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A map of the Island of Sodor showing the railway system

Sodor is a fictional island in the Irish Seamarker used as the setting for The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry, and later used in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series.

Inspiration and creation

The need for consistency in the locations for The Railway Series necessitated the creation of a suitable location. The Rev. Awdry required a setting for his books that would be within Great Britainmarker, but would be sufficiently isolated from the rest of British Railways to allow him to do as he wished with the location.

Inspiration came on a visit to the Diocese of Sodor and Manmarker in 1950. Awdry noted that while there is an Isle of Manmarker, there was no similar Island of Sodor. A large island would meet the criteria he required, giving him the isolation from changes to the British railway system while giving him somewhere that people could believe in.

He and his brother George worked out the history, geography, industry and language of Sodor between them. Inspiration came from various sources. Dryaw was an anagram of Awdry. Elsbridge was named after Wilbert's parish of Elsworth. Some place names were Sudric equivalents of those in the real world (for instance, Skarloey was the Sudric version of the Welsh Talyllynmarker.) By the time they had finished, they knew more about Sodor than would ever be used in the actual Railway Series stories.

Their abridged notes were published in 1987 in a book entitled The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways .

Origin of name

The bishop of the Isle of Man is known as Bishop of "Sodor and Man"marker. This is because the Isle of Man was part of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, which included the Hebridesmarker, known in Old Norse as the Suðreyjar, (anglicised as "The Sudreys") i.e. "Southern Isles" in contradistinction to Norðreyjar ("The Nordreys"), or the "Northern Isles", ie Orkneymarker and Shetlandmarker. The Sudreys became "Sodor", which was fossilised in the name of the Diocese, long after it ceased to have any authority over the Scottish Islands. After the Reformation, the Church of England took the name for itself.

Thus there is no Island of Sodor; rather, the fictional island takes its name from an archipelago.

Awdry was intrigued to find that although the Bishop had the title "Sodor and Man", he had only Man for his diocese. "Everybody knew that there was an Isle of Man, but we decided to 'discover' another island – the Island of Sodor – and so give the poor deprived Bishop the other half of his diocese!" (Rev. W. Awdry) Hence Awdry sited Sodor in the Irish Sea, between the Isle of Man and Barrow-in-Furnessmarker in Cumbriamarker.

Geography of Sodor

Sodor is usually shown as much larger than the Isle of Manmarker. The island is roughly diamond-shaped, wide east to west and long north to south. Its northwest coast is separated from the Isle of Man by a sea strait called the Sudrian Sea, four miles (6 km) wide. Its northeast edge overrides and replaces the real Walney Islandmarker.

The place names on Sodor are mostly a mixture of Manx and Norse. The island's language is Sudric, though like Manx, this is falling out of use. It has various small industrial sites, including a prosperous stone quarry served by the island's railway. Its highest mountain is Culdee Fell, which was modelled on Snowdonmarker: the ridge of Devil's Back copies the Clogwyn ridge on Snowdon. The summit is reached by the Culdee Fell Railway, which is based on the Snowdon Mountain Railwaymarker in Walesmarker.

The ancient capital of Sodor is the 'city' of Suddery but Tidmouth has grown to be the largest town on the island. One of the more famous settlements on Sodor is Ffarquhar, the terminus of Thomas the Tank Engine's Branch Line.

All of the other settlements on the island are described in Locations on the Island of Sodor, while the six railway lines from The Railway Series are described below.

The Railways of Sodor

Most of the known history concerning the railways on the Island of Sodor has been determined through "research" conducted by the Rev. W Awdry.

The first railway on the island, dating from 1806, was a horse-worked plateway from Cros-ny-Cuirn to Balladwail, a port south-east of Crovan's Gate, which is no longer rail-connected. Pack horses were used to bring copper ore from a mine in the mountains down to Cros-ny-Cuirn, where it was loaded into wagons for the journey to the port. In 1820, the Crovan's Gate Mining Company extended the line up the valley to the mine by building a series of five inclined planes. At the same time, the rest of the 1806 line was rebuilt with fish-belly edge rail. The line continued in use until the Skarloey Railway was built, after which it was abandoned, although the overgrown remains can still be seen to this day.

A government-sponsored amalgamation of the standard gauge railways in the Island occurred in 1914 to build a strategic railway for coastal defence called the North Western Railway. The railways concerned were:
  • The Sodor & Mainland Railway (1853-1901) which ran from Ballahoo to Kirk Ronan.
  • The Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge Railway (1883-1914) from Tidmouth to Elsbridge (the railway was known as the Knapford & Elsbridge Railway until 1908 when line extended to Tidmouth)
  • The Wellsworth & Suddery Railway (1870-1914), which ran from Crosby to Brendam, with an extension from Crosby to Knapford in 1912 to amalgamate with the Tidmouth, Knapford & Elsbridge Railway.

The North Western Railway has had running rights into Barrow Central Station since the agreement with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1925. There is a Scherzer rolling lift bridge of span and double track over the Walney Channel, designed by Topham Hatt and erected in 1915. The NWR built its headquarters at Vicarstown in 1915, but the administrative offices were relocated to Tidmouth in 1926. Until the construction of the Jubilee Road Bridge in 1977, the NWR had rights for a 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 Kingdommarker were nationalised the North Western Railway became the North Western Region of British Railways. It was allowed to keep a large degree of independence from the rest of the network, which is why steam traction was preserved. 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 not just for the running of the freight and passenger operations, but also for the maintenance of the track and infrastructure of the railway.

The current railway system

All of the railway lines created in The Railway Series have their own pages with information on routes and the stations served.

*The Mainline runs from Barrow on the mainland, joining the island at Vicarstown and transversing the island to Tidmouth. Its main traffic is Gordon's express which has to safely navigate Gordon's Hill.

*Thomas' Branch Line runs from Knapford to Ffarquhar

*Edward's Branch Line goes from Brendam to Wellsworth. It links the china clay works at Brendam to the mainline.

*The Little Western is known as Duck's Branch Line and runs along the coast from Tidmouth to Arlesburgh.

*The Peel Godred Branch runs from Kildane to Peel Godred and connects with the Culdee Fell Railway.

*There are three other North Western Railway branch lines detailed on the maps of Sodor that have not featured in The Railway Series. They run from:
:: Vicarstown to Norramby, via Ballahoo
:: Ballahoo to Crovan's Gate
:: Kellsthorpe Road to Kirk Ronan

  • The Arlesdale Railway or Small Railway is a miniature railway taking waste from the mines in the hills to Arlesburgh where it could be distributed to the rest of the Island. It also carries tourists.

The Island as portrayed on screen

The Island of Sodor in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series differs significantly from that in the books. Wilbert and George Awdry's notes have been largely ignored. The television version of Sodor appears larger and has more industry, and the connection to the mainland of Britain is not obvious (although there must be one to allow visiting locos to visit).

In the movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad the Island was portrayed very differently from either the books or the television series. Sodor was a magical land that could only be accessed via a Magic Railroad or by using mysterious "gold dust".



  1. Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9

External links

  • Maps of Sodor

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