Day Out with Thomas (Originally named Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine) is a trade name licensed by HiT Entertainment for tourist events that take place on heritage railways and feature one or more engines decorated to look like characters from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
The Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough in England was the first railway in the world to possess a full-scale replica Thomas. This was an industrial tank engine built by Hudswell Clarke that had been nicknamed "Thomas" due to its blue livery and resemblance to the famous tank engine. In 1971 the Reverend W. Awdry made the name official. HiT Entertainment later tried - unsuccessfully - to sue the Nene Valley Railway on the grounds that the engine was breaching their trademark. The case was dismissed as the name was given by the Reverend W. Awdry.
Since then, other tank engines around the world have been dressed up as Thomas. Some railways have gone so far as to rebuild locomotives in order to produce a better replica. This has divided preservationists: those opposed claim it disfigures historic locomotives and trivialises the preservation movement; those in favour claim they draw visitors and can kindle an interest in children.
Many "Thomas'" aren't actually real engines; they are really "shells" built around a smoke machine.
Some railways have developed a further source of income in the hire of "Thomases" to railways that do not have a "Thomas" of their own.
Off the Rails
Since 2008 many heritage railways in the UK have withdrawn their "Day out With Thomas" events due to HiT's revised licensing conditions, which include the requirement for enhanced criminal records (CRB) checks on railway staff and volunteers and training courses for actors playing The Fat Controller.
Railways - including The East Lancashire Railway, The North Yorkshire Moors Railway, The Bluebell Railway, The National Railway Museum at York, and The Swanage Railway - were affected and have not had Thomas back on their events list since. "Jimmy the Jinty" took over for the East Lancashire Railway in 2009. Despite a two year absence, taken over by Underground Ernie, the Thomas license returned to Eastleigh Lakeside Steam Railway in 2010.
Events at The Elsecar Heratige Railway were axed in 2010 due to the new prices and had been replaced by Peppa Pig until 2013. Thomas also left the Great Central Railway in 2009 and was replaced by Ivor the Engine until 2012. However, Thomas has returned to the East Lancashire Railway as of 2011 and was recently welcomed back at the Severn Valley Railway, Churnet Valley Railway, and the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The Nene Valley Railway is planning to overhaul their Thomas, but are requiring donations for support.
After ending the partnership held with Mega Blocks since 2010 and now partnered with Fisher Price, the franchise relaunched in 2013 with a new website and with specially created merchandise. However, due to the changes, only twenty railways in the UK now hold a license for Thomas weekends.
Recently, two heritage railways, the Midland Railway Centre and the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway, both announced that due to spiraling costs and a decline in the number of visitors to their "Thomas" events, they will no longer be hosting Day Out with Thomas events. Though Thomas will not return to those railways, for the first time in five years, he will be at the North Norfolk Railway.
The following heritage railways are hosting Thomas events in 2013:
- Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway
- Caledonian Railway
- Colne Valley Railway
- Dean Forest Railway
- East Lancashire Railway
- East Somerset Railway
- Gloucester Warwickshire Railway
- Kent & East Sussex Railway
- Kirklees Light Railway
- Llangollen Railway
- Mid-Hants Railway
- Nene Valley Railway
- North Norfolk Railway
- South Devon Railway
Events by country
Many railways now host Day Out With Thomas events. Some feature just Thomas, while others feature other engines like Diesel, Percy, Donald and Douglas, Duck, Oliver, James, Henry, Toby, Bill and Ben, Spencer, Fergus, Daisy, S. C. Ruffey, Toad, the Diesel, and Mavis.
There are seven travelling "Thomases", all standard gauge except for two narrow gauge engines. While travelling between events, the engines are disguised. Thomas appears in full dress at Day Out with Thomas events hosted by railroads in arrangement with HiT Entertainment. Many of the larger railroad museums and tourist railroads host Day Out with Thomas events periodically. There are two real engines (One coal fired, one oil fired) and five dummies. The coal fired engine and all of the dummies were made at Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania. The coal fired engine is former Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal #15. It currently resides at the Strasburg Rail Road and is lent out to other railroads from time to time. The oil fired engine travels between Essex Steam Train, the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad, and the NC Transporation Museum.
Mainline Steam's Bagnall tank engine has appeared as "Thomas" on a number of different locations, including the extremely popular biannual "Day Out with Thomas the Tank Engine" weekends at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway. In the Hutt Valley, the Silver Stream Railway has a Thomas-like engine on display at its entrance.
- In Queensland, The Workshops Rail Museum adds faces to their engines, coaches, and road vehicles resembling Edward, Lady, Donald, Douglas, D199, Annie, Clarabel, Trevor, and George. An engine previously used for James is currently undergoing an overhaul. The event also uses a life size Thomas replica which is not a real engine.
- In Victoria, the 2ft 6in Puffing Billy Railway decorates their 0-4-0st Pekett as Thomas.
- In New South Wales, the Zig Zag Railway, Lithgow held an event referred to as "Friends of Thomas", utilizing engines resembling Thomas, James, Donald, and Douglas. Thomas events at the Zig Zag have discontinued with the closure of the line on June 17th, 2012. The NSW Rail Transport Museum, Thirlmere also holds an event, with engines resembling Thomas, Toby, Henry, and Donald.
In the Netherlands, the "Zuid Limburgse Stoomtrein Maatschapij" (South Limburg Steam Engine Railway) has a "Day out with Thomas" once a year. For this event, they get a steam engine, which looks like Thomas, from the United Kingdom. They use different engines, depending on the engine they get each year. They use their own engines as Thomas' friends.