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James is a mixed-traffic tender engine who works on the North Western Railway, usually working along the Main Line. He can be vain and sometimes boastful, but means well and is a hard worker.


James is very proud of his splendid red paintwork. He dislikes pulling trucks and believes that he should only pull coaches. He is so self-centred that he thinks himself superior to the others and can be shallow, boastful, overconfident, arrogant, prideful, naughty and vain, particularly to those who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow or dirty. This has caused him to have somewhat of a rivalry with Edward, Percy, Toby and Duck, as well as Thomas, Gordon, Henry and even Philip lately on occasion. In most cases, it takes scolding from others to make his penny drop, and even then it is too late to prevent trouble. He has acted like this even before he was repainted red. However, on a number of occasions, he has found himself in need of help from those whom he has insulted and is, in the end, apologetic.

James was the last of the steam engines to retain a prejudice against diesels, insulting them the same way other visiting diesels would insult the steam engines on Sodor, with BoCo and Bear barely being spared from his opinionated view. However, after stalling on a cold day, he was rescued by the Works Diesel and had to admit that nothing was wrong with diesels. This appears to be one of the few lessons that have stuck. Despite this, James can remain highly opinionated on someone's character, refusing to believe Sonny had given up life as a criminal, only to find out the hard way that when Sonny bumped him at the docks, it was to save him from being splattered and dented by watermelons. In similar situations, James often feels remorse and guilt for his actions, often leading to his apologies coming out meekly.

James has also been portrayed as a prankster, often tricking or scaring the other engines for fun or to get out of jobs he dislikes doing. However, following a particularly mean-spirited prank he played on Percy in the time he scared with a monster made of scrap, this gimmick seems to have died down. As of the meeting videos, he has been labelled as the "Joker" of the Steam Team by Thomas.

Despite all of that, James has shown a caring side to him. He has a heart of gold and wants to help anyone in a time of need. He is normally hard-working and, like everyone else, wants to be responsible, reliable and really useful on Sir Topham Hatt's railway. Although his vanity usually hides it, James actually is capable of realising when he crosses the line.


James is based on a L&YR Class 28, a class of 0-6-0 mixed-traffic tender locomotive designed by George Hughes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and built by Horwich Works between 1909 and 1912. It was a rebuild of Aspinall's Class 27, with the addition of a Belpaire firebox, a Schmidt/"twin-plug" superheater and the extension of the footplate and front sandboxes.

According to The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, James is an experimental member of the Class 28s; he is fitted with a front pony truck (thus making him a 2-6-0 instead of an 0-6-0), 5'6" driving wheels instead of the class' original 5'1" ones and a Fowler tender. His front sandboxes also appear to be mounted underneath his footplate rather than joined to his leading splashers.

The Rev. W. Awdry's original model of James was modified from that of a G&SWR 403 Class 2-6-0 and materials related to Awdry's model layout indicate this was originally considered to be James' prototype.