The Culdee Fell Railway (CFR) is a fictional railway on the Island of Sodor in The Railway Series of children's books written by the Rev. W. Awdry and the TV series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. It is based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, and is a steep rack and pinion railway high in the mountains of Sodor. The line 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.
The locomotives on this line push a single coach uphill, but the engine is not coupled to the coach. The CFR engines all carry the same purple (later different colored) livery, but each has its own distinctive personality. The book features three of these engines, whilst the others are only mentioned in passing. The televison features eight of these engines.
According to "research" by Rev. W Awdry, the railway was the brainchild of the tourist Mid Sodor Railway. 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 line remained closed until the following season whilst improvements were made.
The locomotives of the Culdee Fell Railway are all 0-4-2 tank locomotives with angled boilers, stovepipe chimneys and back-to-front cylinders. 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.
Lord Harry, Alaric and Eric are newer, more modern engines. They are fitted with superheating to improve their steaming efficiency. All of the Culdee Fell Railway engines are males, the most prominent females on their railway are of course coaches, most notably Catherine.
In The Railway Stories book, all the locomotives carry a purple livery, lined out in orange. In promotional material relating to the TV series, all the locomotives carry in widly different colours like the engines of Skarloey Railway. Culdee retains his Railway Series colours. Godred is painted red which led to the end of his name. Ernest is painted blue, Wilfred painted yellow, Shane Dooiney orange, Lord Harry green, Alaric brown and Eric black.
Unusually, they carry faces on the back as well as the front. This measure was used by Gunvor and Peter Edwards, the illustrators of the book Mountain Engines, as the engines would spend a lot of the book with their fronts obscured.
The North Western Railway's Crovan's Gate Works are now responsible for major repairs on the Culdee Fell Railway's engines. Previously, engines requiring overhaul had had to be sent to their manufacturer in Switzerland, a long and expensive journey.
Godred was based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway No. 1, L.A.D.A.S.. Godred suffered a similar fate to L.A.D.A.S which came off the rails on its maiden voyage. The fate of Godred is debatable – although the tale as recounted by Culdee (in the story 'Bad Look-Out') claims that he was dismantled for spare parts, at the end of the story it is stated that Culdee had made the whole thing up. However, all other canon sources support Culdee's version of events, leaving the reality uncertain. So is the ciause of the accident, whether it was a rock on the rack rail that Godred couldn't stop in time for, or because it was Godred's own fault because he kept a bad lookout due to his own arrogance and overconfidence in his automatic braking system.
The most likely real world explanation is that the Rev. W. Awdry wished for his fictional railway to mirror its real life counterpart as closely as possible. However, as this would involve the "death" of a character, he chose to end it as he did in order to avoid causing distress to his readers.
However some readers believe that Godred was turned into a generator like Stanley/ No.2 and Smudger were, or sent away to the Other Railway.
Ernest (number 2) had only a minor part in The Railway Series, being mentioned in the book Mountain Engines. Ernest is based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway engine Enid.
Wilfred (number 3) had only a minor part in The Railway Series, being mentioned in the book Mountain Engines. Wilfred is based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway engine Wyddfa.
According to The Real Lives of Thomas the Tank Engine, he and Ernest have been "retired". In all actuality, though, both engines re-entered traffic in 1996.
Culdee (number 4) is named after Culdee Fell, the mountain his railway climbs.
He is a friendly engine, and has a lot of good advice for the other engines. He is very careful, and has never had an accident. He was one of the first engines on the line, having been 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 overhaul.
A number of toys are available of this character, whom has sometimes been mistaken for a female due to his colors and somewhat feminine name by those who never read the books.
Shane Dooiney (number 5) was the only Mountain Engine never to appear in the stories. He was still being overhauled in Switzerland during the events of the book Mountain Engines. His name was not even revealed until the publication of the book The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. Like Culdee, he is named after a mountain on Sodor. Since his return, all repairs to the engines have been carried out at Crovan's Gate Works. His equivalent on the Snowdon Mountain Railway is Moel Siabod.
Lord Harry/Old Harry/Patrick/No. 6
Lord Harry (number 6) 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 railway company) and his ultra-modern superheated design made him conceited and led to a habit of unnecessary risk-taking. After scaring his coach, and derailing at the summit station, blocking both roads, he was sent to the sheds in disgrace by the manager, Mr. Walter Richards. He was stripped of his name and was known only as "No 6". 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 a truck up Devil's Back in a severe gale, he was regarded as a hero and renamed Patrick, the name of the injured climber.
Lord Harry/Old Harry/Patrick/No. 6 is based on Padarn on the Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Alaric (number 7) replaced Ernest on the railway and had only a minor part in the series. He is built to a 'super-heat' design. His Snowdon Mountain Railway equivalent is Ralph.
Eric (number 8) replaced Wilfred on the railway and had only a minor part in the series. He is built to a 'super-heat' design. His Snowdon Mountain Railway equivalent is Eryri.
Norman (number 9) was built at Hunslet of Leeds (with the engine built by Rolls Royce) in 1995. He is the first of two diesels built for the CFR. Unlike the Snowdon Mountain Railway, Norman is used for Permanent Way trains.
Betty (number 10) was built at the same time as Norman. Like her twin, she is also used for Permanent Way trains.
Vermat (number 11) was built by HPE Tredegar Railcar in 1995. He had many, many defects and faults, and was ultimately scrapped in 2010.
Bryan, Lars, and Katie
A trio of Swiss-built railcars built in 2013 to replace Vermat. The three of them are based on the railcars used by the Pikes Peak Cog Railway in Maintou Springs, Colorado, USA. They are all very friendly and still have thick Swiss accents.
Catherine is a coach on the Mountain Railway who operates with Culdee. Like the other coaches on that line, she is pushed up the mountain, not coupled to the engine for safety reasons. She looks out for Culdee on the way up, as he cannot see ahead. She is safety-conscious, and Lord Harry upset her with his risk-taking when he worked with her.
She is the only CFR coach to be named in the stories.
The railway owns seven other coaches, one for each engine, as well as three open coaches that are only used on the nicest of days. Godred's coach is only used during peak tourist season..
Until 2006, each train could only have one coach for safety reasons. After new procedures were put into place, trains can now operate with two coaches.
The Truck is a special item of rolling stock used for goods and maintenance duties on the Mountain Railway. She is also used for stores and rescue trains, as she is the only rolling stock capable of crossing the fearsome Devil's Back Ridge during a gale. For these trains, she 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.
Lord Harry Barrane
Lord Harry Barrane appears in the book: Mountain Engines. He is chairman of the Culdee Fell Railway company.
Mr Walter Richards
Mr. Walter Richards appears in the book: Mountain Engines. He is the Manager of the Culdee Fell Railway, responsible for the day-to-day running of the line. He is also in charge of making sure the engines behave themselves. He might be described as the Fat Controller character of the Culdee Fell Railway.
Merchandise has been produced based on the Mountain Engines, particularly Godred, Ernest, Wilfred, Culdee, Shane Dooiney, Lord Harry, Alaric, Eric, Catherine and The Truck.