The Skarloey Railway is a 2ft. 3in. gauge line running from Crovan's Gate where it connects to the North Western Railway (formerly Sodor and Mainland Railway), to the slate mines in the Ward Fell Mountains. It is the oldest operating railway having been opened in 1865. It is named after the lake it runs by, because in Sudric language, the word Skarloey means Lake in the Woods in English.
The origins of the Skarloey Railway began in 1806 when a plateway was built from Ward Fell to Balladswail to transport copper to the sea. Unfourtantly, the plateway was short lived and the copper veins ran out in 1810 leading to the closure of the plateway.
The owners of the mines wandered elsewhere to find more minerals to keep them going, and slate was discovered east of the former copper mines, and the first slabs of slate were cut out of the mountains in 1863. When steam was legalized on narrow gauge railways the following year, James Spooner was hired to map a route through the mountains to connect the mines to Crovan's Gate where the slate could be taken to Kirkronan to be shipped away by sea.
For the first few months, the railway was powered by horses but following the Talyllyn Railway's lead in 1865, the Crovan's Gate Mining Company (who owned the railway at the time) ordered two steam locomotives from the Fletcher Jennings Engine Works in Whitehaven, England. Plans for passenger traffic on the railway emerged when 3 carriages and 1 brake van were ordered from Brown Marshall, while a first-class carriage was ordered from the Birmingham Carriage Company.
By 1908, the demand for slate was beginning to decline, and the Skarloey Railway was going down with it. Luckily, Sir Handel Brown bought the mines and the railway from the Mack family and promised to keep them going until his death in 1950. By this time, the railway was in a bad state and only one locomotive was operatable.
Sir Handel Lloyd Brown II stepped in at the last second and saved the line from closure with two of his collages, Mr. Robert Sam and Mr. Ivo Hugh. Reconstruction of the railway started in 1951 with the purchase of ex-Mid Sodor Railway rolling stock with two locomotives, thirteen coaches, several trucks and a diesel engine to keep the line going.
In 1960, the slate mines ran out and the Skarloey Railway lost its main source of money and traffic. The Ministry of Defence was looking into purchasing the mines to use as an ammuniton storage in case if there was war. With an archaeological discovery made at the Lake, plans were made, the mines were sold and a lakeside loop was constructed around the lake in time for the line's cenetary event.
Since then, the Skarloey Railway has become a popular tourist attractions on Sodor and keeps its 7 steam engines and its 3 diesel engines well employed.
The line starts from the bustling industrial town of Crovan's Gate where it junctions with the North Western Railway where it exchanges passengers. This is where the main sheds, goods yard, carriage sheds and former slate transfer docks are located.
From here, the line runs underneath the B5155 highway coming from the mainland via Crovan's Gate and arrives at the halt of Cros-ny-Cruin. It means "Crossing In the Hills" because this is where the present Skarloey Railway trackbed overlaps the original plateway bed from Ward Fell. The line continues on until it reaches Glennock. The station building was formerly used as a chapel for the village until one was built above the station. Crossing the Hawin Dooey, the line runs through the tunnel where Duncan got wedged due to his Rock n' Roll and where Peter Sam looses his funnel due to a low-hanging iceberg. The railway crosses the river again via Rheneas Viaduct near the waterfall (which is called Rheneas, which means Divided Waterfall). After Rheneas Station, there is a small yard which was once an old mine. The place is now used to store away old goods wagons and is called Quarry Siding. Here the line splits either to go around the lake or to Skarloey Village. Skarloey is the last station accesible to the tourists because from here the line goes along to the old slate quarries which are now owned by the Ministry of Defence as an ammunition storage.
In the old days, the original railway ran from copper quarries west of the slate mines and ran downhill all the way running through Cros-ny-Cruin ending at the ocean port of Balladswail.
The line now operates solo on passengers while operating a mail service inbetween the villages. Slate and general goods were also run on the line in the early days before 1960 when the slate ran out and automobiles took over the goods services.
In the Television Series, coal and gunpowder trains were also seen running on the Skarloey Railway.
Skarloey (No. 1) - The first engine built and delivered in 1864. He was originally built without a cab and with no trailing wheels, made him very bouncy. After tuneups at Fletcher Jennings, these problems were solved. In 1945, Skarloey was deemed too worn out for any more service and was laid to rest on the siding beside the main sheds at Crovan's Gate until 1952 when he was sent to Crovan's Gate for a complete rebuild. Upon return to the railway, Skarloey began to suffer from steaming problems until 1958 and 1985 when these problems were cured with a new boiler.
Rheneas (No. 2) - The second engine, built in 1866 as a spare for Skarloey. Only used when there was too much work or when Skarloey was broken down. This helped because when Skarloey was retired in 1945, Rheneas managed to keep the line going until 1952 when Falcon (Sir Handel) and Stuart (Peter Sam) were bought from Peel Godred to take over whilst he was sent away to England for a overhaul and a complete rebuild. The NWR Workshops at Crovan's Gate has recently carried out another overhaul in 2002.
Sir Handel (No. 3) - The former No. 3 of the Mid-Sodor Railway, named "Falcon." Bought in 1952 to service the Skarloey Railway along with No. 4 (Peter Sam) to keep it going whilst the original two engines were away during repair. He had a habit of slipping inbetween the rails when he first arrived, which was cured by widening his wheels and replacing his tyres to give him more traction. He is currently on the Talyllyn Railway, in place of Duncan who is having an overhaul.
Peter Sam (No. 4) - The former No. 4 of the Mid-Sodor Railway, named "Stuart." Bought in 1952 to service the Skarloey Railway along with No. 4 (Peter Sam) to keep it going whilst the original two engines were away during repair. Peter Sam's firebox was worn upon his arrival and a new firebox was fitted at Crovan's Gate. An accident with runaway slate trucks at the mines in 1961 allowed an expiriment of a giesel ejector funnel to be carried out. An expirement similar to this was also carried out on the Talyllyn's No. 4. Unlike the Talyllyn expiriment, the new funnel made a difference in Peter Sam's performance and the funnel remains on him to this very day.
Rusty (No. 5) - The 'saviour' of the railway and the first diesel on the Skarloey Railway, Rusty helped to relay the entire line in 1957 when the line was in sore need of repair. He is still a valuable asset to the railway as a maintenence and a shunting diesel.
Duncan (No. 6) - By 1958, the work was starting to become too much for the ex-MSR engines to handle with Peter Sam out of service following an accident leaving only Sir Handel and Rusty the only operatable engines on the railway. This is why the Thin Controller and the Owner bought an ex-Royal Air Force industrial locomotive from Scotland named Duncan. Duncan was a bit too big and cumbersome for the Skarloey Railway because of his tall funnel and short wheelbase. But the problems have now been fixed and Duncan is now a hard working engine on the Skarloey Railway. He has been at the Talyllyn Railway for a while, but has now returned to Sodor for a long overdue overhaul.
Ivo Hugh (No. 7) - Following the Talyllyn Railway's plan to acquire a ex-Irish locomotive to be modified for use on 2ft. 3in. gauge track, the Thin Controller borrowed plans and a replica was built at Crovan's Gate in 1996. Named in tribute to the railway's former Chief Mechanical Enginer, Ivo Hugh has lived up to his reputation and has proved to be a valuable asset to the railway. He is currently the railway's strongest steam locomotive.
Duke (No. 8) - The former No. 1 of the Mid-Sodor Railway, Duke was bought to the Skarloey Railway in 1969 after being sheeted in the main engine sheds at Arlesdale for about 24 years after closure of the MSR. Due to his old age, he dosen't pull trains as often as the others but does his best to pull trains like all engines should.
Fred (No. 9) - An ex-National Coal Board diesel locomotive rebuilt by the Skarloey Railway and bought in 1989 as a backup for Rusty. His job is to pull the weedkiller trains on the Skarloey Railway to keep the railway from becoming dirty and overgrown again. Has been known to 'waltz' his way out of his jobs every now and then. Only mentioned in Sodor: Reading Between the Lines and the Railway Series book No. 40 "New Little Engine"
Mark V - A battery-powered trolley used by Mr. Hugh to inspect and the examine the Skarloey Railway to point out where track needs to be repaired. Not much is known about him. Only mentioned in The Island of Sodor: It's People, History and Railways
There has also been a 40hp Simplex tractor owned by the Ministry of Defence to handle the ammunition storages on the site of the old slate mines. The Television Series has also contributed Bertram, Proteus, Smudger, Mighty Mac and Fearless Freddie to the roster of the Skarloey Railway.
- The Skarloey Railway's gauge of 2ft. 3in. is unique in Britian because it is only shared with five other public lines: the nearby Mid Sodor Railway, the Talyllyn Railway, Corris Railway and the Plynlimon and Hafan Tramway in Wales, and the Campeltown and Malcranish Light Railway in Scotland.
- The Skarloey Railway was inspired by the preservation of the Talyllyn Railway, where the Rev. Wilbert Awdry was involved as a guard. Also, a few events happened on the Talyllyn also happened on the Skarloey. For example, Wilbert was running his train late and he was in a hurry to go. He notified the train to go before the Refreshment Lady got on board, and was congratulated by the driver who just happened to he her son-in-law.
- Not every event on the Talyllyn inspired the Skarloey stories. Gathering hay by the sides of the line inspired Wooly Bear, and the occasional cow blocking the line was the basis for the story Cows.
- The station at Glennock was an exact replica of the Aberllefenni Station on the Corris Railway, where the Talyllyn's No. 3 and No. 4 came from.
Awdry, Christopher: Sodor: Reading Between the Lines
Awdry, Rev. Wilbert: Four Little Engines
Awdry, Rev. Wilbert: The Little Old Engine
Awdry, Rev. Wilbert: Gallant Little Engine
Awdry, Rev. Wilbert: Duke the Lost Engine
Awdry, Rev. Wilbert: Great Little Engines
Awdry, Rev. Wilbert: New Little Engines