Ryan was brought to help run Thomas' Branch Line while Thomas was sent to help out at the construction yard during the building of the Harwick Branch Line. After Thomas fell into a deep cavern, Ryan was once again brought to do his job while he was being repaired. After taking bad coal, he accidentally set fire to some dynamite, which Thomas managed to dispose of quickly - however, the incident also landed Thomas in trouble with Sir Topham Hatt. Ryan later helped stop Captain Calles' Pirate Ship, which was being used by Sailor John to escape with the treasure. When Thomas was fished out of the water, Sir Topham Hatt told Thomas that Ryan told him everything that had happened, and that he was proud of him.
Soon afterward, Ryan started work on the Harwick Branch Line as the goods engine, with Daisy as the passenger engine.
In the twentieth season, Ryan had to help Toby take stone from Anopha Quarry to Harwick. But, he ended up doing Daisy's extra jobs too, and became so over-worked that he took his passengers to the quarry instead of Knapford Station. Later, Ryan found Judy and Jerome at Knapford. They had grown tired of sitting there for ages, so Ryan took them to Arlesburgh Harbour. He then went looking for Judy and Jerome when Daisy derailed near a signal box. Ryan looked everywhere for the breakdown cranes and finally found them at the Blue Mountain Quarry.
Ryan is a friendly and good-natured engine, who goes out of his way to be kind, and is concerned when he sees others in trouble. Ryan would like to be a hero, but he is not actually as brave as he wishes he was, and has a tendency to panic a little in the face of danger. It does not put him off trying, though.
Ryan is based on the Great Northern Railway Class N2. Designed by Nigel Gresley as a improvement of Henry Ivatt's Class N1, these locomotives were fitted with condensing apparatus because they were used for inter-city work in the Metropolitan areas of London, while later examples were usually seen around Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. One member of this class, No.1744 has been preserved and operates on the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire. In addition to being the sole survivor of its class, 1744 is also the sole surviving example of a Gresley designed tank engine
Ryan is painted purple with white and gold lining. He has the letters "GNR" painted on his tanks in gold. The number "1014" is painted on his bunker sides in the same colour. He also has brass nameplates on the sides of his boiler.
- Ryan's basis was chosen because while it is a tank engine like Thomas, it is also slightly bigger and newer, which helped to make Thomas feel threatened and think he was going to be replaced.
- In the original script of Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, Ryan was portrayed as being overconfident and dismissive, as compared to his final portrayal. All merchandise descriptions of him mention this personality.
- Ryan shares his whistle sound with Smudger. Stepney once had this whistle sound before too.