What one word comes to mind when you hear the word Train Spotter. Most would instantly reply, "anorak."
How has the love for following trains become such a target for comedians and the general public who take great pleasure in denouncing all those who practise such behaviour.
Why do people actually go and watch trains and why is there a need to write down there numbers. What is the point of it all.
There are many elements to trainspotting. Some people just collect the numbers of the trains. How serious you are about the subject, determines what numbers you actually apply to your collection criteria.
Some enthusiasts just collect locomotive numbers. Some collect the numbers on Multiple Units, some collect carriage numbers and some even collect freight wagons numbers. Most people actually collect just locomotive numbers but there are a number of die-hards, who actually take the number of anything that moves.
So what do you do with the numbers when you have written them down. There are various books that can be bought that list the numbers of trains in them. Most people would once they have seen a locomotive, underline the corresponding number in their book. The idea is then to collect all the engines until you have seen them all.
This is no easy task, as there is potentially over 1500 locomotives to be seen. Many only stay in certain areas, like shunters. This means that you have to go to them, as they will not come to you. Trainspotting can become a very expensive hobby.
Some trains are confined to certain regions, or certain workings. Some roam vast areas and the chances of you and it being in the same place at the same time, are remote. All trains are allocated to a depot and the best place to start is there. However many trains stay away from their "home" depot for long periods.
Even if you know the train is at the depot, it may be inside the locomotive shed, away from a visible viewing point. You can see the agony of the trainspotter who is stood practically yards away from a locomotive he needs but unable to see it. Many would risk trespass and venture onto the depot just to see it.
I once witnessed back in the early 80ís a man nearly get killed at Healey Mills, a depot near Wakefield. He was sure one of his last engines he needed was tucked away in the long lines of locomotives held there, awaiting new duties. He ran down the embankment, across the track, under the buffers of two attached locomotives. He disappeared for about five minutes. He suddenly reappeared between the locomotives and jumped out into the path of a passing freight train. It missed him by inches. This is the kind of insane risk, I have witnessed many a time.
Of course not everyone would go to this extreme to see a train.
Rail enthusiasts have their own lingo.
Gricer. One who is actually a trainspotter.
Copped. Meaning they have actually got an engine they need for their collection.
Cabbed. One who has managed to get on the foot plate of an engine.
Serious Haulage. Being pulled by a locomotive of a superior status - this varies from enthusiast to enthusiast and is usually based on personal preference.
Foamer. As the word suggests, someone who foams at the mouth, when a locomotive out of the ordinary appears.
Terminology can vary from region to region and some people have their own pet names for things.
It usually takes many years to completely see an entire fleet of a particular locomotive. The locomotives are broken down into groups known as a class. Usually the higher the locomotive number the higher the horse power will be relevant to lower classes.
Locomotives come in diesel and electric versions. Electricís are numbered higher than diesels but are not necessarily stronger.
There seems to be a preference by rail enthusiasts to either steam locomotives or modern traction, i.e. diesel or electric locomotives. The steam followers tend to be the older generation and many - not all - go on about how steam engines were living machines that you could see the various parts actually moving on. Of course they are stumped when you ask them why they are still writing modern engine numbers down. You either like trains or you donít.
The younger generation tend to follow modern traction. Its indicative of what you have been brought up with. Many claim that modern engines do not have character. The real enthusiast would argue that the each type or class of locomotive has its own character, smell and sound.
Many locomotives were given names by rail enthusiasts. The class 20ís were called choppers, the class 40ís, whistlers. Some of the names that locomotives gained had no resemblance to the actual train.
In my younger days, our local entourage - rent a trainspotter - used to refer to the class 25ís as "tin buckets", not because they looked like one but more for the fact they sounded like one being kicked down a street.
Of course all this talk of class 25ís, 40ís etc, means nothing to the everyday person and not that theyíd want to know.
People who follow trains have always been the butt of many a joke. Ask any person what they think of when they hear the word anorak and most will not say a coat for keeping rain off but more like some loony who watches trains.
Are there "anoraks" within the train world. Unfortunately, there are. Stand for more than five minutes at the end of any platform in a busy station and you will soon not be alone.
The subject does draw "weirdoís" at the ends of platforms and these are the ones you usually see writing furiously in their book, or running after the train as it departs the station and finally not forgetting the "letís get 30 photographs of the engine" crowd.
Of course this is not to say that all "anorakers" are loons, there are many sensible men and women amongst them. These are the ones, trying to keep a low profile, who go about their hobby quietly. These arenít the ones who advertise they actually like trains. Their locomotive books are discreetly tucked away. They write down their numbers casually, some waiting until the train has gone by to do this. There are some very intelligent men amongst them. The problem is, distinguishing them amongst the excited, thermos carrying loons who congregate en-mass.
I would like to say the anorak image of a trainspotter will be hard to shake off. Yes, there are those with taped up spectacles, thermos flasks, green parka coats standing at the end of many a platform. These are the type of people who come up to you and try to engage you in conversation. They drone on about how the latest ballast wagons incorporate a new slide shoot to release the ballast. They tell you how a certain locomotive had one of its buffers changed because the other had worn out....yawn. This is when I do my silent ventriloquist act. My mouth is saying, "thatís interesting" whilst my mind is saying "f**k off and get a life." I think the "gottle of geer" eyebrows give me away.
Then you get those who have to tell you that they only need a few locomotives to finish their collection and how crap you are at getting numbers or reminding you the locomotive you needed was only at that very place yesterday. A tip, ask to see their books, I bet you they wonít let you, these tend to be bullshit artists. Real enthusiast have a humility about them.
The haulage freak, is the one who has to be pulled by as many locomotives as possible, with the locomotives that donít normally pull passenger trains being their main goal. These are the types that lean out of windows on rail tours. They end up looking like a coal miner after a 300 mile round trip. Covered in soot, dead flyís, they proudly proclaim that they did the Lickey Bank behind a 58.
Others who lean out of the windows tend to be the spotters as they pass various depots en-route. Hanging out of the windows, trying to select and remember certain numbers of locomotives as they pass a depot at 100mph, a skill indeed. Remember whilst doing this, theyíve got to try and avoid being decapitated by the train on the Down Fast line.
The "cabbies" exist to try and jump into every cab of a locomotive they can. This was quite a widespread phenomenon but Health and Safety clamp downs has virtually stopped this practise.
However, there are the open days when many thousands of people get to climb on their favourite beast, many ignoring the tape across the doorways.
Many depots have open days that attract thousands. I remember queuing at Crewe BREL for over an hour back in 1980. Depots Open Days are the places to see a good variety of locomotives. Usually the organiser will arrange for locomotives that have special appeal to be there. Many locomotives have steps next to their cabs, so you can take a closer look.
Many locomotives are roped off but this does not stop the determined "cabber." Again at Crewe in 1983, I witnessed many people climbing on tops of trains. Many of these engines were for the scrap heap and had major parts removed, leaving exposed sharp edges and oily surfaces. The risks these people take is so unbelievable. Security has got tighter over the last decade, again H&S regulations being brought into force.
A few years ago, it was quite easy to get around some depots. If you asked politely and looked sensible - this ruled many out - you were usually given the thumbs up. Once again the over enthusiastic anoraks put a stop to that. Running around depots like wild morons, they brought the depot visit to an abrupt halt. A number of accidents by the loony few, spoilt it of the rest. It was very easy at one time to get around Springs Branch in Wigan, Eastfield in Glasgow or even Old Oak Common, London which mainly served Paddington Station.
There were always depots that refused point blank the casual visitor, Tinsley in Sheffield being one of them.
So what was the average gricer going to do to get his beloved numbers. Trespass, this was an option a few took. Many depots had surrounding areas that you could view the locomotives from and most took this option. The problem with this was that it sometimes meant long treks on foot. Usually only the locomotive numbers on the outer edges of groups of locomotives could be made out. So having trekked around the back of the depot, the most you sometimes got was a line of locomotives.
The inner locomotives would remain unknown. Again at Healey Mills, a group of us drove round to a back road to observe a line of locomotives. The distance was great and this entailed us balancing binoculars on a fence to keep the image steady. Then we would pick the numbers off one by one. In hot weather, the heat haze played hell with the optics and recognition of a number was virtually nil.
Guide Bridge near Ashton-Under-Lyne used to have a chalk board in the offices, with all the numbers of the locomotives stabled there. The staff would let you copy the numbers down. My last class 76, number 037 was in amongst the throng. I had to see the number to make sure. This involved a long detour by foot to a footbridge, where I managed to see it on the outside line of locomotives- sad arenít I.
Here are a few real accounts of some of the antics and things that happened to us in our pursuit of that next "cop." Most of these stories date back to the mid 1980ís.
It was Saturday 15th March, 1980, a rail tour was organised to Chesterfield and Matlock. It was mainly back packers off to do some walking, sad arenít they...hee hee. The train was only making the two stops. There were six of us got off at Chesterfield Station and the few hundred left on the train obviously got off at Matlock, not rail fans.
Within minutes of being there an irate member of the station staff came over and berated us. What had we done, what was our crime? We were trainspotters, which was allowed but to qualify to trainspot on Chesterfield Station you had to stand inside a little fenced off area.I kid you not. The fence was about two foot high, easily stepped over and had the words "Trainspotters must use this area." Well to say we looked a big bunch of twonks was an understatement...OK before you say it, we probably looked like that anyway. The scene must have been reminiscent of a scene from The Rugrats.
It was quite a cold day and if you dared step out of the fenced area into the waiting room to get warm, the station staff would threaten you with a life ban from the station.
Four of our members decided to call it a day and went to the pub. The next few hours passed without incident. Suddenly they were back but one of them was absolutely drunk. He was the type who would stagger after a sniff of a wine gum. The other three were fine and were not even swaying.
So Mr X, was stood with the rest of us, blowing bubbles and swaying in the wind. He was talking incoherently. Then all of a sudden he stepped forward, fell over the kiddy fence that we were surrounded by and promptly hit his face on the platform. When he got up, he looked like he had gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.
The worst part of it was, he was wearing a Lumber Jacket. We certainly looked a bunch of twonks that day. Its a pity, video cameras had not been invented then.
Also back in the mid 1980ís a friend and I attended an open day at the Stratford depot which is located on the Liverpool Street ( London ) to Colchester main line. The day was hot. We ( a friend and I ) had travelled down from Preston to London Euston. We crossed London on the tube and headed towards Liverpool Street Station.
I had notice all the way to London that my friend kept complaining about getting a sharp pain in his....backside. As we approached London he realised the pain had gone. We sauntered around the depot at Stratford. As we walked around the Depot, someone shouted to my friend, "Is your arse on fire." He politely told them to go away in short sharp jerky movements. We went back into London and visited all the major stations. About 7pm we caught the train home. We arrived in my house at about 11.30pm.
Having decided to go home my friend started to get undressed and when he took his trousers off, he noticed to his horror, a big massive red and yellow stripe all down the backside of his pale blue jeans and down one leg. It was blood and other gooey stuff. He must have had some internal haemorrhage in the lower department, which burst. He had been walking around London with a striped, bloody arse, non the wiser. He did not know what the problem was and it has never reoccurred to this day.
During a hot summer, again back in the mid 1980ís three of us decided on a trip to Toton Depot, which is situated approximately halfway between Derby and Nottingham. Toton Depot mainly looked after freight locomotives and was one of the biggest depots in the country.
Attached nearby were shunting yards. There was a lot of activity at Toton, an ideal place to catch up on those freight engines. Toton was one of those depots that you rarely got round without prior permission, i.e. a permit. I had in the past got round a couple of times with permission from the duty staff.
On this day, we were turned down flat. It always paid to ask because even if you were refused, you would always manage to get locomotive numbers on the way in and out that you might not see from any other vantage point. There was a method to our madness.
Having been refused permission, we headed off to our first vantage point. This is a railway embankment which overlooks the depot and sidings and is situated on the Nottingham side of the line. We managed to pick off a good few numbers. To get the numbers from the other side of the depot, we went to a nearby housing estate to gain access.
Through a narrow gap between some houses, there is access to a field in front of the depot. This field is full of cows and horses. Again we got all the numbers we could from this side of the depot.
As we were about to leave, there came the familiar sound of a pair of class 20ís trundling down the line - get your hankies out. As we were already across the field, one of our group decided to climb on a wooden fence and get the numbers through his binoculars. This he did successfully. Its times like this you know you should quit whilst your ahead.
Suddenly Fred, ( pseudonym ) slipped and his legs fell either side of the main bar as he came crashing down. Instantly he had two extra Adamís Apples and guinea pig cheeks.
I winced as my lower organs ached in sympathy. But it was not over. Fred, then toppled sideways off the fence and caught his back on some barbed wire on the way down. His back was in shreds. He lay there moaning and we offered what support we could whilst at the same time trying to stop ourselves laughing.
It could not get worse....but it did. Fred suddenly realised he was sat in a cow pat. His vital undercarriage had been damaged, his back was covered in blood and his clothes were covered in faeces. Fred knew of better days than this. He refused to go to hospital.
We drove all the way home with the windows down. Fred has recovered but his voice has always sounded that little bit higher since then.
In 1980 I had embarked on a Scottish Railrover. This was a ticket that would let you ride any train for the period of the ticket. On this occasion it was valid for a week.
Mid way through the week, I had decided to go home for one night and return to Scotland the day after. Unfortunately, I missed my last connection from Glasgow Central. The train I had caught into Glasgow Queen Street was running late and by the time I ran between stations, my connection had gone.
What was I to do, finances were running low and so I could not afford a hotel for the night. There was nothing for it but to sleep on the station. Luckily a member of the station staff offered to let me sleep in a carriage of a diesel multiple unit for the night. He let me on and locked the door.
Midway through the night, I became aware of a tapping sound on the window. At first I wasnít sure if I was dreaming or not. The knocking got louder. I opened my eyes and there stood the dirtiest tramp I had ever seen. He was pleading with me to let him in. He was obviously drunk. I tried to pretend he was not there but that plan was not working.
He began shouting and banging his head against the glass. Then as if in defeat he banged his head one last time and left his head against the glass. He just looked at me, then was immediately sick all over the glass, himself. The vomit was running down the window and as he pulled his head away, he continued being sick. He just stood there as he became engulfed in sick.
Although this was July 1980, it must have been a cold night, as steam was rising off the poor soul. I felt sorry that this man had come to this. He turned and staggered off into the night.
In the morning I woke up and found I was surrounded by French students who had obviously been let onto the train. As I got off the train, I noticed the down and out , asleep on a bench. He was still covered in hardened sick.
In 1982 a friend I set out on a two week all line Railrover. On the first night we caught from Preston, a sleeper train to Inverness. As our tickets became valid after midnight, we caught the 12.30am train. As usual, it was like a cattle truck, over full. We ended up standing at the ends of the carriage by the toilets.
The train set off into the night and we were soon in Carlisle. We were near the front of the train and as we leant out of the window we could hear the rail crew saying the locomotive hauling our train had died. Luckily, especially for haulage geeks, there were two class 27ís parked in the station and these were substituted to move us forward.
Whilst all this was happening we became aware of a group of lads on the platform. They were drunk and being obnoxious. They soon spotted my friend and I leaning out of the window and started hurling abuse at us. Our train started to move forward and in a moment of insanity we both stuck up our fingers at these lads.
Clearly they were miffed as the train rolled away and came to a complete stop. Oooopppsss, what the f*** was going on. The group of drunks, saw their chance. They stormed up the platform towards us. Where could we hide on a train. They got nearer and nearer. Suddenly the train jolted, we were off. The class 27ís were not exactly very quick to get away. The group by now ranting and tasting the scent of blood - ours - were virtually on us.
Luckily they ran out of platform as they reached the slope at the end. In a last defiant gesture the lead "scroat" spat at us. Luck was on our side, the wind blew it back onto him. They were not amused and one even tried to board the moving train. It had been a close call.
What if any equipment is required to spot trains. A warm anorak of course or any good coat for those long standing stints on the ends of cold windy platforms. Generally in cold weather all clothing should be thick and warm.
A notebook to record all the numbers in. A number of pens. These are used to actually write the numbers down but always carry spares in case of failure. Failure to carry spares could lead to panic attacks as a triple header approaches en-storm.
Many of the more sophisticated spotters, use mini tape recorders to collect their numbers on. Always make sure the batteries are ok and the device is fine because after a 10 hour day, you may find that you have not recorded anything.
Of course the obligatory thermos and the Thomas the Tank Engine butty box are a must. I always travelled light and hated to be encumbered with lots of unnecessary crap. I always took disposal goods, after all who wants to carry around flasks and sandwich boxes all day. I was not going to stick out like a sore thumb.
Binoculars, these are a must. Many locomotives are parked at the back of depots and sidings and are unobtainable to the naked eye. There could be a great number of engines gained. The only problem with owning a pair of binoculars is that you get those that don't asking what the locomotives are parked in the sidings. Tip: carry a small pair that can be tucked away discreetly.
Photographic and video cameras are useful in recording that magic moment, a Deltic in Blackpool, a class 26 in Wigan or any other unusual working that would make all those others spotters jealous. Many just photograph anything that has wheels on, including platform trolleys.
Of course for the real serious member of the spotter fraternity, the taped spectacles rates you as a 100% anorak.
The problem with trying to see every locomotive, coach, wagon in the country is that there are always new stock being built. It becomes a never ending circle. You end up seeing all one type of locomotive only to have them replaced by a new class.
Even if you come near to seeing them all, there are always usually casualties. Engines are often withdrawn due to damage, failure and the cost to reinstate them into traffic becomes too much. So it would be rare for any spotter to see all of one type of class, especially on older locomotives. Newer build engines should remain in service for many years, giving the spotter chance to see the complete set.
So what do you do when you have seen the complete set......eerrr well not a lot really. Many jump for joy and celebrate as if they had just won the World Cup. There is that feeling of satisfaction that after all those miles of travel, after all those cold all nighters on the end of a platform, after all that money spent, that you have done it....at last.
Many can recount where they saw their last engine they needed. 86 249, 81 001 both at Preston, 40 078 at Accrington, 85 037 my last AC electric at Longsight Depot in Manchester, 76 037 at Guide Bridge.
Sad isn't it but believe it or not, it becomes addictive. I have seen the hardest sceptic become involved. Many will however continue to spot their trains in the shadows, not declaring to friends that they do this most teased of hobbies.
Did you see me in the shadows at Preston Station...you might have.....minus the anorak.
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