The North Western Railway, as I'm sure you're all very much aware,
was built from an algamation of three other railway companies existent on Sodor
during the latter half of the 1800s. These, the Tidmouth, Knapford and
Elsbridge Railway, the Wellsworth and Suddery Railway and the most famed, The
Sodor and Mainland, covered each section of the Island's southern region - the
one relevant to discussion today, the Sodor and Mainland, was established in
1853, serving Kirk Ronan Harbour, Rolf's Castle, Crovan's Gate and Ballahoo.
Crovan's Gate station was originally a very modest affair - as was
much of the S&M. However, as time went on it was recognised as a perfect
'hub' station, and, as it was almost in the centre of the Sodor and Mainland's
mileage, it soon gained a series of sidings for light maintenance and storage
of railway vehicles. It wasn't long before it was fighting for supremacy with
the harbour terminus of the line at Kirk Ronan.
The Sodor and Mainland, was, I'm sorry to say, not the luckiest of
railways. It often chased business opportunities and seldom had success. Their
original aim, as the name of the company may suggest, was to meet Barrow in
Furness - first with a tunnel underwater through the Ballahoo ridge, which
failed when said ridge collapsed. The second attempt with a bridge across the
Walney Channel. The Admiralty fought against the venture.
Following this was an attempt at steamer services to Dublin from
the Kirk Ronan terminus. This too had little success, and, combined with
planned extensions to Peel Godred similarly coming to nothing, attempts at
growth and investment soured the company's fortunes, which soon grew stagnant.
In 1910, their finances collapsed, and in 1914 the company joined with the
remaining companies on Sodor to form the North Western Railway, to plans from
the United Kingdom's sponsorship for reasons of Coastal Defence - this would
also result in the Admiralty becoming the driving force of the bridge to the
Mainland being laid in 1915.
The NWR proved to be a successful venture, of course, and would go
on to bring success to most of the S&M's plans for investment - but of
particular focus is the growth of Crovan's Gate, which was now being used to
its fullest capability. The sidings built by the S&M soon became a centre for
maintenance, repairs and construction of stock for the growing railway.
Crovan's Gate works was originally not a massively capable
'plant'. It would replace smaller components and repair breakdowns, but it did
not have capability for complete overhauls or fabrication of parts. This meant
that larger, more capable works, would find themselves competing for contracts
of overhauls and fabrication of parts in the name of the NWR. It continued this
way for over twenty years - when larger incidents occurred, such as Henry
requiring a rebuild after his accident with The Flying Kipper in 1935, followed
swiftly by Gordon for a rebuild of similar scale, both had to go to the NWR's
favourite mainland works (not least due a strong relationship with chief
engineer, one Mr. Stanier), Crewe.
In time, of course, my predecessors knew this simply wouldn't do,
and soon Crovan's Gate became a priority for development. By the close of steam
on the Mainland, it had become capable of repair, overhaul and fabrication of
larger components on the NWR's stock list. It took many thousands of pounds
worth of investment and several loans but the Railway could now rest easy
knowing trips to the Mainland for failures was not a requirement. Just in time,
too, as facilities for steam locomotives were shrinking at a startling pace on
The NWR soon gained contract for repairs to the Peel Godred
mountain railway - thus putting an end to the Swiss-built engines there being
sent back to country of origin for overhauls. Similarly, the Skarloey Railway
soon found great benefits to relocating major work to the centre, and the
Arlesdale Railway had the majority of their stock repaired and, eventually,
even saw many items constructed under the authority of our experienced
The NWR 'plant' is now capable of any job required on locomotives
working on our island, no matter of gauge, traction, age or priority!
Similarly, it can carry out commissioned work on traction engines, tractors,
and even petrol engines for the buses owned by Sodor Roadways LTD. This has not
only made the works a major employer for the island, driving numbers of those
in a skilled profession higher than the majority of regions on the United
Kingdom, but a major part of life on the island - practically every company on
Sodor has seen a link with our facilities, and truly, we have ceased to be a
'locomotive works' and have instead become, in every essence of the term, 'The
Works' of Sodor.
I am now continuing orders of investment and modernisation in our
growing traction repair centre, like my father before me - Crovan's Gate now
sees supply trains every week or so for raw metal, machinery, replacement parts
and special equipment - it has even been estimated by the works manager that we
could 'take on' three overhauls at once, and have all of them completed within
less than two months quite capably. We only hope it shall never happen!
With the arrival of Pip and Emma, the works has also seen further
improvements in maintaining a higher speed of operation on the permanent way.
Only a month or so ago we completed our own specialist track equipment, all
constructed on site - to our own design. This has only further cemented our
independence as a company and has proven very successful - continuing track
work on Sodor to enable higher speed running is being completed in record time,
with the main line now being concrete-sleepered, smoother in terms of curve and
gradient (although Gordon's Hill is still of obvious difficulty!) and
maintained to a standard Network Rail could only hope for -delays on Sodor have
been reduced dramatically, as have vehicle breakdowns and the impact of such
If Tidmouth is the main station, Crovan's Gate is undoubtedly the
main component of all to do with the North Western Railway. It is the most
important part of our infrastructure, a marvel of the industry, and you'll be
lucky to find a works worldwide more capable than the one Gordon, Henry, James,
et al, have rolled in and out of countless times.
The Works is an industrial environment through and through, thus
is rarely accessible to the public - however, we do allow two tours a year
during quieter periods of operation, wherein people, media and photographers
may visit our facilities and see the scales in which we work. These are very
popular, however, so pick up your leaflet at one of our larger stations and
book as quickly as you can!