The economics and politics of Thomas the Tank Engine
Duncan Weldon

Sodor and railroad capitalism — a sceptic writes

With the greatest respect, Duncan, you’re being wilfully naive here. You’ve been distracted by the beautiful scenery of Sodor and the undeniable charm of the anthropomorphic train workforce into missing the real story here — the financial shenanigans and massive corruption behind the scenes.

As Richard White’s excellent book “Railroaded — The Transcontinentals And The Making Of Modern America” makes clear, of course Sodor is massively overbuilt with railway lines. Sir Topham Hatt has to keep on building the track in order to keep getting the massive land grants which go with it. These in turn form the collateral against which he issues mountains of rickety securities for cash, borrowed mainly from foreign investors.

The “Thin Controller” and his narrow-gauge railway is a scam, and his independence from Hatt is a sham. The Thin Controller’s railway only exists to provide justification for Hatt’s rate card. All the freight traffic it carries is contracted in bulk to Hatt and the two men meet up regularly in order to settle up the kickbacks which are their main way of extracting personal cashflow from their corporate vehicles.

Similarly, the use of steam engines is part of the same racket. They are used on the line in preference to diesel or electricity because all of the rolling stock is owned by a Liechtenstein-registered Anstalt which charges Sodor Railways under a long-term contract. One hardly needs to speculate about the ultimate ownership of that brass-plate corporation, but we can guess that the Duke (who provides the land grants) and the Mayor (who organises the necessary zoning for factories, ice cream shops and tourist attractions) are in on the deal too. No wonder Sir Topham (who might be more familiar to underworld figures of a few dozen years ago as racetrack thug “Toppy the Hatt”) made enough money to buy himself a peerage.