The Arlesdale Railway - A History

A History of the Arlesdale Railway

The germination of this little line can be found in the ongoing saga of the great Mid Sodor Railway – when that railway closed, its track bed and the spoils of the lead mines it used to serve became the catalyst for the new railway.

The railway came about after the lead spoil was found to be an effective weedkilling ballast material and so a consortium of the owners of the North Western, the Skarloey and Culdee Fell Railways pulled to create a small railway in order to ship the ballast to the exchange at Arlesburgh with the NWR Branch Line (the Little Western).

1967 saw the first year of this new operation which was an instant success – and introduced us to the Small Engines, Rex, Mike and Bert, and Mr Fergus Duncan, affectionately known as the Small Controller .

The railway became a popular passenger carrier alongside the ballast freight operation as tourists came to view the Arlesdale valleys. Over time more and more trains were required, which led to two important advances: firstly, new motive power in the form of Jock and Frank, as well as support engines in the form of Sigrid of Arlesdale and the Blister Twins. The second and more important feature was that “Radio Control” was installed on the railway in order to accommodate extra trains and crossing manoeuvres without delay in scheduled trains.

Since the days of Jock The New Engine, the Arlesdale Railway has grown in leaps and bounds. More trains are required these days and Sigrid of Arlesdale, has seen plenty of action on passenger trains as necessary.

The Blister Twins have become an integral part of the team, being used in shunting at Arlesburgh and on permanent way trains – originally just one engine, its fellow was traced in England and brought to the railway to be restored after they had been separated following a collision involving the absent engine. Now reunited, both engines are a feature of the railway.

Sigrid of Arlesdale has seen more action as well, notable moments being conveying a train to help tackle the great fire at Marthwaite during the mid 1970s, as well as act as backup engine for the four steam engines. Originally a diesel hydraulic, the engine has been overhauled with an improved engine block and a new diesel mechanical transmission.

On the heritage front, another steam locomotive found a home on the Arlesdale in the form of Bassett, a 4-4-2 Bassett-Lowke 15in gauge tender engine who usually resides in a small museum at Arlesburgh but is capable of steaming and is brought out on special occasions. Recently he has seen more action, especially at the Galas and is a welcome sight with his antiquarian style and friendly demeanour.

The increase in passenger traffic in the last decade has meant that a new mixed traffic engine has become a requirement. Based on the experience of the Ravenglass and Eskdale, a new express diesel locomotive was designed and built with the aid of the Diesel-Hydraulic Advance team at Crovan’s Works. The result of the project was a new B-B diesel-hydraulic able to stroll away with anything that the Railway can throw at it and has become a fixture on early morning trains or extra duties at peak season. Named Ivan Farrier, it commemorates the former Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Arlesdale Railway.

Mr Farrier, the backbone of the Arlesdale Workshops retired in 2004 which led the way for his daughter, Joanne Farrier to become Chief Mechanical Engineer. Her list of accomplishments include assisting in the design of Ivan Farrier and the restoration of Bassett to working condition.

The railway enjoyed a quiet spell for a number of years, a period that ended in dramatic fashion in 2013. While Rex was withdrawn for overhaul, the railway hosted a visiting engine for a Steam Gala (Delilah) and the Works had celebrated the completion of a new build engine – built to the same design as Jock, for use on a foreign railway overseas. Unfortunately this combination of events saw tensions rise and one evening, with Mike, Bert and Rex all berthed at the Workshops, a catastrophic fire broke out.

The summer season that followed was fraught. Delilah, the visiting engine, remained for a short time to keep the service running, and was later replaced by a second hired in engine, Rockland Broad. As the men tackled the repairs to the three damaged engines, there was further bad news as Ivan Farrier suffered a severe failure, leaving the railway with just four operational engines capable of hauling trains.

In a testament to the hard work of everyone involved, Mike returned just before the August Bank Holiday, with Bert returning in the Autumn and Rex returning to traffic in January 2014.