Hornby Railways launched its official Thomas & Friends range in 1985, shortly after the debut of the television series. It primarily utilises modified versions of existing Hornby engines to produce replicas of Thomas characters, as well as existing rolling stock and accessories. In the early 1980s, there was a range of unofficial models released in the Playtrains range whereby the engines were Ex-Nellie/Polly locomotives on push-along chassis. The engines created were Thomas, James, Percy and Gordon, all with their original colour schemes but red wheels for most. Two other locomotives called Dixie and Pixie were released alongside, but only Dixie had blue wheels. More info can be found on Dave Angell's website. In 2014, the range was discontinued, with Hornby releasing a statement saying that it was "under review". In 2015, Hornby reintroduced the Thomas line with selected models, rolling stock and sets released in December 2015 and into 2016. The reintroduced models retain their original faces; Edward, Gordon and James received improved tender driven motors and Henry was upgraded with a loco driven chassis, which allows for being equipped for Digital Command Control (DCC) via a standard 8-pin socket.
Parts from Hornby's 00 gauge models were used to make the engines and rolling stock for the 1953 television adaptation of The Sad Story of Henry.
Hornby produced a series of 00 gauge model railway engines, track, accessories and box sets based on Thomas & Friends. The track and couplers were Hornby's standard; therefore, the range was compatible with other Hornby products.
The Thomas & Friends range was retired at the end of 2018 due to "changing trends and toy safety age restrictions".
|Model||Original Release Year||Item Number||Notes|
|Thomas the Tank Engine||1980 (Early Playtrains Push-Along); 1985 (official)||Made using a London, Brighton and South Coast Railway E2 tank engine model with added splashers and a modified cab; reissued in 2015|
|Percy the Saddle Tank Engine||1980 (Early Playtrains Push-Along); 1985 (official)||Made from a brand new moulding utilising the standard Hornby 0-4-0 chassis; reissued in 2015|
|Gordon the Big Blue Engine||1980 (Early Playtrains Push Along); 1986 (official)||Made using the Tri-ang LNER A1 class tooling with a modified cab and six-wheeled tender; reissued in 1995 and 2016.|
|Duck||1986||Made using the old Tri-ang GWR 57xx class tooling with a modified cab; reissued in 1995.|
|James the Red Engine||1980 (Early Playtrains Push Along) 1988 (official)||Made using a Tri-ang LMS 3F class tooling with altered moulding around the smokebox and extended frames and an added pony truck; reissued in 2016|
|Devious Diesel||1987||Made using the Tri-ang 0-6-0 class 08 diesel shunter mould; reissued in 2002|
|Toby the Tram||2001||Made from a brand new moulding utilising a custom Hornby 0-4-0/0-6-0 chassis|
|Bill and Ben||2001||Made from a brand new moulding utilising a custom Hornby 0-4-0/0-6-0 chassis; both released separately|
|Henry the Green Engine||2002||Made using Hornby's old LMS Stanier 5MT tooling; reissued in 2016|
|Edward||2006||Made using a repainted LNER D49 class model with a taller funnel and without the external cylinders and valve gear; reissued in 2016|
|'Arry and Bert||2003||Made using the Tri-ang 0-6-0 class 08 diesel shunter mould; both released separately|
|Class 40||2003||Made with Hornby's BR class 37 tooling|
|Oliver||2005||Made using a repainted GWR 14xx class tooling|
|Stepney||2005||Made using a London, Brighton and South Coast Railway A1X class tooling; reissued in 2012 for a limited time|
|D7101||2005||Made using a BR class 35 tooling|
|Flying Scotsman||2005||Made using an LNER A1/A3 class tooling|
|Emily||2007||Made using a repainted GWR Dean Achilles class model; was supposed to be released in 2006, but her release was delayed|
|Spencer||2008||Made using a repainted LNER A4 class model; reissued in 2012 for limited production|
|Murdoch||2011||Made using a repainted BR 9F class model|
|Model||Original Release Year||Item Number||Notes|
|Annie and Clarabel||1985||Produced using Hornby's standard four-wheeled coaches; reissued in 2015|
|Cattle Wagon||1985||Made using the Tri-ang moulding; only available in the Percy Set until 1986; reissued in 2005|
|Milk Tanker||1985||Made using a standard four-wheeled tanker|
|Brake Van||1985||Made using a BR standard brake van|
|Gordon's Express Coaches||1986||Made using the GWR Composite and Brake Coaches in a green and cream livery|
|James' Express Coaches||1988||Made using the GWR Composite and Brake Coaches in a red and cream livery; reissued in 2001 and 2015|
|Tar Tanker||1989||Reissued in 1998|
|Breakdown Crane||1989||Reissued in 2005 and 2011|
|Sodor Fuel Tanker||2002|
|Sodor Scrap Co. Wagon||2002|
|Old Slow Coach||2005|
|Raspberry Syrup Tanker||2005|
|Ice Cream Wagon||2005|
|9 Circus Vans||2005|
|Circus Cattle Wagon||2005|
|Circus Flatbeds||2005||Both released separately|
|Weathered Oil Tanker||2006|
|Red Open Wagon||2006|
|Light Blue Open Wagon||2006|
|Sodor Mail Coach||2006|
|Cream Utility Wagon||2006|
|Light Grey Vent Van||2006|
|Red Oxide Vent Van||2006|
|Lime Wagon||2011||Both Grey and Brown versions available|
|Works Unit Van||2011|
|Sodor Mail Operating Coach||2011||Eight wheel version only available in the Percy & The Mail Train Set|
|Tanker Wagon Pack||2012||Features an Oil Tanker, Milk Tanker and a Fuel Tanker; reissued as the Tanker Triple Pack in 2015|
|Open Wagon Pack||2012||Features a Brake Van, Sodor Scrap Truck and S.C.Ruffey; reintroduced as the Wagon Triple A Pack|
|Closed Van Wagon Pack||2012||Features a Cattle Truck, Light Grey Vent Van and Red Oxide Vent Van; reintroduced as the Wagon Triple B Pack|
|Model||Original Release Year||Item Number||Notes|
|Station and platform||1985||Intended to be reissued in 2011, but cancelled before release|
|Water tower and crane||1985||Intended to be reissued in 2011, but cancelled before release|
|Signal Box||1985||Reissued in 2005 and 2006; intended to be reissued in 2011, but cancelled before release|
|Platform with canopy||1985||Intended to be reissued in 2011, but cancelled before release|
|Footbridge||1985||Intended to be reissued in 2011, but cancelled before release|
|Tunnel||1985||Reissued in 2005|
|Engine shed||1985||Intended to be reissued in 2011, but cancelled before release|
|Goods shed||1985||Intended to be reissued in 2011, but cancelled before release|
|The Fat Controller, Driver and Fireman||1986||Cancelled before release|
|Water Tower and Signal Box pack||2002|
|Radio-Controlled Sound System||2002|
|Bertie the Bus||2005||Reintroduced from the Thomas and Bertie Set|
|Double Engine Shed||2005|
|Goods Yard Crane||2005|
|Three circus tents and three circus stalls||2006|
|Great Waterton Station||2008|
|Great Waterton Station Platform||2008|
The newer sets are supplied with a "Midi-Mat" with printed scenery and track layout, enough track to create a basic oval, one or two engines and rolling stock, a transformer, controller and a power clip. Customers were encouraged to purchase further Thomas-branded "track packs", "building packs" and other models to complete the layout printed on the mat. The older sets had cut out figures (such as The Fat Controller) and tunnel and the sets also advertised the buildings and accessories within the range.
|Model||Original Release Year||Item Number||Notes|
|Gordon Passenger Set||1987|
|Devious Diesel Set||1987|
|James Passenger Set||1988||Reissued in 2005|
|Thomas and Bertie Battery Powered Set||1988||A battery-powered set including an unpowered Thomas, a motorised Annie, Clarabel, Bertie and a copy of Thomas and Bertie and Thomas Down the Mine, which allowed children to recreate the story of Thomas and Bertie (the book was omitted from 1995 onwards, however). The track for this set was double sided; one side for Thomas and one side for Bertie|
|Thomas 'Musical Ride' Battery Powered Set||1995||A musical set with an 0-4-0 Thomas, Annie, Clarabel and a battery powered station. Whilst Thomas moved around the track, the original theme music would play|
|Thomas and Percy Electric Train Set||1997||Intended to be reissued in 2009, but cancelled before release|
|Thomas and Station Battery Powered Set||1997|
|Radio-Controlled Thomas Set||2002|
|Radio-Controlled Thomas and Percy Set||2002|
|Radio-Controlled Toby Set||2002|
|Percy Circus Set||2005|
|Thomas & Bill Set||2005|
|Thomas & The Great Discovery Set||2008||Featured an exclusive tired and weathered Thomas, weathered versions of Annie and Clarabel and weathered versions of the red open wagon and the light blue open wagon, which also came with loads|
|Thomas Train Set||2009|
|Thomas Passenger & Goods Set||2009||Reissued in 2015|
|Percy & The Mail Train Set||2011||Reissued in 2015|
|Thomas & The Breakdown Train Set||2012|
Clockwork Train Sets, Locomotives, Rolling Stock, Buildings and Accessories
Hornby also produced Thomas and some of his friends in clockwork form. The sets were available as 'Playtrains' (plastic track) or as standard Hornby track. The playtrain coaches and wagons had simple up and down couplings and plastic playtrain wheels which meant that they were not compatible on normal Hornby track. The rolling stock on the normal Hornby 00 gauge track clockwork sets were exactly the same as the electric versions.
- Thomas Passenger Set - plastic track
- Thomas Passenger Set - metal track
- Thomas Goods Set - plastic track
- Thomas Goods Set - metal track
- Percy Goods Set - plastic track
- Percy Goods Set - metal track
Additional sections of playtrain track including points and buffers were available.
The clockwork playtrain sets now had the normal Hornby logo rather than the Playtrains logo.
- Annie and Clarabel were available separately
This year saw a revamp in the clockwork Thomas system. The system was now only available as clockwork 'Playtrains'. Thomas' chassis was remodelled to an 0-6-0 chassis rather than the inaccurate 0-4-0 previously carried. Also, the plastic track had a totally new design. The models, accessories and sets were as follows:
- Troublesome Truck 1
- Troublesome Truck 2
- Thomas No.1 Set
- Thomas and Ben Wind-up Train Set
- Signal Box/Water Tower pack
- Thomas Station
- Turntable pack
In 2003, the entire clockwork system was retired from the Thomas line.
- In the early 1980's, Hornby had made use of an existing tooling of the locomotive commonly referred to as a "Nellie" to make variants of Thomas, Percy, James and Gordon. Not much is actually known about them as they were probably not officially licensed, but they were released under the "Playtrains" brand and featured a yellow chassis with red wheels, whilst Dixie another locomotive made had blue wheels. There is a sixth called Pixie too.
- To date, this was the longest-running brand of merchandise in the history of Thomas & Friends, spanning 33 years from the early days of the television series in 1985 to 2018.
- The 1997, 1998 and 1999 Hornby catalogues are the only catalogues that did not illustrate the Thomas and Friends range since its debut in 1985. Instead, the range was listed in the price lists and published its own catalogues.
- Thomas (clockwork and 0-4-0 shell only), Percy, Toby, Bill and Ben are the only engines to have their tooling created from scratch. Coincidentally, these are the most accurate television series looking characters to date, with Thomas (clockwork/free-rolling) and Percy being the closest to their first series models (although Percy is eight millimetres too long).
- Bertie is the only non-rail Thomas character to have been released.
- Flying Scotsman, Bear, Spencer and Murdoch have sprung buffers, whilst Spencer and Murdoch have detailed handrails and loco drive motors. This is likely due to them being made using newer toolings than some of the locomotives made before them.
- The Thomas and Bertie Battery Powered set was later reused as a Fireman Sam set with different figures, vehicles and scenery.
- The close-up pictures on the prototype box cover of the musical Thomas set showed pictures from Hornby's station master train set, as using the same tooling. The same set was later used as the 'My first Hornby' set.
- Hornby also made toys for one of The Britt Allcroft Company's other major productions, The Magic Adventures of Mumfie.
- There have been several instances where the Hornby Thomas range has been featured in pop-culture:
- Several models were featured in a sketch on Bobby Davro's TV Weekly called Thomas the Tanked Up Engine.
- An Annie or Clarabel model along with the early cattle wagon appear briefly on an episode of Last of the Summer Wine.
- The promotional photo of the Thomas model is used in a recurring gag on The NRL Footy Show in Australia, with Paul Gallen's face edited over Thomas'.
- A model of Thomas made a cameo on a 2003 Comic Relief parody of Harry Potter.
- A model of Percy along with a tar tanker and a Mail Van were seen briefly in James May's Top Toys.
- In 2014, when artist Jenny Bell decided to paint a mural of the nativity at Nottingham railway station for Christmas, she added a golden model of Thomas into the picture, using the wind-up model of him as a guide, akin to how the Rev's models were used for the book illustrations.
- The blue open wagon featured in "Mr. Perkins' Railway".
- A Troublesome Truck made a cameo in a episode of TV Burp.
- Thomas' model originally came fitted with traction tyres on the centre wheels which helps give the model grip on the rails. However, these have been omitted from Thomas models produced in recent years, likely to improve its running performance.
- Thomas' 1985 model had a face that resembles his appearance in The Railway Series, but was changed the following year to match his appearance in the television series. Earlier models of Thomas also featured the red lining on his back.
- Thomas and Percy's models originally had a blue and green running board respectively, but since their 2015 re-releases, they have both gained a splash of white, Thomas on his front valence and Percy up to the front of his cab.
- In 2016, Thomas gained a lamp on the front of his running board.
- Edward's model is incorrectly depicted as LNER D49 with pistons and corresponding linkage removed and funnel changed.
- Henry's 2016 re-release is the only tender engine in the revised Hornby Thomas range to be given a loco driven chassis, while the 2016 Edward, Gordon and James models have improved tender driven motors.
- Gordon's prototype model had a different face when he was featured in the 1986 catalogue. Duck and Diesel's prototype models also share this distinction in the 1987 catalogue.
- The original Gordon models (1986-2013) had oval buffers, whereas the 2016-2017 present models have round buffers.
- Percy's prototype model was originally a modified Caledonian Pug, but it was decided to use a new-build tooling, likely to make it look closer to his appearance in the television series.
- Toby's model is oversized and is too tall to fit under most shed doors and tunnels because of it.
- On Duck's model:
- His handrails are painted gold, similar to his earlier appearances in the second series.
- His wheel arches are green, when they should be painted black.
- Oliver and Stepney's models state 2004 underneath them, despite not being released until 2005. It is likely that they were meant for release in 2004, but were delayed to the following year.
- Bill and Ben's models are oversized and their prototype models had yellow wheels.
- Stepney and Class 40's buffers are black instead of silver.
- Flying Scotsman appears in the Railway Series and Television Series with two tenders, but the Hornby model only has one.
- Emily's coal load is removable.
- Murdoch's name is written in black on his nameplates instead of gold/yellow.
- On Spencer's model:
- The wheels and tender corridor are black.
- He has a double-chimney instead of a single one.
- His tender buffer-beam is red.
- The 2008 model had silver handrails, while the 2012 version had black handrails.
- For unknown reasons, 'Arry and Bert's faces look like Splatter and Dodge's. Interestingly, however, their prototype faces resemble that of their Ertl faces. Their prototype models also had red buffer-beams.
- Dart is the only CGI character to be introduced into Hornby's range.
- Dart's model has side rods, due to using an inaccurate tooling.
- In addition to that, Dart is also far taller than he is depicted in the show.
- The brown first series style Troublesome Open Wagon originally had a 5 plank wagon tooling, but its non-faced replacement has a 7 plank tooling.
- Although the milk tanker usually carried blue lettering, several earlier models were done with red lettering; these are extremely rare and are likely to be factory errors.
- Oddly, earlier releases of the cattle wagon carried the words "TO BE RETURNED TO LEWES" on it; this was removed on the 2005 re-release.
- The mail coach originally had four wheels due to being tooled from a CCT van, though not of southern origin as the show ones were; however now the mail coaches have eight after being reintroduced in the Percy and the Mail Train Set using the toolings of the existing Royal Mail Operating Coach.
- Toad is painted brown instead of grey.
- The prototype models of Spencer's coaches were LNER Gresley coaches painted red.
- The stickers on Bertie's 2005 model are different from those on his 1988 model.
- Toby, Bill and Ben all share a chassis designed specifically for them which can be in either 0-6-0 or 0-4-0 configurations respectively.
- D7101 (Bear) is the only character exclusively from the Railway Series to be released from Hornby.
- The Prototype images of "The Great Discovery Collector Buildings" series were Behind the Scenes.
- Stanley's Shed is depicted with one less window on each side.
- The Thomas model made for the Thomas and Bertie set has a variation with flanged wheels, similar to the 0-4-0 clockwork engine. However, they likely got quickly replaced; no-one is quite sure whether it was a first production run or simply just an error. In any case they are very rare and hard to come by and so far only YouTube user flyingtardis is known to own one of these. However, another was sited by YouTube user Blue Tank Engine Pictures a while ago.
- Thomas' 0-4-0 counterpart can be seen re-liveried as well as carrying a smokebox door in Hornby's main range; these include:
- LBSCR No.629
- Mosley Tarmacadam
- BR No.43209
- Transatlantic Industries No.585
- Queen Elizabeth II No.60
- Hornby's James model was a tooling modified in a similar fashion to the Reverend W. Awdry's model by re-using a Tri-ang 4F with extended running board and pony wheel fitted to the front.
- Emily, although based on a GNR Stirling Single, was inaccurately made from a GWR Dean Single. This is due to Hornby not producing a Stirling Single, even though many other versions of "Singles" do exist.
- D261 (A.K.A. The Diesel) is inaccurately depicted as a BR Class 37 rather than a BR Class 40. Hornby owned Lima by this point who made a Class 40 model with the number D261 in the years prior.
- Edward, Gordon and James all have Southern tenders fitted rather than LMS Fowler tenders, which is strange due to the aforementioned Lima ownership and their 4F does have a Fowler tender.
- Märklin HO scale Thomas series was the Hornby models with additional pickup shoes. Therefore, they were only available in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.