Londoner John Fell was one of those magnificent Victorian English railway inventors. On a test track in Derbyshire in 1864, his 15 ton prototype locomotive amazed crtitics by pulling a train of 24 tons up a 1 in 12 gradient. Fell’s squat little engines were unique. Outwardly the design was conventional, but between the frames a second engine drove a set of 4 horizontal wheels which gripped a raised centre rail.
Of the system’s three appearances, the first two were brief - over the alps between France and Italy and on the Cantagallo Railway in Brazil. It was only in New Zealand that John Fell’s genius knew world fame. Here for 77 years the Fell engines battled rain, snow and hurricane-force winds in the North Island’s Rimutaka Mountains. Some trains required 5 of the 6 engines interspersed throughout their length to haul them to Summit - three miles from the bottom and nearly 1000 feet higher.
In this unique programme, produced by the international award-winning Memory Line team, a surviving fitter, driver and fireman return to the abandoned Incline to relive tales of agony and triumph of the Fell engines battling the mountain range. Also featured is the worlds’ only remaining Fell loco. H199, shown in its restored splendour in the Fell Engine Museum at Featherston.
This present-day footage , combined with detailed archive film never seen publicly before, brings to life an amazing railway which was surely steam’s ultimate test.