Trainspotting, the Hobby
Trainspotting isn't just the name of the 1993 novel of the same name, nor the movie made thereafter. It's actually a very popular hobby, particularly in the UK though the idea has spread around the world.
Trainspotters are often called railfans, but that's a bit of a misnomer. A railfan is anyone who enjoys trains and the railway, whereas a trainspotter is someone who specifically watches the lines in search of trains.
There are different variations of trainspotters, but the general principle remains the same. They are much like bird-watchers, out there looking to spot as many trains as they can. Each engine is marked with a number or name, and so trainspotters take notes of which ones they've seen and where. As their knowledge of the line grows, they start to make specific effort to spot particular trains to make their "collections" complete.
Some railfans focus on particular types of cars or engines, while others prefer to stick to one particular rail company. Trainspotters often collect other memorabilia associated with their particular brand of trains. Tickets, schedules or even pieces of equipment are popular collectibles.
They hang out at local stations or railway stops, or even just bring out a lawn chair to sit near a set of tracks, just waiting for that next train to pass them by.
There is a quite a community among trainspotters, who can keep in contact via cell phones and Internet mailing lists. Sightings and information is shared around quickly and easily. Scanners can be used to listen into dispatch broadcasts.
Among trainspotters, there is a huge amount of slang and jargon, usually terms to refer to all the different makes of trains or cars. The lingo is far too extensive to list here, but here are a couple of websites to give you a taste for the talk.
The idea of trainspotting has spread beyond the rails, and has also evolved into the hobby of planespotting. Same ideas, different locations. Unlike trainspotters who can do their observing from anywhere along a track, most planespotters have to hang out near airports in order to get a good enough view of the planes coming and going.
Though the hobby is a very harmless one, people who hang around railway lines and airports are now being looked at with suspicion as possible terrorists who are scoping out a target. In fact, true spotters are an addition to security because they become very familiar with the routine activities of an area, and can be quick to notice when something really is out of place.