The North Western Railway (NWR) is the main standard gauge rail network on the Island of Sodor. From nationalisation on 1st January 1948 until privatisation in 1997, it was the North Western Region of British Railways. The railway's motto is "Nil Unquam Simile", which is Latin for "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 and Mainland, the Wellsworth and Suddery and the Tidmouth, Knapford and 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 many 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 a 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 resulted in a locomotive crisis and Mr. Topham Hatt, now also a Director, was placed in charge of finding new motive power. In 1922, he attempted to buy a Robinson Atlantic but ended up with Henry, an engine riddled with flaws, while in 1923 he acquired Gordon and in 1924 he accquired James, both experimental prototypes.
In 1923 came the Grouping and the NWR was threatened with either closure or absorption into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (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 (which eventually occurred in January 1947). 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.
After the NWR came to an agreement with the LMS in 1925, the Motive Power Depot moved from Vicarstown to Tidmouth. This resulted in the closure of the sheds located there in 1927. At some point in the late 1920's to early 1930's, following a series of incidents resulting in a strike, Percy was acquired from a workshop to be Vicarstown's new station pilot after Thomas was allocated to the Ffarquhar Branch in 1924. Albert Regaby stepped down as chairman in 1934.
When the railways in the United Kingdom were nationalised, Sodor was affected too with the North Western Railway becoming the North Western Region of British Railways. However, the railway was allowed to keep a large degree of independence from the rest of the network; this is why steam traction was preserved on the railway, as well as why none of the branchlines were affected by the Beeching Axe. The other railways on the island were not affected by nationalisation. Since privatisation, the railway has again become the North Western Railway Company and unlike most post-privatisation train companies, it is responsible for the running of the freight and passenger operations and for the maintenance of the track and infrastructure of the railway.
- The Main Line
- Norramby Branch Line
- Kirk Ronan Branch Line
- Peel Godred Branch Line
- Brendam Branch Line
- Ffarquhar Branch Line
- The Little Western
Television Series only
- Quarry Branch Line
- Ulfstead Branch Line
- Toby's Branch Line
- The Loop Line
- Coaling Plant Branch Line
- The Main Line Loop
- Stepney's Branch Line
- Misty Valley Branch Line
- Killdane Branch Line
- Harwick Branch Line
- 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.
- 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 series until the introduction of Mr. Percival in the ninth series.
- The Adventure Begins marked the first time the name North Western Railway was stated in the television series. Some merchandising and promotional material had previously referred to it as Sodor Railways.
- Emma, Rosie and Rebecca are the only engines to have the railway's acronym displayed on them.
- A poster for the railway depicts LNER-styled illustrations of Thomas and Gordon, the only Steam Team members to have the exact same colour since 2018.