The Peel Godred Branch Line - A History

The line from Killdane (on the North Western Railway’s Mainline) north to the town of Peel Godred was opened in 1923 by the NWR, although permission had been granted to the S&M to do so as far back as 1853. The NWR paid for only half of this construction, the rest of the funding coming from the Peel Godred Power Company who required the new line in order to transport equipment and materials to and from their new hydro-electric power station in the town. Plans for their goods to be sent via the Mid Sodor Railway never came about, the narrow gauge track and tight clearances being the major stumbling block.

Originally built as a light railway owing to the nature of the terrain and cost of the building project, the PGPC and NWR agreed it sensible to use electric traction on the route as electric power was readily available from the power company, and 3 engines were drafted in. Each of the engines acquired was different, the intention being to test each and then run the line with a fleet of the best sort so as to save on maintenance costs in the future. This never happened- largely for financial reasons - as new engines were expensive and the Board would never authorise buying new engines when the ones already in situ were serviceable.

On top of this the Director of the time, Topham Hatt, had no interest at all in electric traction and in an unusual move appointed a dedicated manager for the line, legend stating that he claimed; "So I won't have to deal with all their work-shy antics!" The manager was the youthful Walter Roach, whose father was a Director of the North Eastern Railway Company who had advised with the Peel Godred construction works.

The three engines - No 1 ‘Loey Machan’, No 2 ‘Dubbhyn Moore’ & No 3 ‘Poll-ny-Chrink’ - or Loey, Maude and Polly as they were commonly known - worked the line for the first 30 years with the occasional visit from the North Western's steam fleet - including some which were deemed too heavy for the route! An extra engine, a class 77 who became No 4 'King Orry', was purchased in 1953 as the work load increased and the resident engines began to tire. The tally reverted to 3 again after the shocking accident and subsequent on-sight scrapping of Polly in 1966 at what had become known as 'Polly's Curve'.

Further bad fortune befell the line. In what became one of the worst disasters to hit Sodor in modern times, a dam breach at the Corloey Reservoir saw the town of Peel Godred engulfed causing terrible damage and devastation. The Alumina Yards, further up the valley, took the full force of the rushing waters and the line then faced an uncertain future.

Finally a decision was made to upgrade the Plant and the railway line by converting to the far more modern and commonly used AC power - this move meant a new fleet of locomotives was required. Of the three locomotives, 'Miserable' Maude had been withdrawn due to damage she sustained in the dam disaster; Loey caught fire after an accident of his own doing before subsequently being scrapped; and Orry was transferred away to the Woodhead route in England, by way of thanks for his efforts in keeping the railway running during difficult times.

Owing to the high costs involved in the line upgrade, only two engines could be afforded upon reopening in 1976 - a pair of class 86 locomotives which became No 5 ‘Abbey’ and No 6 ‘Killdane’. They were joined in 1987 by an electric multiple unit which became No 7 ‘Shen Ven’, and in 2004 by a class 87 No 8 ‘Kirk Machan’. As had been customary since the line had opened, steam and now diesel locomotives could often be found helping out from time to time.

Despite the upgrade of the line, further improvements were made to various bridges and embankments on the line in the 1990’s to allow for the heavier locomotives and increased line speeds. Soon after this occasion a steam hauled special visited Peel Godred hauled by Henry, an event somewhat marred by a blowback caused by the Harold the helicopter filming the run.

In 2005, the then Fat Controller Sir Stephen Hatt received a posthumous letter from the line's former Inspector and Chief, Walter Roach, explaining that he had left a legacy to the NWR in order to restore two engines to traffic for use on the now A/C branch. This turned out to be the presumed lost Maude, and the once transferred King Orry. Having been cosmetically restored and gutted after the dam disaster, Maude had spent many years on static display at the Peel Godred Country Park and Museum, which had been constructed in the years after the dam breach. She was subsequently moved to Crovan's Gate and heavily modified so as to run under A/C power, entering traffic in 2006. Although too small for the heavy freight work Maude often assists with passenger traffic as required and hauls the occasional vintage and special service.

The monies from these trips were put towards the overhaul of Orry, and he returned to traffic in 2011 making use of parts from a scrapped class 87 locomotive. 2011 wasn't quite as happy as it could have been, as long term resident Abbey had suffered a terrible accident and faced withdrawal. Money wasn't available for both engines, so a series of rail tours saw Dane visit the mainland again, and the funds raised were used for Abbey's repairs.

Changes to the railway over the years have also included upgraded signalling. Working on a traditional token block section for many years, the mid 80's saw Radio Electronic Block introduced, and this was followed in 2009 by the introduction of ERTMS - the European Rail Traffic Management System. The system suffered numerous teething troubles and caused many delays but now runs well. Steam engines are unable to run under this system, with only the electrics and two of the Sodor diesel fleet - Wendell and Growler - fitted with in cab computer screens required for the up to date signalling system.

Sir Stephen Hatt's concerns over the system have always been well known and many believe he accepted it purely so he would have a test line for introducing steam services on ERTMS routes - a project the new Fat Controller Richard Hatt has taken on with gusto. In 2013 this theory was confirmed when a special carriage was commissioned by the NWR, containing all required ERTMS equipment. Coupled to Edward, the old engine was able to run to Peel Godred again with an Inspector in his cab operating a computer tablet, which advised the Driver or speed restrictions and stopping points. Although this system has not been approved for use on the Mainland, plans are afoot to use it on special workings by the steam and diesel fleets on Sodor.

The line has also been used as a test-bed for preserved electric locomotives, and in 2012 the railway welcomed the lone class 89 'Avocet' for repairs and trials. It is expected that in due course he will return to the mainland but in the mean time he has been welcomed on Sodor. Given that he is not fitted with the signalling system he has to run in tandem with other engines, but it is hoped that he too can make use of the Special Coach in due course.

Over the years the Peel Godred line has been regarded as somewhat overlooked by enthusiasts - many seeing Sodor as a last bastion of steam as opposed to a home for all types of traction. However in 2004, the same year that Kirk arrived, the management decided that the line would benefit from increased publicity and quickly struck a deal with a popular publishing company to research and develop a book on their railway, which was celebrated some months later. The interest in this book saw a novel then written about the railway's history, with further books now being released on a regular basis.