Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends, now known as Thomas and Friends, is a British series first broadcast in 1984. It began life as The Railway Series, a series of books about a group of talking steam engines living on the Island of Sodor and the adventures they have under the guardianship of the Fat Controller (Sir Topham Hatt). The books were originally written by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry; his son Christopher now has the job. There is also a widely-available series of books based on TV episodes.The books were adapted for British television by Britt Allcroft in 1984. The first four series followed the books, but since Series 5 the show has gone in a completely different direction, so much so that the show and books are almost unrecognisable to each other. In the US, the stories were originally encapsulated into the live-action PBS show Shining Time Station; later series are Direct-to-Video.Thomas and his friends are given a voice by a Narrator, with many of the stories being renarrated for North American audiences. These narrators include:UK:
In addition - long before the series was televised - some of The Railway Series stories were made into audiobooks narrated by children's TV presenter Johnny Morris and comedian Willie Rushton. The stories were released in the 1960s on 45rpm records under the Delyse label.Oddly enough, care to take a guess at the group of children that favours Thomas above all other kids' shows? Autistic children. People with autism can be extremely sensitive to sensory input, but the visuals in Thomas are largely static - unless the trains are traveling, the only things moving are their eyes and the occasional smoke. Even when the trains do travel, it's not a particularly "busy" visual. Furthermore, the static, expressive faces help children with autism (or the milder Asperger's syndrome) to understand expressions and their connection to emotions. And the narration approach (as opposed to individual voices) also seems to help.Here is a list of all the main characters for more information.
Acquired Situational Narcissism: Thomas becomes a bit stuck-up after he gets his branchline in season 1. Oliver experiences this after positive remarks about escaping from scrap from Gordon, James, and Henry.
Aesop Amnesia: Especially in the later seasons, with Thomas, James and Duncan being the worst offenders.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: These trains have personality issues. Not to mention the ridiculous amounts of crashes that they seem to get into. (See Incompetence Inc below)
All of the Other Reindeer: Harvey's crane, Peter Sam's special funnel, Sir Handel's wheels—although these make him egotistical until the events of "Steam Roller".
Percy suffers from this on a few occasions, mainly in episodes such as "Put Upon Percy" and "Percy's Chocolate Crunch".
All There in the Manual: The books The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, Sodor: Reading Between the Lines and The Thomas the Tank Engine Man explain between them pretty much everything about the early series.
Always Chaotic Evil: Most of Sodor's freight cars, along with any engine who actually gets along with them.
Always Someone Better: Stanley in Thomas & The Great Discovery. Also Spencer and City of Truro for Gordon.
Anachronism Stew: The current series is set in modern times, yet uses engines from different time periods and locations on Sodor. A Truth in Television, since most modern steam railways use engines from different time periods and locations.
Broken Aesop: Sadly, a good portion of these popped up very often during the first four CGI seasons. The worst offender may be the recent episode "The Biggest Present of All". Thomas is given the task of telling the other engines about a welcome party for Hiro at the Big Station, but Thomas thinks finding Hiro a welcome present would be more fun instead. He tells all his friends he's looking for a gift, but never tells them about the party. Later, he finds that Hiro is alone at the station, waiting for guests. Thomas is horrified and runs off to tell the others about the party, but they're all looking for presents too. Thomas promptly chews them out for doing the exact same thing he JUST did.
On a positive note, "Henry's Forest" handled the Green Aesop pretty well. Helps that it was an early episode, and that the last scenes are very pretty.
Another Dimension: The Island of Sodor in Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Also doubles as a Magical Land. This is particularily odd as in the books and TV series Sodor was simply a small island directly besides Britain. The books also established that all the engines in the world, not just the Sodor ones, were alive, unlike in the movie where you can see nonsentient locomomtives.
Ascended Fridge Horror: The earlier storylines, like "Saved From Scrap," implied, but did not show, that characters could be scrapped when they could no longer work. Later, however, some of the books/episodes, like "Stepney the Bluebell Engine" and "Twin Engines" got absolutely vicious with this concept, after the Reverend decided to do a Take That against BR'sModernization Plan. The way the mass scrapping is portrayed, especially in the books, sometimes goes beyond Fantastic Racism and implies that the characters think of it more like genocide.
About half of the very long Nightmare Fuel page for this show is about scrapping.
Backstory: Hero of the Rails takes some time off to explain Hiro's past.
Bad Dreams: In Calling All Engines, the characters have bad dreams about what might happen to them if no holiday makers came to Sodor anymore.
Barsetshire: The whole fictional setting of the Island of Sodor (which is supposed to be between the lake district and the Isle of Man).
Big Brother Instinct: Thomas developed a huge case of this as the show drifted into it's own continuity (if not always with the best results). Played with for Edward and Toby since while they often act as kind elderly mentors, their self esteem issues and bullying from others sometimes leads younger engines such as Thomas and Percy to stick up for them.
Big Budget Beef Up: To hold up better on the big screen, the characters and sets featured in Thomas and the Magic Railroad were all rebuilt from scratch. In Series 6, they began to replace some of the older models.
Bigger Is Better: In "Thomas's Trusty Friends", the forman kept fitting Oliver with bigger wrecking balls to knock a particular wall down.
The Blank: Henrietta (Toby's passenger coach) and City of Truro
Bowdlerise: In the US version, The Fat Controller was referred to by his Sunday name "Sir Topham Hatt", "The Sad Story of Henry" became "Come Out, Henry", and in that episode the line "so that Henry could never get out" was changed to "so that other engines wouldn't bump into him", and the line "We shall leave you here for always and always and always" was cut.
Bottle Episode: "Steamy Sodor" (season 13) and "Victor Says Yes" (season 14), both which take place at the Steamworks.
Breakout Character: Thomas of course, who was only as prominant as most other recurring engines in the books.
Break the Haughty: Expect this to happen to Gordon or James, and probably any other character trying to be important.
Brick Joke: Bulgy was made into a henhouse after getting stuck under a bridge. In "Train stops Play", you can see him in the background.
Broken Ace: Later episodes tend to give the older more experienced engines more prominent shortcomings and insecurities, some of which they are unwilling to admit to the younger idolizing engines they usually mentor. "Edward and the Mail" is a standout example.
The Cameo: Famous locomotives City of Truro and Flying Scotsman, or at least models of them.
Canon Immigrant: Meta example. Andrew Brenner wrote many stories for the promotional magazines. Not only were some of these adapted into actual episodes in Seasons Three and Five, but Brenner eventually took over as lead writer for the show itself come Season Seventeen.
Cannot Keep a Secret: Thomas can't resist telling a downbeat Stephen about his special job in King Of The Railway, pivoting the chain of events. Subverted in Blue Mountain Mystery, the narrow gauge engines think Thomas blabbed about Luke in trying to clear his name, but he did so via shrewd investigation.
Cast Herd: The Standard Gauge, Narrow Gauge, roadway, trucks and carriages, and then everyone else.
Catch Phrase: "Really Useful Engine(s)", "Cinders and ashes!", "Confusion and delay", "Bother(ations)!" "Hurry, hurry, hurry!" The Narrator's "Then there was trouble", "He/She/They was/were very cross/pleased.", "Luckily, no one was hurt" and "An idea flew into his/her funnel". "Bust my boiler/buffers!", "'On, on, on!' yelled the cars," Ferdinand's "That's right!", Gordon has any phrase involving the word "Indignant!", Gordon, James, and Henry say the respective words, "Disgraceful, disgusting, and despicable.", and The Fat Controller's "You're a really useful engine."
Chekhov's Gun: It's pretty obvious from the minute the Breakdown Train shows up that Thomas is going to have some reason to haul it out later in the episode.
The Canvas Barrier in the Season 5 episode 'Put Upon Percy'
Chekhov's Skill: The Scottish Twins were allowed to stay on Sodor after they demonstrated a particular talent for plowing snow. Later episodes showed them clearing the tracks after snowstorms and rescuing some of the other engines that had gotten trapped by snowdrifts.
Christmas Episode: The series has had several winter and Christmas-themed episodes each season. However, one episode, 'Thomas and Percy's Christmas Adventure' was Bowdlerised into a Thanksgiving episode, as the Shining Time Station episode it premiered on was Thanksgiving-themed. A controversial Bowdlerisation in the later winter episodes was that the season would always be referred to as the 'Winter Holidays' rather than the 'Christmas Holidays', despite Christmas trees and presents appearing in the episodes.
Colour Coded Characters: The Skarloey Railway engines in the TV series - their original uniform color was thought to confuse younger viewers, and Rusty with black colors could be confused for Diesel. Now the only engines with similar colors are Sir Handel with Mighty Mac, and Skarloey with Rheneas.
Companion Cube: Henrietta, Toby's personal coach, has turned into this. She only ever had a speaking role in her first appearance way back in season 1. She's been completely silent ever since, even though Toby still treats her if she was alive. The movie Misty Island Rescue has a few machines with names but no faces - a crane called Old Wheezy and a steam donkey called Hee-Haw.
Comically Missing the Point: Thomas Comes to Breakfast. When Thomas skids off the rails and crashes into a house, just as the family within is sitting down to breakfast, the stationmaster's wife is more upset about her ruined pancakes that the freakin' locomotive that just drove into her livingroom.
A barber is angry when Duck took out half his shop for scaring his customers, so to get back, he puts shaving cream on his face.
In season 12, the show was a hybrid of CG animation and models. Often the engine's faces did not have the proper lighting for the scene, making them stand out awkwardly. Meanwhile, Harold was completely converted to CG animation, making him look unusual next to the model engines.
Continuity Nod: An early episode has Henry crashing because snow weighed a lower-quadrant signal down to its "clear" position. In the next series Percy is confused when he sees an upper-quadrant signal which points "up" to its "clear" position. In the third series, upper-quadrant signals are seen frequently in the background.
Continuity Snarl: In the books and television series, the island of Sodor is off the coast of England. Shining Time Station put it in another dimension. Thomas and the Magic Railroad placed Sodor in another, magical dimension, kept afloat by Lady and her gold dust, even though there was nothing mystical about the series until (or after) that point (pushing Magic Railroad toward Fanon Discontinuity).
Crapsaccharine World: An altenate inrerpretation.Imagine this- as a locomotive, you live in a world where it's nearly impossible to leave a set line of rails (and for those who do attempt this the results are almost always very, very bad), you deal with the Jerk Ass trucks every day, the overtaking diesel engines, and absolutely everything is your fault. If you're late? They forget that you're being driven by people and blame you. If you crash? They usually blame you for that too and apparently forget that you're alive and could actually be in pain. All this leads to the fact that you're called "useful." Think about the fact that if you're not "a very useful engine" it means being scrapped, AKA, death. You work for a job where you can be executed for uselessness. Enjoy your day.
Creator Backlash: While the Awdrys often cooperated with the show on early seasons, and even wrote some new novels for extra material, Rev Awdry was rather critical of its attempts at original stories due to their lack of realism towards railways, most infamously "Henry's Forest". Christopher Awdry also disliked some of his newer stories to contribute to the show, as well as being forced to make more Thomas-centric stories to tie in on it's main character.
To a lesser extent original director David Mitton, who was cynical about the CGI transition, but otherwise had faith in the series going on after his departure.
Darker and Edgier: Season 5 is often viewed as this. It featured more darker plotlines and crashes than the other season.
An interview with David Mitton explained this was due to the team wanting to showcase the series' potential before the movie was produced, and trying for original stories with more dynamic scenes.
Demoted to Extra: Edward from seasons 4-6, but everybody gets this treatment in the newer movies. The only characters to get a lot of Focus are Thomas and the new engine introduced. Toby's been getting the worst it lately. In Hero Of The Rails, not only does he get only one line, not only one word, but one Syllable.
Disproportionate Retribution: The trucks/cars have been known to do this. Their way of getting retribution on engines that bump them one time too many (or annoy them) is often to tease them (often with Pop Goes the Weasel-rhyming songs) or even worse, push them back. And whenever the Trucks/Cars push back, they try to cause a crash of some kind. "A Close Shave" features them breaking away from Edward and trying to push Duck into a train, another shows them pushing Oliver into a turntable well, and perhaps one of the most disturbing is when the trucks/cars decide to get revenge on Sir Handel by riding down the hill into his face. And they don't realize it's actually Peter Sam they suicide-themselves onto!
Distaff Counterpart: Toby and Flora. Flora's debut episode was even entirely focused on her being the "new steam tram".
A Dog Named Dog: A diesel named Diesel (sometimes called "Devious Diesel").
Diesel 10 to a lesser extent.
Doomed Hometown: The Railway, where Duke, Peter Sam, and Sir Handel once lived. Great Waterton may also count. As well as Toby's old line.
Eagleland: Misty Island (all the locomotives there are of an American build) is portrayed as a mixture of types one and two- the Logging Locos are rather loud, boorish, and mischevious, but they all have a good heart and always have the best intentions.
Embarrassing Nickname: Inverted: Duck doesn't like that the people who coined his name say he waddles, but still prefers it to his real name, "Montague."
Enemy Mine: The engines and the troublesome trucks have a few of these in "Special Attraction" when dealing with Bulstrode, a disagreeable boat, and in "The World's Strongest Engine" when going against Diesel. For the latter episode, Thomas and Percy lampshade that sometimes, troublesome trucks can do an engine a favor, which is getting rid of a haughty diesel.
This also happens with the steam engines and diesels in Calling All Engines.
Executive Meddling: Negative examples — see Did Not Do The Research above. Also, Thomas and the Magic Railroad got butchered thanks to Hollywood executives being ignorami.
Extreme Omni Goat - usually eating the Fat Controller's hat. Sometimes a goat, sometimes a ram.
Expy: New characters Connor and Caitlin are generally seen as expies of the Railway Series characters Pip and Emma, as they're both high-speed engines that run a regular passenger service from Vicarstown to the mainland (the difference being that Pip and Emma are a modern Intercity 125, while Connor and Caitlin are American streamliners from the 1930s.
Family-Unfriendly Death: The Spiteful Break Van, who was smashed to pieces by Douglas, and S.C Ruffey that Oliver broke apart (though he was rebuilt). For Fridge Horror, there are scrapyards.
Fantastic Racism: The steam engine/diesel hatred came to a head in Calling All Engines, and has mostly disappeared since then.
To a lesser extent, there's the trains and the vehicles.
Feud Episode: Many examples, especially in early seasons. To name but few, Thomas and Percy in "Thomas, Percy, & The Coal/Double Trouble", Bill and Ben in "One Good Turn", and Donald and Douglas in "Twin Trouble".
Fire-Forged Friends: Gordon implied that he and Thomas were this in "Down The Mine" after helping him from the mine accident. This was referred back to in "Paint Pots and Queens/Thomas Meets The Queen".
Flanderisation: Edward and Toby went from being old and wise to being just old, Gordon went from being somewhat pompous to being completely full of himself, James went from being snobbish, but cheerful and hard-working to being a lazy, spoilt narcissist and Percy went from being somewhat naive to making Homer Simpson look intelligent.
Four Temperament Ensemble: The original tender engines: James is Sanguine, Gordon is Choleric, Henry is Melancholic, and Edward is Phlegmatic.
Framing Device: Shining Time Station introduced when the series was shown in America.
The Freelance Shame Squad: In early episodes especially, the engines are often shown laughing or smirking whenever another has an accident or other humiliating incident, no matter how dire. Downplayed in later episodes, where they often show a more consistant concern for each other whenever they seem to be in trouble.
Freudian Threat: A bizarre Freud Was Right train-equivalent example occurs in "Home at Last" where Sir Topham Hatt threatens to "cut Duncan down to size" if he acts up again. It's shown that he's referring to Duncan's rather long funnel and Duncan immediately behaves upon hearing said threat.
Friend to All Children: Any engine who happens to he pulling a "special" special related to children. Namely, Thomas. Trevor was first introduced as this.
Friendship Trinket: In The Magic Railroad, Lily gives her Burnett a friendship bracelet to remind them of their friendship. Later in the film, Lily puts the gold dust Junior gives to her on her bluebird toy, also to remind her of her friendship with Burnett.
Fruit Cart: In "Percy, James and the Fruitful Day", Percy crashes while pushing some trucks full of fruit. He gets covered in smashed fruit. "The Spotless Record" has Arthur crashing into Duck's train full of fruits.
Funny Background Event: A bonus of the CGI transition is the show's ability to now animate funny goings on in scenes on a regular basis, usually from the crewman inside or behind the engines as they talk.
Furry Confusion: Though all locomotives are alive, the depiction of the road vehicles vary widely. Some, like Bertie, are sentient, while others, like Sir Topham Hatt's car, are not.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the episode 'Mavis, the titular character gets stuck over a road crossing. An angry farmer is seen telling her 'just what she could do with her train'!
Green Rooming: Several engines, especially in later seasons, are granted an introductory episode, only to be forgotten about for several episodes, if not seasons before making so much as a cameo again.
Hard Work Montage: Used quite frequently when shunting rolling stock is part of the episode plot.
Hedonist: New engine Charlie has shades of being this, described as 'the most fun engine' and seeking fun and games from the other engines in the form of racing, jokes, and shirking their responsibilities.
Averted in Season 17, where Charlie mainly tells his jokes during the off periods in between his and his fellow engines' work instead of doing it whenever he pleases.
Heroic RROD: When the engines are old, or overworked, they begin to break down and show damage. Such as Edward losing his siderods in "Edward's Exploit."
Idiot Ball: Expect stupidity, accidents, or unrealistic things to ensue whenever anybody is put in charge of a special. It's even more jarring when older, experienced engines are the ones making the mistakes.
Sanity Ball: Though it's not rare for some of the younger, more reckless engines to sometimes show moments of clarity as well. Thomas and Percy in particular switch irratically between being arrogant dimwits or kind natured voices of reason.
Just in Time: From season 8 onward, this happens all the time. Happens quite frequently to Paxton. The poor guy.
Inverted whenever an accident is inevitable: "...but it was too late..."
Just Train Wrong: This applies to numerous railway gaffes from season 6 onward, where the writers (no longer working from Awdry's books) seem to know little about the workings of steam engines and railways. Nitrogen Studios seems to have very little knowledge of how steam engines are supposed to work. For example, in real life, cylinders for big tender engines are attached to the engine's main frame. But in the animated series, the cylinders appear to be completely independent from the rest of the body. 'Misty Island Rescue apparently has a railway track built inside a hollow log.'' What the hell?
Thankfully, Season 17 and onwards now has a railway consultant to deal with this.
Karma Houdini: The adapatation of "Old Iron" neglects to mention the fate of the two boys who meddled with James' controls and caused him to run off out of control, whethers in the book they are caught by the police and "soundly walloped" by their fathers.
The Troublesome Trucks are often the reason why many engines are chewed out for their accidents, and they are never seen to be held responsible for them, but in most of the accidents, they will get destroyed in the process, although they will still laugh about their fun.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: The troublesome trucks can play tricks on an engine who is rude and arrogant towards other engines (i.e, James in "Dirty Objects" and Diesel in "Pop Goes The Diesel").
Killed Off for Real: The Spiteful Brakevan is the only character in the entire show to die permanently.
A few other trucks are shown dismantled in episodes. Also the show kept in S.C. Ruffey's destruction from the novels, but had him repaired rather than scrapped.
Leitmotif: Each character had their own theme in the earlier series.
Last of His Kind: The real life engines that Thomas, Toby and Edward were based on were all scrapped, with none of their numbers surviving to preservation beyond replicas of the characters themselves.
Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Double Teething Troubles featured a BR "Clayton" diesel which, as in real life, suffered from having insufficient engines crammed into a compact space. While originally named "Paxman" after the contained engines, the producers decided the company might not take so kindly to the reference. He went unnamed in the episode, but the merchandise now calls him "Derek."
Lighter and Softer: The later Hi T episodes, combined with a bit of Denser And Wackier. Most of the realism is thrown out the window, even the nastiest of engines tend to show a redeeming side, and scrapping is refered to a lot less (or when it is, is made clear that Sir Topham has no interest in it whatsoever).
The Lost Woods: Several: Henry's Forest, the Whistling Woods, and Misty Island could all qualify.
Lovable Coward: Toby in later seasons. Percy and Henry sometimes get in on it too.
Locked Out of the Loop: In "Don't Tell Thomas", the engines are planning a surprise party for Thomas, and he grows suspicious. Eventually he gets fed up enough that he runs away, leaving Harold to find him and tell him about the party.
Looks Like She Is Enjoying It: In "Pop Goes the Diesel" the trucks made a very... suggestive sound when Diesel forcefully pulls them. Also, rare male and non-human example.
Long Runner: The television series has been running since 1984. The Railway Series, meanwhile, originally ran from 1945 to 2011.
Loony Fan: Rosie to Thomas in "Thomas and the Birthday Mail".
Lost Aesop: Misty Island Rescue is supposedly about making decisions, but this message is inverted and subverted so many times it's impossible to tell whether the writers support or condemn the idea of Thomas making decisions for others.
Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Thomas and his friends have been on 3 compilations that include almost no excerpts in them. First is Thomas and Gordon (unsurprisingly. Additionally, the music in the first 2 seasons of this and the music in the 1983 Mr. Men cartoon have somewhat similar sounding music) in NSPCC Children's TV Favourites Volume 2 in 1993, then Thomas' Train in Calling all Toddlers in 1999, and then again in its sequel in 2001.
Meaningful Name: In a very odd example, Gordon. His name was chosen to be meaningful to Christopher Awdry, the late Reverend's son. It was meaningful because the character is bossy, and there was a bossy boy living on the Awdrys' street named Gordon.
Medium Blending: The CGI faces in season 12 and the full CGI in Hero Of The Rails. Earlier, the 2D-animated bee that stings James in "Buzz, Buzz."
Merchandise-Driven: Arguably; some characters are only in one episode and seem to exist purely for merchandise reasons. The worst case of this is currently Day of the Diesels. Three new characters - Norman, Paxton and Sidney - are introduced and marketed...and none of them have a single line of dialog, only seen creeping around in the background. A few characters from The Railway Series that were never adapted into the show have also made it onto Thomas And Friends merchandise.
Metaphorgotten: In one episode when Peter Sam is put in charge of finding a new location for the Refreshment Lady's stand:
Peter Sam: I can find her a beautiful place.
Refreshment Lady: I knew it! It will be a piece of cake!
Morton's Fork: Donald and Douglas's backstory. Sir Topham Hatt only expected one of them to come to Sodor, and decided to send the one that was less useful back to the Scottish Region of British Railways—where they would be scrapped. For either of them to do their best work would be to doom the other, but to shirk off just a bit might mean to doom themselves. Fortunately, the situation was eventually resolved.
Motive Decay: Originally the diesels were a reminder to the steam engines that Technology Marches On and the more efficient, mass-produced engines were becoming the rule instead of the exception. Since around Series 7 there's been no mention of scrapping and steam's still alive on the mainland, yet the steam and diesel engines are more at each other's throats than ever.
Mr. Vice Guy: Almost every engine, particularly in later seasons, is hard working and effecient, but often causes great problems due to a defining flaw (eg. Thomas' poor attention, James' arrogance, Toby's cowardice, Percy's naivete). Most of their spotlight episodes revolve around them overcoming their flaws to be "really useful", while in supporting roles they often act as more capable Straight Men.
Must Make Amends: Pretty much evident in the newer series where the engines make a lot of mistakes in their given jobs due to their flaws (usually at least three times) and The Fat Controller calls them out for causing "confusion and delay". This prompts the engines to make things right, and as they did, The Fat Controller praises them by calling them "really useful engines".
Name's the Same: In the UK, Season 2 and Season 11 both had unrelated episodes titled "Dirty Work," but in the US, the former, taken from the Railway Series' Duck and The Diesel Engine, was re-titled "Diesel's Devious Deed." The US is not immune to this, however, as it had a Season 1 episode called "Thomas Saves the Day" (its British title was "Thomas and the Breakdown Train") and a Season 8 episode also called "Thomas Saves the Day."
The UK did this again with season 1 and season 11 where both episodes "Thomas in Trouble" (the US version of said season 1 episode is re-titled "Thomas Breaks the Rules". Also the season 4 and season 8 episodes name is entitled "Fish", which the name stays the same in all UK and US versions.
Never My Fault: The engines getting blamed for the railwaymen's mistakes. This helps contribute to the Fridge Horror and Nightmare Fuel of the series - no wonder the trains look sad when they're in an accident!
Compared to the books, the show does at least have a handful of subversions however. In "Thomas And The Rumors", when Gordon crashes into an unfinished tunnel, the Fat Controller is explained as having a stern word with the driver, not the engine. Also in "Wayward Winston" the Fat Controller himself takes blame for Winston becoming a runaway, when Winston reminds him he forgot to put his brakes on.
Building a quarry under a mountain with a giant boulder resting on top
Not so Above It All: A few episodes depict a day in the life of Sir Topham Hatt, which often end disasterously with him getting into mishaps and vehicle related blunders he is constantly scolding the engines for.
A lot of the wiser more rashional engines such as Edward and Toby are given more prominant flaws and moments of incompetence in later episodes.
Now Let Me Carry You: In The Great Discovery, Stanley rescues Thomas, but breaks down in the process. Thomas then helps Stanley back home, and the two become good friends ever since.
Younger Than They Look: Used perhaps most oddly when Salty is telling Thomas and Percy stories of the railway's past, despite them being far more likely to know from experience. How Thomas and Percy have remained small children although Thomas was built in 1915 and Percy was built in the 1930's and The Railway Series was created in the 1940's.
Ominous Fog: Used in Misty Island Rescue, when Thomas first arrives on the island. It's seen again when Edward, James, and Gordon get lost.
One Mario Limit: The name "Thomas" is forever linked with the series' title character.
One Steve Limit: Averted: we have Bertie/Bert/Bertrum, Bill/Billy, two characters named Oliver, and a literal handful of diesels without proper names: Devious Diesel/The Diesel(261)/Diesel 10/D 199/Derek the Diesel. Whew!
Only Six Faces: Averted. According to one British newspaper, the engines' facial expressions are actually more expressive than human faces!
Some are similar enough that modelers seem to mix up character's face masks however (in particular Thomas and Percy, while having unique facial designs, frequently use each other's masks without it looking glaringly off model).
Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: "Percy's Big Mistake" had Percy overhearing The Fat Controller say something about scrap and thought it meant he was to be scrapped (he's a steam engine). The Fat Controller actually said that Percy was working to hard recently and so after taking some scrap metal to the smelters he would be given the somewhat easier job of carrying the mail for a week.
Overtook the Series: From season 5 onward due to the well of Railway Series stories drying up. Admittedly not every story from the original books has been adapted and the direction the television series is taking means it will probably never happen.
This is complicated further by the show also adapting stories from other medias such as the magazines and annuals (mostly during Season Three, though a handful of episodes from Season Five onward are also adapted roughly from the magazines).
The Pete Best: George Carlin joked about this after he replaced Ringo Starr.
Punny Name: Guess what Sir Topham Hatt wears? Lampshaded in Misty Island Rescue by the Logging Locos, saying that he sounds funny.
Real Person Cameo: H.M. the Queen in "Paint Pots and Queens" and three real trains: City of Truro, Flying Scotsman and Stepney.
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Just any pair of engines usually run into this if the story is based on a calm and level-headed engine advising an excited and brash engine to avoid causing trouble. James and Edward play this a couple of times.
Reassigned to Antarctica: Why the Logging Locos were sent to Misty Island (apparently they misbehaved on their old mainland railway).
Remember the New Guy: Fearless Freddie randomly appears one day... but it's all okay! He was just hiding off screen, never mentioned, for the entire series until then!
Replaced the Theme Tune: Due to the original composers resigning, the theme tune was replaced with the Engine Roll Call in Season Eight onwards. The rest of the original soundtrack was also replaced.
Theme Tune Cameo: It reappears as the calliope's music in "Percy And The Calliope" however.
Retcon: In addition to Hiro building the railway, Fearless Freddie is now established as the oldest engine on the Skarloey Railway.
Rhymes on a Dime: Thomas gets a few in The Great Discovery. "I am brave and I am strong. I'll get to the wharf and it won't take long!" Since then, the engines seem to come up with a recurring mantra almost Once an Episode.
They are finally done away with in Blue Mountain Mystery, much to the relief of the fans.
Rightly Self Righteous: Some engines are occasionally conveyed this way; e.g., Toby, Duck, Donald and Douglas, and Fergus. They can often be smug and heckling to the other engines, but are competent hard workers. Usually, any attempts to ignore or belittle them only lead to a karmic accident or humiliation. It's usually avoided in later episodes, where each engine gets his shortcomings and arrogant moments spotlighted equally, with most of said characters being put Out of Focus or having a completely altered personality. (Toby, far from this role, is now a Shrinking Violet who usually underestimates his worth, while Duck's stubbornness has been shown to be more problematic.)
Ripped from the Headlines: All the episodes based on the Reverend's original books were in turn inspired by real life railway events. Everything in the railway series has happened to some engine, somewhere, at some time. This site has an entire database of the real-life anecdotes which inspired the Reverend's stories.
Save the Villain: Thomas saves Diesel from rolling off an unfinished bridge in Misty Island Rescue.
Scenery Gorn: The Vicarstown Dieselworks, which is filthy, grimy and full of broken machinery, including a broken crane. And then it catches fire.
Scenery Porn: The modelers for before the series went CG made some beautiful scenery and backgrounds for the trains to roll around in. There's still quite a lot of it in the CG series, especially in Misty Island Rescue.
Serious Business: Pretty much every race Thomas gets in. Similarly the railway itself is a Serious Business since pretty much everything on Sodor is somehow affected by the railway. Especially in later seasons.
She's a Man in Japan: Rusty was referred to as she in the US narration of season 9, though this had quickly been corrected.
Short Cuts Make Long Delays: If an engine even thinks of taking a shortcut somewhere, expect them to get lost, trapped, crashed, or otherwise delayed.
Shouldn't You Be Working On Schedule Right Now?: There are multiple episodes where an engine, who should be working at a 'Special Special', is instead seen travelling light-engine around the island with nothing in tow, allowing themsleves to stop at any location they please. One has to wonder if the railway schedules still exist, or can The Fat Controller just order any engine to do something on a whim.
Shown Their Work: Rev. Awdry was a railway nut and obsessive about details being right. Many stories in the original books were based on stories from railway workers. He would often fire or insult away book artists who hadn't gotten enough details right. The early TV seasons were based directly on the books, so inherited the accuracy of detail. Plus, while the new episodes are less realistic, the characters are still (mostly) based on real machines, with maybe some proportional changes.
Single-Minded Twins: Bill and Ben, and to a far lesser extent Donald and Douglas. Bash and Dash rely heavily on this trope, to the point where they finish each other's sentences.
Sixth Ranger: Percy and Toby in season 1. Duck in season 2. Emily also fits.
The Smurfette Principle: The Railway Series featured just two female engines, Daisy and Mavis, neither of whom were exactly strong characters. The TV series added more female engines in later series, such as Emily, Molly and Rosie. However, coaches such as Annie and Clarabel were always female. Which, given that the coaches couldn't even move without an engine's help, made things worse.
It's OK to beat the living crap out of the guy that's bullying you and your brother, as long as it technically happens accidentally.
Don't be rude or you will crash into tar wagons.
Don't annoy or tease others or they will play a trick on you, whether it be dragging you along with their train or making you believe that you saw a ghost.
Sorcerer's Apprentice Plot: Done frequently whenever an engine makes a slight alteration to their work run, or is given the job of another more experienced one. Naturally they usually have to face the annoyance of the Fat Controller afterwards.
Spared by the Adaptation: S.C. Ruffey was scrapped in the novels after being dismanteled by Oliver. In the show he is repaired and appears in later episodes.
In the original novels Bulgy was last seen acting into a chicken coop. In the show however, he is redeemed and converted back into a working bus.
Spoiled Brat: Daisy. She even gets away with some spoiled antics in her introductory episode by throwing a tantrum. Although she does get called out on it a couple times, and is given another chance because she helped clean up the mess caused when she (indirectly) caused an accident to Percy.
Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Thomas, who reached near Creator's Pet levels from Season 8.. To some extent Percy and James, who have the most recurring roles after Thomas and are the most merchandised supporting characters. This is partly due to their best friend status with the main character as well as them being even more prominant than Thomas himself in The Railway Series books that the initial seasons adapted from.
Seems to be dialed back for Thomas come Season 17, where he is confirmed only three spotlight episodes (the same as Percy) and more moderated supporting roles.
Stealth Pun: The Island of Sodor is named for the Diocese of Sodor and Man, which by Awdry's day had dwindled down to just the Isle of Man. So he invented an Island of Sodor to go with it.
Stepford Smiler: Common in episodes where characters ignorantly cause damage to everything and everyone around them.
The Stinger: After the credits of Misty Island Rescue, Diesel 10, the Big Bad from Thomas and the Magic Railroad, appears watching the Sodor engines, with an Evil Laugh and promising ruin and destruction.
Supermarionation: The earlier seasons, before CGI. The engines were all model trains on a miniature set. Their eyes, wheels and even ability to let off steam were controlled by off-camera puppeteers. It helps that it was overseen by Thunderbirds veteran David Mitton.
Take That: King of the Railway has two cases of this towards the previous writing style, particularly towards Henry needing Special coal.
Tear Off Your Face: This is how one of the Scottish Twins actually kills the Spiteful Brakevan (a bullying caboose) at the end of the episode "Brake Van", by ramming into him face-on, smashing the caboose to bits, and tearing off his face.
Terrible Trio: Diesel sometimes forms one with 'Arry and Bert in later episodes. Gordon, James and Henry were a lighter example in the earlier seasons (being more just arrogant peers than villains) while Diesel 10 formed one with Splatter and Dodge in Thomas And The Magic Railroad.
That Makes Me Feel Angry: Basically every episode will have some variation of "That made (character) feel very (emotion)." This was strictly limited in earlier seasons, but became more prominent from season 8 onward, mainly because it was a selling point for autistic children.
Took a Level in Kindness: Thomas was a lot more of a pompous brat in the early episodes based on the original novels. As the show began to branch off on it's own however, he became more altrustic and high spirited. A few other engines such as Sir Handel have also been tamed a little in later seasons.
Tooth Strip: In the original books and TV series. Averted with some Trucks. Interesting to note, in the early days of the TV series, the production crew did make an individually toothed face for a smiling Gordon... It didn't look too well.
A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: The majority of the accidents in the show is this, because the engines did not stop to think before they act.
Twin Switch: Bill and Ben in "The Diseasel". A variation since instead of acting as each other, they pretended to be one unnamed engine. Besides, they are pretty much the same in personality.
Donald and Douglas also used this early in their tenure on Sodor, when Sir Topham Hatt was still trying to decide which one to send home. If one ever seemed to be outperforming the other, they'd switch tenders (the only places their numbers were painted) and do each other's work until their records evened out, so the boss couldn't make a decision.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Some of the engines are this to each other, especially if one engine is kind and sensible and the other is rude and haughty. They will have their differences and will throw out their quips from time to time, but in the end, they will always help out each other when needed.
The trio of Gordon, Henry, and James run into this.
What Happened to the Mouse??: Much of Salty's story about Misty Island. He says they use smoke signals there, but aside from Thomas using it as a way to get Percy's attention across the bay, we never see it used on the island. Salty also mentions that an engine was lost there once, but after "puffing three times" we don't know what happened to him, and it's never mentioned again.
White Sheep: Most trucks on Sodor range from mischievous to outright sociopathic, teasing the engines or outright causing accidents for them. Toad the break van and Hector the coal hopper however are kind natured and help the engines keep the other rolling stock at bay.