in the series, no. 3 James the Red Engine and no. 28 James and the Diesel Engines are dedicated to James.

In the stories, James crashed on his first day into a field. It was blamed on the wooden brake blocks he was given. James has a reputation for being naughty. Some of the incidents include breaking a coach brake pipe and needing a passenger's bootlace to fix it, crashing into tar wagons, and spinning on the turntable. Despite his behaviour, James is an engine proud of his red paint and is generally considered to be a really useful engine. He is similar in size to Edward and is one of the few engines allowed to pull the Express when Gordon is busy. As such, he is a mixed-traffic engine, meaning he can pull both trucks and coaches.

He is very proud of his red paint and shining brass dome, and so likes to stay clean. He hates pulling trucks, and believes that he should only be used to pull coaches. He thinks himself superior to the other engines, and can be shallow, boastful and arrogant – particularly to Edward, and those engines who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow or dirty. However, on a number of occasions he has found himself forced to accept help from those he has insulted, and is ultimately apologetic.

James is one of the few characters to have their own song (James The Really Splendid Engine) in the TV series, the chorus of which is based on his theme music used in the early seasons.

In the Railway Series, James was for a long time one of the last engines to retain a prejudice against diesels. However, he was forced to admit in the book James and the Diesel Engines that there was nothing wrong with diesels as a whole, and this appears to be one of the few lessons that has stuck.

Behind the Scenes

James first appeared in the Railway Series in 1946, in the book Thomas the Tank Engine. He was painted black at this point. At the request of the publishers, Awdry dedicated the next book to the character. It was in this book that James received his red paint and his personality.

In the book The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, it is claimed that James is based on a rebuild of a Class 27 locomotive of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, designed by George Hughes. However, as with most of the early Railway Series characters, this is a case of retroactive continuity.

Martin Clutterbuck has pointed out that the character also strongly resembles an Austrian Goods engine of the Glasgow and South Western Railway, and Awdry himself used an engine of this class to represent James on his model railway. As with Edward, it is possible that he rejected this prototype for the character's official "biography" on the grounds that an English locomotive would be geographically more likely to end up on Sodor.

James as a model

According to the Reverend W. Awdry, James is based on a "Class 28" Hughes steam locomotive. The main changes made to James from the real life model were the removal of the front sandboxes and the addition of the front pony truck. The front pony truck was added "experimentally" and it converted the original 0-6-0 into a 2-6-0 wheel arrangement. The real Hughes class 28's had 5' 1" driving wheels but James has 5' 6" drivers , plus the addition of the Fowler tender. James' 2-6-0 look was a model for a G&SWR mixed-traffic locomotive. The Rev Awdry's model was painted red with yellow lining as James was in the books. Originally intended for regular service, the model's motor was so unreliable that the engine never came to use.

James The Red Engine (Book)

James The Red Engine, was the third book in the Railway Series by Reverend W. Awdrey. It picked up where the previous book ("Thomas The Tank Engine"), left off- James was introduced in the last story of that book ("Thomas & The Breakdown Train"), when, new to the island, James (then painted black), was pushed off the rails by some silly trucks.

James and The Top Hat

James has been given a new coat of paint- red, to cheer him up after his accident- and becomes rather conceited. He lets off steam and sprays water on the Fat Controller's top hat. He is ashamed, though, and worries about the consequences. He is not punished on this occassion, but the Fat Controller is angry, and threatens to have him painted blue if his behaviour continues.

James and The Bootlace

James is furious when no-one dares come near him on the platform, following the mishap with the Fat Controller's hat. He is so angry, that he bumps the coaches, and causes a leak in the pipe. The hole has to be mended with newspaper and a passenger's bootlace- and the only passenger with a bootlace needs some coercing before he hands them over!

Troublesome Trucks

James is punished this time- Sir Topham Hatt makes him stay in the shed for a long time. James is so miserable he cries. The Fat Controller eventually decides to let him out, and tells him to pull some trucks. The trucks dislike James, and try to stop him reaching the top of the hill. Eventually, a brake snaps and some trucks roll downhill. The guard stops them, and Edward offers to help- but James prefers to go it alone. The trucks seem to realise James will keep trying whatever they do, and allow James to reach the top of the hill. The Fat Controller has seen everything from Edward's train, and is so pleased with James he decides to let him keep his red paint.

James and The Express

Gordon boasts to James that he is the only engine able to pull the express. James is resting in the shed the next day, when an exhausted Gordon arrives; he has accidentally been switched to the loop line, and had a long, wasted journey. James teases him about it, but a hoarde of angry passengers arrives and demands refunds.

James in Thomas and the Magic Railroad

Susan Roman voiced James in the film, Thomas and the Magic Railroad . He was briefly threatened by the evil Diesel 10 and almost pushed back into a smelting pit before being teleported out by Mr Conductor Junior (Michael E. Rodgers). At the beginning the fly annoying him was a reference to Buzz, Buzz.

James in the Guinness Book of Records

A large scale working replica of James (along with Thomas, Percy, Gordon, Harold and Jack) was created by BBC Visual Effects (UK) for a 2003 live stage show tour. This battery powered locomotive is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest model railway engine ever built, at 2.64 x 1.5 x 6.52 metres.

"Real Life" James

The Mid Hants Railway repainted one of its engines – a Southern Railway N class – into the livery of James. The engine retained this colour scheme for many years, and participated in the Railway Series golden jubilee celebrations at the National Railway Museummarker. This engine was the only replica Thomas character to be certified to run on the main line.On the East Lancashire Railwaymarker, unrestored LMS Ivatt Class 2 Mogul No. 46428 has been painted as James the Red Engine.

It created a certain amount of controversy among railway enthusiasts, who felt that it was inappropriate to paint a historic main line locomotive in such a garish livery. Nonetheless, the locomotive was popular with the railway's younger visitors.


  • In the TV Series, James makes a large number of cameos before his actual debut story. This leads to a continuity error in James and the Coaches.
  • In the Railway Series, James was painted black before his accident and was given his red coat to cheer him up; he is red throughout the TV Series.
  • In the story 'The Sad Story of Henry', James (or an engine very much like him) is seen trying to push Henry out of the tunnel.
  • In the Japanese version of Seasons 1-8, James was voiced by Katsuji Mori. James's new voice actor in Season 9 is Masashi Ebara (who voiced Mr. Conductor in the Japanese version of Thomas and the Magic Railroad).


  1. 'Full Cast and Crew for Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)' Retrieved May 22 2005

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