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Trainspotting, the Hobby

Updated on October 22, 2007
Railway Engine
Railway Engine

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.


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    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 4 years ago from USA

      I was reading an article about quilting, and it mentioned trainspotting as a hobby. I hadn't heard of it, so I searched for it on Bing, and came here. Now nice for a hub to give me the answer I needed.

    • profile image

      johnny therkelsen 6 years ago

      i love to waching trains anywhere in the world

    • profile image

      Gunnar Ostling 8 years ago

      So far I haqve3 no commenr

    • profile image

      brownlickie 8 years ago

      unfortunatly these days there are not enough trains to spot so people have to rely on any train that comes along.

      regards brownlickie

    • profile image

      frankie 9 years ago

      You say "a trainspotter is someone who specifically watches the lines in search of trains"

      Really ! What else would the tainspotter be in search of if not trains ? Spotted Owls ?

    • funwithtrains profile image

      funwithtrains 9 years ago from USA

      I enjoy spotting trains every now and then, and really enjoy model trains. Please visit my trains hub:

    • profile image

      Ann 9 years ago

      My son is absolutely CRAZY about freight trains. He's only three and he already uses terms like "grade crossing" and "gondola car"... well, it sounds more like "gwade cwossing", but we all get the idea. In Illinois (where his grandparents live), we're able to see about two every hour at a nearby crossing, but we just moved to Wisconsin just west of Milwaukee and can't find an active grade crossing. Any Cheese Heads out there with any advice? I'm in Waukesha county.

    • profile image

      ben 9 years ago

      i love trains i enjoy waching for them