The Norramby Branch Line was, until 1996, served by a joint suburban passenger service run by British Railways
and the North Western Railway. The steam locomotive, Eagle, based at Ballahoo,
ran goods and supplementary services at peak times, providing a ‘steam special’ throughout the summer months.
However, upon Privatisation, the deal was transferred to First North Western, who had taken over the franchise
from British Railways that year. Norramby itself was planning a regeneration,
the town’s visitor numbers had suffered somewhat from the rise of package holidays abroad throughout the 1990s, and
it was looking to make itself more attractive to tourists all year round.
When the North Western Railway privatised in 1996, the town councils urged for a greater steam presence on the
Branch Line during peak tourist periods. Eagle fulfilled this role as the line’s
main steam locomotive, sometimes supplemented in the busier summer months by Donald or Douglas. When the Sodor Road Heritage Museum opened in Ballahoo
in 1997, this provided yet another attraction which boosted the profile of the Branch Line, and enticed visitors back.
Over time, the Norramby Branch saw greater and greater levels of traffic, and following the summer of 1999,
where trains ran full to capacity and additional coaches were often required, it was decided by the NWR’s management
that a new engine would be ideal to relieve the strain on Eagle’s buffers, and free up the other engines for other duties.
The deal with First North Western expired in the summer of 2000, and the Fat Controller brought in Hunter the
Prairie Tank Engine to fill the void and allow him to take full control over the Norramby Branch’s services, and provide
a full steam service as a unique selling point, which the town councils felt would benefit their towns greatly. Despite some initial ‘teething problems’ when he first arrived, has settled down to form a
strong partnership with Eagle when running the Branch Line.
Norramby and Ballahoo continue to thrive on tourist traffic, and the regeneration of both towns has been a great