In writing this story, the author, known to most rail-fans as Steam Man, is seeking to commemorate the noble fight fought by Charlie Lewis, Alan Jorgenson and others - who, against all odds - kept the little line going for 17 years.

Hopefully they will get another chance.

After reading reams of correspondence about the closure of the Albert Country Railway, I asked a wise sage to explain it all to me. In the way of his people, he didn’t give me a straight answer, but instead told me the following cautionary tale.
Chapter One - The end of the Line

Once upon a time there was a little train that bustled up and down a steep and windy railway, taking goods and passengers between the sea and the inland principality of Albert.

In the past, the King of the Land had provided railways to all the kingdoms, and the land had prospered.

But it came to pass that some principalities were favoured more than others, and this led to an uprising in the land. The King of the Land then decreed that the principalities must pay for their own railway maintenance, as the money that had been used for this was now needed to contain the uprising.

The Lord of the Railways was left with no option—his budget had been cut, he had to close down many railways that did not earn enough money to justify their continued existence.
advisors said that this was all right, as there were enough vehicle roads to carry the goods, and that entrepreneurs would buy big trucks and carry the goods for the people. Still others would take the opportunity to buy kombi-taxis and start businesses that would enable them to carry all the people.

And so it came to pass that the railway to Albert was closed down.

Chapter 2 - A New Beginning

However, nothing is ever what it seems and fate had other plans.

There was a Not So Fat Controller who loved this little railway. He entered into a pact with the Lord of the Railways that allowed him to operate the little trains on the condition that it would not cost the Lord of the Railways anything.
And so was born the Albert Country Railway. Once again the little steam trains huffed and puffed their way into the mountains of the Principality of Albert, carrying both goods and passengers.
The Not so Fat Controller and his group of merry men and women were happy. They loved their little railway, as did the people of the principality, who could now travel to the sea ‘safely’, while their goods were transported to the great railway at the sea, which in turn would distribute them throughout the land.
The Lord of the Railways breathed a sigh of relief as he had felt sorry to have had to close down a well-loved and useful railway.
Chapter 3 - Floods in the Land

And then there came a disaster as the gods sent great floods to the land, which washed away many railways and roads, including the Albert Country Railway. The King of the Land made money available to repair the roads, but told the Lord of the Railways that he must use his own money to repair the railways.

He also changed the laws so that the Lord of the Roads could allow bigger and bigger trucks on the roads. The railways were no longer to be allowed to transport all the goods. And so it came to be that the truck owners were allowed to transport any goods anywhere, and they charged less for carrying them than did the Lord of the Railways.

Many more trucks appeared on the roads, and the wear on the roads increased, and the roads cost more to maintain. But the King of the Land found money for this.

The railways, on the other hand, could only afford to repair the busiest lines, and many lines were closed down. The Lord of the Railways, however, entered into a new pact with the Not so Fat Controller which enabled him to repair the little railway. But this meant that the Not so Fat Controller was now in debt to the railways. Nevertheless, the little trains were running again and the people were happy.

Chapter 4 - Trains and Trucks

All pacts have conditions. The Not so Fat Controller was not allowed to run his steam engines and had to hire diesel engines from the Lord of the Railways to pull the trains.

But, soon afterwards the truck owners went to the King of the Land and asked permission to carry heavier loads on their trucks, as their profits were very low. The King gave his permission on the condition that a road levy be imposed on diesel sales to raise money to repair the roads. But this was not enough, the busy main roads were tolled in such a way that the cars, which did not break the roads, paid heavily for the damage caused by the trucks.

The Not so Fat Controller was not happy—he had to repair the railway and also pay for repairs to the vehicle roads. At the same time he had to lower his charges if he was to keep business coming his way. This meant that he could not pay his debt to the Lord of the Railways.

The uprising in the land continued, and eventually the King of the Land abdicated. There was a new Rainbow King, and he made many changes. He decreed that all people who were less equal than others should be given houses and other things to make them more equal. He decreed that jobs should be created. The rail subsidies were cut further to fund the new social structure, as the railways were now believed to be only needed for those goods that could not be carried by trucks.

The truck owners wanted more profit and the Rainbow King gave them permission to carry even heavier loads. The people said that the very heavy loads would break the roads, and the broken roads would in turn break the vehicles using them. Thus, many jobs would be created to fix the roads and the vehicles, and all the main roads would be turned into toll roads, which would pay for the road repairs. This would create far more jobs than the railways could ever do.

So the railways carried less goods and the losses mounted. The Not so Fat Controller was forced to stop running goods-trains on the little railway. Instead, he concentrated on developing a tourist train that would bring money to the local people. And which would also enable him to pay his debt.

And so began the Pomegranate Express. And once more the people were happy. 

Chapter 5 - Success and Failure

The Not so Fat Controller slowly shaped the Pomegranate Express into a top international tourist attraction. At the same time he repaired the stored steam locomotives and brought them back into service. This made the train even more popular with the people. He sent the diesel locomotives back to the Lord of the Railways, who was not pleased as he had no other use for them.

The little train stopped at interesting places where the tourists spent their money, and this created employment for the local people. The little train started to make a profit, and it looked as if the debts would slowly be able to be paid.

Then the Lord of the Railways started to act strangely and tried in many ways to stop the little train from running. The resilient Not so Fat Controller fought off these many attacks, as they broke the pact that he had made with the Lord of the Railways.

For a time it looked as if all would be well, and then, out of the blue, the Lord of the Railways demanded that the debt be instantly repaid. The courts were persuaded that the little Albert Country Railway should be declared to be bankrupt.   And it came to pass that the little train ran no more, the tourists were very sad, and the local people lost their income. But what had really gone wrong?

And then suddenly out of the blue an explanation appeared.

Chapter 6 - A New Revelation

At this point the sage said to me: ‘My son, you must understand that in a democracy, such as ours, there are many truths, and there are many versions of the truth .

If you understand this, you will understand what happened.’

One day a spokesperson, announced that he represented a rail company, Coastal Steam Railway, which had never run any trains. He told the people that the little railway was badly neglected and therefore very unsafe. He told the people that his company had existed secretly for many years, and had been negotiating with the Lord of the Railways for many seasons to take control of the little railway.

His company was in accordance with the principles of the new democracy, and its directors included the President of the Republic of Pomegranateland (formerly The Principality of Albert), and all the President’s men. This qualified the company to lease the railway, and to apply for much public money so that it could repair the track and structures to an acceptable standard.

He explained that the Not so Fat Controller could not have public money because he was a private person. But, because the new company didn't know how to run a railway, it would call for tenders from interested Controllers of any shape or size, and that the Not so Fat Controller would be able to apply to run the railway.

All this, however, could only happen when the Coastal Steam Railway had received its public money, and had spent some of it to make the railway safe. He did not say when this would happen.

Chapter 7 - Some More Truths

The Second Truth

The Not so Fat Controller told the people that the line was safe for the speed at which the little train operated, and that he had a certificate from the Lord of the Railways to this effect. He also said that the Lord of the Railways had not allowed him to change their pact into one that was democratically acceptable. The President of the Republic of Pomegranateland was not answering his telephone calls.

He felt that there was a hidden agendum, as all the troubles had started at the same time  -  just when the little train had started to make a small profit. He thought that he smelt something in the air. Others were quick to report that it was a very fishy smell.

Not being an ichthyologist, the Not so Fat Controller and many others did not realise that the ACR closure came shortly after the annual sardine run. This phenomenon occurs every year at this time, when huge shoals of little fish move up the coast, and are driven into the shallow water by predator species.

The local population scoop these fish out of the water with whatever means they have at their disposal.    This leaves miles of coastline smelling like a fish processing plant.

Now what exactly did the Not so Fat Controller smell?

The Third Truth

In a neighbouring republic, The Beloved Country, the people were celebrating. This was because they also had a little railway company, but theirs met all the requirements of the democratic system. Their little railway had been abandoned some years back, also after flood damage. But now they were restoring it and were once again running little trains.

A spokesman of The Knitting Wool Steam Railway spoke out and said that the Pomegranate Express line could be brought back to a safe running condition for the price of a few pomegranates. He spoke from a great knowledge of the system, and he offered to assist with a caretaker operation, to get the little train running again within a few weeks.

This offer was made in the hope of restoring the area as a great tourist attraction, and so regain lost employment opportunities for the local people. He would help until the Rainbow King, the President of Pomegranateland and other important personages could all get together and work out how best the railway could satisfy all their various needs.

The Fourth Truth

While all this was going on, rich property developers had infiltrated the local parliament and the headquarters of the Lord of the Railways with the sole purpose of obtaining the several kilometres of coastline that the little railway occupied. This would allow them to build luxury holiday homes and golf estates for the very rich people.

And the wise old sage said to me, ‘Do you now understand what has happened?’ If, however, your simple mind cannot comprehend these truths, then go to your bed and go into a deep sleep and dream up a solution for this sorry mess, and then go and tell it to the people, so that they can put pressure on their President and all his men to solve the problem.

Chapter 8 - Dream or Reality?

Some while later, there was much fanfare at the new little station by the sea. The passengers had climbed onto the Pomegranate Express on an early summer's morning, just as the sun started to peep over the sea.

At the front of the train was a shiny polished little bendy engine, called a ‘Garratt’ locomotive. The front engine unit opened her drain-cocks and hissed, ‘Dayle, I wonder if we can’ ? And the rear engine unit did likewise and hissed, ‘Sue, I know we can.’

Presently the New Thin Controller blew his whistle, the Not so Fat Controller waved his green flag, and the driver blew the locomotive whistle. And so the little train eased out of the station, filling the air with the smell of coal smoke, oil and steam. And the President of the Republic of Pomegranateland waved out of the window to the controllers as the train picked up speed. A third controller stood with a smile on his face. He shook hands with the other two controllers, wished them goodbye, and said ‘I must be on my way, there is a little train waiting for me in the Beloved Country.

Just as the train cleared the station limits, there was a whistle from the siding. Charlie, the little tender locomotive, cracked open his drain-cocks as he moved slowly onto the mainline with his two coaches, and whispered, ‘This is the first time that the Pomegranate Express is travelling the whole distance of this little railway, all the way to the new station of Albert. I will be following close behind, carrying the maintenance team and the relief loco crew. I think they can do it. But if it becomes too difficult, I will creep up behind them and gently nudge them over the steep hill, and they won't even know it.’

As the sun climbed higher over the sea, the little trains turned inland to climb up the steep valley that led to the mountains far from the sea. The back of the main train was now bathed in bright sunlight, and there for everyone to see, was a giant, smiling pomegranate.

Written by Steam Man  -  Edited by Tabatha  -  Illustrated by DC
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