Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway
The Inspiration For The Arlesdale Railway
Opened originally as a 3ft gauge railway, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway did not prosper for very long in it's original form before being closed down. The Railway was originally opened to serve the Whitehaven Mining Co in 1875, consisting of two engines - Nab Gill and Devon.
However, the Railway was never profitable and nor was the mine, as a consequence, the Whitehaven Mining Co went bankrupt and in turn, the Railway was run by a newly set up company to run it. The line survived on weekend tourists and general goods up until 1908 when it was brought into disrepute concerning the poor track, which in turn caused passenger traffic to close in November of that year. Moves were made to try and electrify the line, but this was unsuccessful and the line closed in 1913.
In 1915, WJ Basset-Lowke of Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd, reopened the line in a regauged form of 15in gauge. The reconstitued line was soon carrying stone from the Beckfoot quarries and passengers as well to subsidise the running of the railway.
After World War 2, the lines was sold again to Keswick Granite Co. who closed the quarries. In 1960, the entire railway was put up for sale at auction. It was saved by a group of enthusiasts who wished to operate it themselves.
The new company set about creating new locomotives and doing all they could to improve the running of the line. The La'al Ratty as we know it today was born. There are a great number of engines running on the Ravenglass and Eskdale line, however, only a handful of them have made it into the Awdry books. River Irt, converted from a locomotive from the 1890s Muriel, was given the guise of Bert on the Arlesdale Railway on Sodor. River Esk, was given the role of Rex on the new small Railway and newly built locomotive in 1967, River Mite was given the role of Mike. These three engines appeared for the first time in 1967's Small Railway Engines, and again later on in 1971's Duke The Lost Engine, where they assisted the Thin and Fat Clergyman as well as the other explorers in finding Duke who was stranded in the hills above their line.
It will come as no surprise to readers that Awdry had based the fictional version of the Ravenglass Railway on the real one, being that the Arlesdale Railway was built on the trackbed of a previous railway, this being the Mid-Sodor Railway, where Duke, Sir Handel and Peter Sam ran previously to being moved to the Skarloey Railway.
And much like the original, did not run into the hills the same way as the previous railway due to problems with gradients.