Shelf Island is the third autonomous island in Irish Sea, located roughly half way between the Isle of Man and Sodor. The island is a British crown dependency - a self-governing possession of the British Crown. It therefore has the same political status as the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man. The island is usually perceived as the poor relation to its two neighbours, with an economy founded on the dismantling of old railway vehicles and the unregulated processing of industrial waste.
This sketch has been compiled from various sources. The coastline is by courtesy of Random Island Generator 7, with the seed 942.8082867525518.
The length of railway shown here by the thick dashed line was lost to coastal erosion and this necessitates the reversal of trains at Creg. The six red dots mark the six locations I want to include in my layout. See also General Arrangement.
A Brief History of Shelf
Historical records of Shelf are difficult to find, but we can see clear evidence of Neolithic settlement on the island in some standing stones on the Cronk promontory. The stones are a listed structure, and unapproachable except by climbing from the sea cliffs. Stories say, King Olaf II of Norway visited an island “near Ireland” and visited a hermit living in a cave; and the full name of the district is Cronk Noo Olave meaning “Saint Olaf's Hill”. For completeness, recent studies suggest the island in the story was probably one of the Isles of Scilly, but the name remains.
After the Dark Ages, fishermen settled at Keiy Pabyr (“Paper Quay”) and built a harbour here, and the island began to support subsistence activity again. The economy developed into agriculture, and also quarrying of building stone.
By the late 1890s, the construction of railways on the nearby Isle of Man and Sodor saw the island working as a staging post for commercial shipping. Modern ships could not enter the harbour at Keiy Pabyr, and the islanders built docks at the eastern end of the island. The settlement near the docks grew to become the capital of the island, and to be known as Shelf.
Keen to let nothing go to waste, the islanders built an extensive narrow-gauge railway using leftovers and spare parts from their two neighbours. The route began at Shelf, and progressed in the westerly direction to connect to Keiy Pabyr and from there into the hills to the quarries.
During the 1940s, the Admiralty sought out remote areas, away from centres of population but with good communications links. Shelf Island was ideal, and the Admiralty consumed the northern parts of Shelf with extensive munitions dumps, converting the railway here to standard gauge along the way.
The Ministry of Supply delivered an American class S100 steam engine to the island in 1943. The engine was found to be ideal in all respects for the duties expected of it, but nevertheless a rather larger S160 engine followed a few months later. The authorities forgot about the engines by the time of the D Day landings, and both stayed to spend their entire lives on the island.
During the 1960s, the World was gripped by a new age of innovation. The moon landings and supersonic air travel made copy for headline writers around the globe, but the discovery of Solvinium (atomic number 72, symbol Sv, and found only on Shelf) went unannounced. Put simply, Solvinium acts as a catalyst with liquefied industrial waste to extract numerous heavy metals especially palladium, cadmium and lead. The process of conversion turns any mixed slurry of unknown provenance into an apparently harmless liquid. Solvinium is extracted from the local mineral ore.
Efforts to build a Channel Tunnel in the early 1970s were halted under the administration of Harold Wilson. When the work stopped, the technology of the time and the availability of the workforce facilitated the construction of a Shelf to Sodor tunnel (colloquially known as “the Shunnel”) which finally opened to traffic in 1984. The tunnel is a single-bore affair, built to a Continental loading gauge.
During the 1980s, Shelf started a new trade in the disposal of surplus railway equipment. The economy truly boomed during the last two decades of the 20th century, with the unique placement of Shelf outside the usual regulatory systems allowing many obsolete, time-served and asbestos-ridden vehicles to be broken up cheaply and efficiently. In fact, the breaker has usefully put some of these wagons and carriages into service for the local government.
The fixed link through the tunnel is, of course, a standard gauge railway. The island found itself with three unconnected railways: the Admiralty system in the west, the historic and unique narrow gauge system in the centre, and the tunnel in the east. Soon after the tunnel opened, the island received considerable attention from heritage organisations when it lifted most of the narrow gauge railway and laid a standard-gauge system along the same route. Safety issues including curve radii, gradients and braking systems captured newspaper headlines for a day, but we must wonder if some kind of news blackout then happened because there is not a scrap of supporting evidence to be found online, and the newspapers concerned are difficult to find in public libraries on the mainland.
The dense urbanisation of modern Sodor forced all of the tunnel boring activities to be done from the Shelf end, and the huge amount of spoil extracted was taken around the island by barge and dumped to the south-west. This made a flat area of reclaimed land for an airport. Everything was on the up: hundreds of decommissioned slam-door trains to be broken up, a steady income from the waste reprocessing, and now the prospect of an international airport.
Unfortunately, the preparations for the airport had an unwanted effect. The south coast of the island has always featured areas of deposition to the west and erosion to the east, with the promontory at Cronk dividing and guiding the wave action. The tidal action is much like that on the North Norfolk coast, each side of Blakeney point. The development of a major land mass in the south-west magnified the effects of the wave action, dramatically increasing both deposition and erosion. By 2000, the island had gained an attractive beach near Fairport, but the winter of 2005 brought disaster when high seas washed away the coastal railway between Keiy Pabyr and Shelf.
The island government decided to abandon the plans for an international airport, and to use the money to rebuild the railway instead. They created a new rail link by tunnelling a new route, inland of the washout. Through trains from Shelf to Keiy Pabyr now have to follow a double-switchback route, but the short distances involved mean this is not a great hindrance.
The Island Today
Shelf International Airport remains a dream for the government and the islanders alike. The land reclaimed form the sea has been sufficiently fertile to build a grass airstrip, and a shuttle bus service runs from here to the railhead at Fairport.
The railway remains nationalised, in the caring if relatively inexperienced hands of the local government.
Quarrying activities continue, but primarily for Solvinium extraction not building stone (it is cheaper to import bricks nowadays), and so the economy of the island now concentrates on the reprocessing of waste products. Many of these products come from continental Europe, and wagons bearing the usual anchor symbol for cross-channel ferry traffic are a familiar sight around the island.
The Shelf – Sodor tunnel handles only freight tradffic, officially because it does not comply with a few safety requirements but in practice because two famous ladies named Annie and Clarabelle refuse to go anywhere near it. The tunnel does allow occasional and interesting trains to visit the island from places far away, and the annual National Day (early June) is a celebration of all things Railway.
This year (2012), the island is making some efforts to begin a tourist industry. This is seen as something of a challenge, and a good deal of tidying up is expected. In particular, Fairport has been cleaned up and visitors can enjoy the new beach and the nature reserve nearby.
A commercial shipping vessel makes a visit every week, while air traffic provides one or two flights each day. Imports include construction materials, fuel and food. Exports include processed railway scrap and of course the heavy metals.
The currency on Shelf is the Pound Sterling, and island enforces its own customs controls. Potential visitors are required to apply for a visa, and background checks will be done to identify people who reckon model railways should be totally prototypical. Rail enthusiasts are respectfully reminded that the quarries and the industrial areas in the east of the island (currently known as the experimental area) are strictly out of bounds.
"1 June 2012 ... errors and omissions excepted"