Nearly from the dawn of railways, there have been people fascinated with the technology of trains, their design and the engineering feats that made rail travel possible in difficult terrain. Today many people travel far and wide to see or ride specific trains and lines or to visit museums.
Since their inception, railways have been about more than just transporting goods and people from A to B. The puffing of the earliest steam locomotives captivated the cities and towns wherever it arrived and today the sheer power of freight trains, the elegance and streamlined sleekness of modern high speed rail or the modern marvels of engineering that are train stations, bridges, tunnels or marshaling yards are a sight to behold and a reason for tourism all in itself. You don’t have be an enthusiast listing numbers and dates of train sightings in a book to appreciate the beauty and fascination that is rail travel and everything associated with it.
The hobby extends to all aspects of rail transport systems. Railfans may have one or more particular concentrations of interest, such as:
Railway locomotives and rolling stock
Still-used or disused railroad lines, bridges, tunnels, stations, and other infrastructure
Subways and other local rail transit systems
Playing train simulators
Rail transport modelling (traditional, physical) — V-scale modelling
Collection of railway artifacts, in particular: tickets, timetables, railway paper, number plates, builders’ plates, railway crockery. Many items such as timetables and railway paper (i.e. internal railway documents) are collected for study and not just as collectibles. There are many retailers and auction houses specializing in such material, both those with street premises and those only on-line.
Railway art or architecture
Railway operations, economics or commerce
Level junction. This is where the railfan can also be interested in the railroad or “grade” crossing signals.
Monitoring railroad radio communications with a radio scanner.
Indeed, the scope of the subject is so large that fans may additionally concentrate their interest on a particular country, town, operating company, field of operations, or era in history – or a combination of any of the above.
Train photography is a common activity of railfans. Most railfans do their photographing from public property, unless they have permission to use a specific private property owner’s land. Occasionally, they run into problems with law enforcement, especially due to post 9/11 paranoia, because they are sometimes viewed as suspicious. In 2004, for example, the New York City Subway attempted to institute a photo ban. This was met with fierce opposition, and was ultimately scrapped.
Some railroad photographers have become well known for their works. Many railfans are familiar with the works of H. Reid, Otto Perry and O.Winston Link; in the UK with Derek Cross (1929–84), John Whitehouse, Maurice W. Earley (1900–82), Rev. Alfred H. Malan (1852–1928), Brian W. Morrison, Ivo Peters, Jim Spurling (1926–Present), H. Gordon Tidey and Rev. Eric Treacy; in New Zealand, with W.W. (Bill) Stewart (1898–1976); or in Germany with Carl Bellingrodt (1897–1971).
In the United Kingdom, photography is allowed at all stations on the National Rail network. Transport for London, however, does not allow photography without permission and a permit issued by the TfL Film Office. The Tyne and Wear Metro prohibits all photography without written permission from Nexus, the operators of the system. As of 2015, this is the only system in the UK where such a policy is in place.
In Singapore, photography and filming can be taken in all SMRT and SBST stations for non-commercial purposes during weekdays between 10am and 4pm. However, upskirt photos are illegal and permission must be obtained from the operators to record weddings and movies on the network.
The Spanish RENFE railroad company used to ask for a permit, but since 2018 it is not needed. However, photographer may encounter some problems with security guards.
In Greece, railway photography is permitted on all networks but railfans are frequently confronted by security guards.
In Russia, railway photography is permitted on all networks but railfans are frequently confronted by security guards.
In Italy, the Royal Decree n°1161 enacted on July 11, 1941, concerning “military secrets”, prohibited all and any photographs and video recordings in and around a number of civilian and military installations, including public railways. Railway photography was largely tolerated by tacit agreement. However, it could be prosecuted on legal grounds as a felony. The law was repealed by the Legislative Decree n°66 enacted on March 15, 2010.
The Union Pacific railroad corporation makes available to its employees and shareholders a full color calendar each year depicting its trains in different parts of the United States where it maintains its rail lines.
In Indonesia, railway photography and filming can be performed in all stations and for all trains, although at times security guards will disallow serious photography using professional cameras or video recorders. Mobile phone cameras, pocket cameras, and entry level handycams, however, are typically allowed, and there is no regulation banning railway photography or filming in stations.[clarification needed] For commercial use, a permit must be obtained from the rail office or station’s head.
Digital manipulation of railway photographs is the practice of image editing using graphics software to correct flaws or improve the aesthetics of a photograph of a train. The ethics of the practice are debated amongst railway enthusiasts, as it allows the creation of images that may appear to be other than their actual subjects. Modern features may be removed so that an image of a surviving locomotive hauling a modern special is made indistinguishable from a period photograph.
As well as the usual corrections such as adjusting the brightness or color balance, or cropping to improve the composition, often more drastic photo manipulation is undertaken. This manipulation can involve the removal of items in the image, or changing the livery (paint scheme) or other identifying marks of railway vehicles in the image.
Manipulation is common in the photography of steam locomotives and heritage railways. Photographers often remove anachronistic objects from the scene in order to portray a more authentic setting, or change the liveries of engines or coaches to match historically accurate coaches and locomotives, or simply to suit personal preferences. Steam railway photographers often remove unwanted overhead lines and their pylons, modern lineside equipment or signals. Vehicle liveries are often changed to achieve uniformity for all the coaches in a train (the rake) where dissimilar colour vehicles have been used. In the situations where a railtour operator is able to supply a uniform rake, on longer mainline tours the train will often still include a different colour support coach. Other rakes will contain dissimilar coaches when modern generator cars are required for train heating.
When a diesel locomotive has been attached to the train for operational reasons such as assistance on a bank, shunting, or for generation in the heating role, this is also often removed. The locomotive livery may also be changed to simply demonstrate what a locomotive would look like in an alternative, and possibly extinct or never used, livery. Photographers also often compensate for poor weather conditions at the time of the photograph, for example when the wrong wind direction causes the smoke trail from the locomotive chimney to obscure all or part of the train. Livery changes or scene reinstatement for smoke removal is often achieved through the use of short term rephotography, where the photographer takes two images at the same site and overlays one onto the other.
Those who are “trainspotters” make an effort to “spot” all of a certain type of rolling stock. This might be a particular class of locomotive, a particular type of carriage or all the rolling stock of a particular company. To this end, they collect and exchange detailed information about the movements of locomotives and other equipment on the railway network, and become very knowledgeable about its operations.
A trainspotter typically uses a data book listing the locomotives or equipment in question, in which locomotives seen are ticked off. In Great Britain, this aspect of the hobby was given a major impetus by the publication from 1942 onward of the Ian Allan “ABC” series of booklets, whose publication began in response to public requests for information about the rolling stock of Southern Railways. Sometimes, trainspotters also have cameras, but railway photography is mostly linked to railfans. Moreover, in contrast to modern railway companies’ attitudes, at its inception in 1948 British Railways handed out free copies of a locomotive data book to school-children.
Some trainspotters now use a tape recorder instead of a notebook. In modern times, mobile phones and/or pagers are used to communicate with others in the hobby, while various internet mailing lists and web sites aid information exchange. Railbuffs can maintain private computerised databases of spotting records as well. Radio scanners are common equipment for listening to railroad frequencies in the US to follow rail traffic.
It is a misconception that all railfans are trainspotters. Many enthusiasts simply enjoy reading about or travelling on trains, or enjoying their rich history—this may extend to art, architecture, the operation of railroads, or simply modelling, drawing or photographing them.
Trainspotters make a less-than-complimentary appearance in the novel No One Must Know by Barbara Sleigh, which concerns children living in a row of houses sandwiched between a warehouse and a railway.
The term “bashing” is used by railway enthusiasts to mean several different things.
“Bashing” used on its own is a general term for a railway enthusiast’s trip, excursion or holiday involving train travel and observation.
“Line bashing” is more focused, and would be an attempt to cover as much of a railway network as possible. This can also be called “track bashing” especially if the person wishes to try to cover individual sections of track such as crossovers and sidings, in addition to completing an “A to B” journey on each section of line. In the UK (especially), Germany, and to a lesser extent in other countries, railfans often use a special excursion train for railfans (usually known as a “railtour”) to cover freight-only railway lines in order to complete their coverage of a country’s rail network.
“Shed bashing” is a term used by train spotters to describe going out to as many railway sheds (or depots) as possible. These were very popular in the 1950s and 1960s. As they required a permit and this could be hard to obtain some “shed bashers” were illegal.
Another development from trainspotting (almost unique to the UK) is the “haulage basher” or locomotive haulage enthusiast These individuals attempt to ride behind or in the cab (some people do not count the latter as proper “haulage”) of as many locomotives as they can, marking them off in a book as would a regular trainspotter. Even the shortest haulage will count, such as being hauled for a few hundred yards by a shunting locomotive when one portion of a train is being hooked up to another at a junction. In some cases fans who like the sound of a particular type of locomotive working hard hauling a train will ride behind them as much as possible, even following English-built locomotives exported abroad, Portugal’s 1800 Class (similar to BR Class 50) being one example. “Haulage bashers” sometimes use unusual words and language known as “basherspeak”.
Another enthusiast activity is attempting to ride the complete railway network of one or more cities, state, or countries. This may take months or years in the case of dense networks. The definition of ‘complete’ riding may change from person to person, and non-passenger routes may be included by travelling on locomotives, freight trains or special excursion trains, others may attempt to ride on each individual track and curve, rather than the route as a whole, some may not include riding during night, and others may require visiting each station rather than just passing through. British enthusiasts who attempt to cover a railway network are usually referred to as “gricers” or “track bashers”.
There are informal competitions for visiting all the stations in a particular network in the shortest time; examples include the Tube Challenge on the London Underground and the Subway Challenge on the New York City Subway.
Many railway preservation groups run special trips for railfans using restored trains, often on “rare mileage” locations that do not see regular passenger service. These trips are both social events, as well as an opportunity for railfans to photograph unusual trains. Chasing a fantrip by road for the purposes of photography is often referred to as “Motorcading” in Australia.
Many railfans also collect “railroadiana” or “railwayana”. Railroadiana refers to artifacts from railroads and railroad operations and could include nearly anything to do with a particular railroad, including public or employee timetables, locomotive number boards, dining car china, passenger train tickets, tools and pieces of equipment such as lanterns, or sometimes items as big as train horns, or track speeders. Although few can afford the acquisition cost or the space for storage, some railfans collect full size rolling stock or locomotives.
Exploring abandoned railways
Searching for and exploring abandoned railways is another area of railfan interest. Using old maps, one may find the former route, and the abandoned railway stations, tunnels and bridges may remain after a railway closure. Some abandoned rail rights-of-way have been converted to rail-trails for recreational use such as bicycling, walking, hiking, running or jogging. This would be considered railbanking, where the right-of-way is preserved, by keeping it intact, for the potential reactivation of rail service in the future.
Some railfans are interested in other aspects of railroads not directly dealing with the trains. They may be interested in studying the history of the railroad companies, their infrastructure, law, financing and operations, including never-built plans. Abandoned railroad grades can often be found long after the railroad stops using them. Trams (and occasionally even monorails) may also be of interest.
Some enthusiasts combine their interest in trains with the hobby of monitoring radio communications, specializing in listening to radio communications of railroad operations using a scanner.
Various magazines, clubs and museums are designed mainly for railfans, concentrating on the history of trains and railroads. Some clubs organize fantrips, either by car or by train; the New York Transit Museum owns some old equipment with which fantrips are occasionally run on the New York City Subway.
Station buildings can be impressive landmarks that are appreciated by architecture buffs as well as railway enthusiasts. They often represent the styles and tastes of their time of origin – spanning over one and a half centuries and include “bourgeois cathedrals” of the late 19th and early 20th century as well as hyper-modern “glass palaces” of the renaissance of rail travel (and railways) since the beginning of the 21st century. One of the most striking examples of the latter is perhaps Berlin Hauptbahnhof, which was built for the 2006 soccer World Cup. Unfortunately, stations built in the period from the start of World War II to the end of the 20th century tend to be rather dull affairs, perhaps symbolising the prevailing mindset of the period that rail travel was antiquated, and private car ownership and air travel was the way forward.
Bailey Yard, North Platte, Nebraska. The world’s largest freight railway yard. The 3 Golden Spike Tower offers a panoramic view over the goings-on.
Maschen Marshalling Yard (Rangierbahnhof Maschen), Maschen, Lower Saxony south of Hamburg. Maschen, which also hosts the Maschen Autobahn junction (A7, A1 and A39) is the biggest freight rail hub in Europe. Built in the 1970s, it serves the traffic from the North Sea ports to the industrial centers of Europe as well as freight throughout Europe. Its size is only surpassed globally by the Bailey Yard mentioned above.
Tehachapi Loop, Kern County. A marvel of late 19th-century engineering, this loop allows heavy freight trains to climb the steep grade by crossing over itself. This loop is very busy with freight to this day and has been a favorite for railfans for decades.
Çamlık Train Museum (Çamlık Tren Müzesi), Çamlık village, south of Selçuk, Turkey. Centred around an abandoned station on a former alignment of the country’s oldest rail line, Çamlık’s steam engine collection is one of the largest in Europe. Made up by locomotives produced in various countries, the collection also includes the locomotive that was pulling an Orient Express service involved in the deadliest rail accident in Turkey, in 1957. In addition to the locomotives, miscellaneous railway items, such as a turntable and a watertower, are also in display. In the museum grounds, nicely landscaped with palm trees, there is also a restaurant.
Germany Transportation Museum (Verkehrsmuseum), Lessingstraße 6, Nuremberg (Subway #2, stop Opernhaus). This museum contains two collection the DB Museum (museum of the national railway) and the Museum for Communication . The railway museum displays the development of railways in Germany from the beginnings in 1835 – when the first railway connecting Nuremberg and Fürth opened – to today (with even a short look to the future of rail transport). It has a collection of historic stock and a large model railroad. Its children’s areas makes it a good place to visit for families. The captions to items in the museum are only available in German though. The museum for communication displays the history of mail and telecommunications.
UK National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York, ✉ email@example.com. The largest railway museum in the world, responsible for the conservation and interpretation of the British national collection of historically significant railway vehicles and other artefacts. Contains an unrivalled collection of locomotives, rolling stock, railway equipment, documents and records. Free.
German Steam Locomotive Museum (Deutsches Dampflokomotiv-Museum), Birkenstraße 5 Neuenmarkt, Upper Franconia (opposite the train station), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The museum is close to the schiefe Ebene (inclined plane), one of the first rail lines with a significant incline (up to 25 permille) that trains had to climb without any outside help – quite a challenge for 19th-century steam engines.
Toronto Railway Museum, in Roundhouse Park, 255 Bremner Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A huge central area (including the current CN Tower and Skydome) was once railway land. Park exhibits (outdoors, free) include a roundhouse and turntable, coaling tower, water tower, signal tower, small railway station and several railway cars and locomotives including a 4-8-4 Northern-type steam locomotive. A museum in the roundhouse building has railway exhibits, cars under restoration and a souvenir shop. Miniature stream trains sometimes run in the park, with tickets ($3/person) issued from the old Don Station building.
Memory Junction, 60 Maplewood Ave, Brighton, Ontario, Canada. Jun. An original limestone wayside station on the 1856 Grand Trunk line from Montréal to Toronto displays a 1906 steam locomotive, wooden and steel cabooses, rolling stock, agricultural equipment and local history. Trains on this busy corridor pass frequently but no longer stop in Brighton.
Rail Museum of Eastern Ontario, 90 William St W, Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada. Museum in former Canadian Northern Railway station, built 1912 on what was once a rail line to Napanee. The tracks were removed in the early 1980s, but the historic station and bridge across the Rideau Canal remain. Sleeper bunks may be rented overnight in a pair of 1940s wooden Canadian Pacific cabooses (weekends only, June-August).
Harvey House Museum, 104 North First St, Belen, New Mexico, USA (on west side of Belen Railyard). Public library and museum covering Harvey House, railroad and US Southwest history. Belen’s Harvey House (1910-1939) used to house a lunch room and first-class dining room; the Harvey Girls, dorm mother and office manager lived upstairs.
Jackson Street Roundhouse, 193 Pennsylvania Ave E, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA (between Jackson and Interstate 35E; Bus: 68, 71), ☏ +1 651 228-0263. An old railroad roundhouse where historic locomotives and rolling stock come for restoration and maintenance. Also offers train rides.
Louisville and Nashville Depot, 401 Kentucky St, Bowling Green (Kentucky), USA. Historic railpark, guided rail car tours and self-guided museum. Of the 90 railway post office (RPO) cars on the L&N, two survive; one is here, the other is at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Pennsylvania.
Martinsburg Roundhouse, 100 E Liberty St, Martinsburg (West Virginia), USA. Three B&O Rail shop buildings on 13 acres include a historic 1866 cast iron frame Baltimore and Ohio Railroad roundhouse, burned by “Stonewall” Jackson’s Civil War troops in 1862, quickly rebuilt and in service until 1988. On 1,000 feet (300 m) of the Tuscarora Creek, site of the first National Labor Strike of 1877.
Museum of Transportation, 2933 Barrett Station Road, Kirkwood, St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Train and trolley rides, guided tours, boxcar boutique. Rail and transit collections encompass more than 190 major exhibits, ranging from an 1833 Boston & Providence Railroad passenger coach and the largest successful steam locomotive ever built to a 6,600-hp, two-engine Union Pacific diesel #6944 (“Centennial”) built in 1971. Other collections include road and air travel.
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, 10501 Reservoir Road, Jamestown (California), USA. Original depot, headquarters, and roundhouse of the Sierra Railway, built in 1897 to carry passengers, mining ore and logs by steam train. Tour the roundhouse, climb aboard historic rail cars and locomotives, ride a steam train on summer weekends.
Steamtown National Historic Site, 350 Cliff St, Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA, toll-free: +1-888-693-9391. The former rail yards of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, in use since 1851, include a selection of steam-era buildings. Part of the original Locomotive Shop (1865), a portion of the second Roundhouse (1902/1917/1937) and the Sand Tower (1912) remain, along witha large collection of locomotives and rolling stock from the heyday of steam railroading.
Western America Railroad Museum, in Harvey House Railroad Depot, 685 North First St, Barstow, California, USA. The former Casa del Desierto railside hotel (1911) houses an active Amtrak station, a visitor centre, the Western America Railroad Museum (☎ +1 760 256-WARM) and the Route 66 Mother Road Museum. The once-famous Fred Harvey Company was an early chain (1876) which operated Harvey House restaurants (and later hotels) in railway-owned buildings on behalf of the Santa Fe line. These wayside eateries pre-dated the deployment of dining cars on the train; in their heyday, at least one Harvey House appeared railside each hundred miles all the way from Chicago to California. Of 84 Harvey Houses constructed from 1876-1930, perhaps a half-dozen survive in some form. Indoor displays include artefacts, artwork, timetables, tools and uniforms; outdoor displays of rolling stock, locomotives and equipment include maintenance of way, signal and track equipment displayed in context.
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, 110 Federal Park Road, Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, USA.
Oregon Rail Heritage Center.
California State Railroad Museum, 125 I St, Sacramento, California, USA.
Lake Superior Railroad Museum, 506 W. Michigan St, Duluth, Minnesota, USA. On the bottom floor of The Depot, Duluth’s rather grand old train station. Has an extensive collection, mostly of locomotives and train cars that served the local area, including a massive 2-8-8-4 “Yellowstone” locomotive that used to haul huge iron ore trains. The North Shore Scenic Railroad excursion trains along the lake shore. The upper floors of the building display art and anthropological exhibits on the local Native American cultures and European immigration.
Museo Ferrocarrilero (Parque Temático Tres Centurias), Avenida 28 de Agosto Sn, Barrio de la Estación, Aguascalientes, Ags, México, ☏ +52 449 994-2761. Old Railway Station Museum in former 1911 station (Estación del Ferrocarril) in “Three Centuries” railway complex. The park also houses old railway workshops, an engine room, dining room, extensive gardens, local radio/TV and a cultural centre.
Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre, 12 Braidwood Rd, Goulburn, NSW, Australia. A working roundhouse incorporating heritage rail locomotives (both steam and diesel) with displays on the history of the railway in Goulburn.
Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, 1 Telford Ave, Peterborough (South Australia), fax: +61 8 8651-2173. Peterborough was once a vast rail operation, a crossroads on former narrow-gauge lines with a hundred steam locomotives daily heading to all corners of Australia. Many of the lines were re-gauged or closed; a heritage railway line which ran north in the late 1970s was abandoned in 2002 and dismantled in 2008. The sheds and heritage-listed roundhouse were preserved as a static museum with locomotives and carriages.
Sierra Leone National Rail Museum, Cline Street. One of only two government-funded railway museums in the world, the other being in the UK. The museum has several steam and diesel locomotives and carriages, including one which was planned to be used by HM Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit. All have been restored. A guide will usually show guests around.
Shinjuku Station, Tokyo. Experience how millions of commuters every day are efficiently handled in the world’s busiest transport hub.
Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Corinne, Utah, USA, ☏ +1 435-471-2209. Steam train demonstration (seasonal, May 1 – Columbus Day). Re-enactment of the May 10, 1869 last spike driven to join the Union and Central Pacific railroads, uniting a nation by rail from coast to coast. $7 (car and passengers) or $4/person.
Various ghost towns were founded to serve a rail line or died once the train no longer stopped. The rights-of-way of many former rail lines are now t’railways or rail trails suitable for hiking, cycling, horse riding or snowmobiling.
Flying Scotsman: 10 May – 1 October 2018 England. On the tracks holds three tours on 20 May. Additionally, there are other Flying Scotsman events that are hosted from mid-May until the end of September every year. Starting points and destinations vary by tour date. (date needs updating)
As railways operate best on a level surface blasting and drilling through mountains has been part of rail travel almost from the beginning. Linking islands and mainlands across the sea and tunneling at the very base of vast massives have produced tunnels longer than a marathon. The longest tunnels in the world are all invariably electric railway only as ventilation of car exhaust becomes (next to) impossible for tunnels above a certain length.
Gotthard Base Tunnel. The longest railway tunnel in the world opened in June 2016 for extensive test runs and in December 2016 for revenue service, this marvel of modern engineering serves in part to relieve congested freight corridors and in part to make overland ravel across the Alps as fast, cheap and convenient as never before – it shaves more than half an hour of a north – south transalpine trip.
Seikan Tunnel. Linking Hokkaido and Honshu, this is the second longest tunnel in the world and the longest crossing a body of water. It replaced a lengthy and treacherous crossing by ferry and is now open to the high speed Shinkansen as well.
Eurotunnel (Channel Tunnel) (the entrances are at Folkestone and Calais). The longest underwater portion of any tunnel in the world and the third longest tunnel in the world, this engineering marvel links Britain to the European mainland for the first time since the end of the last ice age. Car shuttles and high-speed Eurostars use the tunnel but it also plays a large role in freight transport. Immigration control is done before the crossing marking the first time in centuries France or Britain voluntarily allowed the other such rights on their territory.
Simplon Tunnel. Lending its name to one of the more iconic routes of the fabled Orient Express, this was the first “base tunnel” avant la lettre in the world and an incredible feat of engineering unsurpassed for several decades, holding the record for the longest tunnel of any kind for half a century.
Railroads through mountainous terrain are among the most impressive feats of engineering of mankind. Planners and builders were operating at the very edge of the technically possible of their era and sometimes pushing beyond that. Even if you don’t care for the engineering, the views from viaducts or bridges alone can make the trip worthwhile all by themselves.
Semmering railway (Semmeringbahn), Semmering. The first crossing of the Alps by railway and still an impressive feat of engineering, it has been inscribed on the world heritage list of UNESCO, the first railway to be so honored. While a base tunnel is under construction to relieve the line that is too steep and curvy for 21st-century traffic, it will remain open for tourism and local traffic. A particular view of this railway was even featured on Austrian currency prior to the introduction of the euro.
Gotthard Railway. Now made partially redundant by the construction of the Gotthard Base Tunnel that is straighter and flatter, it is still a marvelous feat of human ingenuity that tamed one of Switzerland’s most legendary mountain passes. There is a church along the route that the train passes three times each way that used to be taught about in curricula throughout the Swiss school sytem.
Various items of rail memorabilia (maps, timetables, porcelain china, postcards, books and magazines, lamps and lanterns) are sold at auction or by dealers in antiquities. A few specialised auctions and dealers trade just in “railwayana” or “railroadiana”, artefacts of current or former railways worldwide.
Model rail cars and track are commonly available in various standard sizes; these vary from simple toys to meticulous scale reproductions of current or historic engines, cars and infrastructure.
Heritage and tourist railways often operate a souvenir shop. While many of the items will merely be the rail line’s logo printed onto everything from toys to mugs to “train driver’s hats”, T-shirts and apparel, there may be books of rail history or rail photography, postcards and documentary video for sale.
Operating mainline railways (CN, CSX) and passenger carriers (Amtrak, VIA) often have their logos printed on souvenirs, apparel, baggage or model rail rolling stock for sale on a website.
Transportation and rail museums are also likely to operate souvenir shops and offer books or documentary for sale.
In the earliest days of passenger rail, options were limited; one could bring food or try to purchase a meal near the stations. The local selection often was of poor quality; in some cases, trains would leave at the end of a brief rest stop while diners were still waiting to be served. Soon, rail operators were leasing space to restaurateurs in the stations; the Fred Harvey Company established the first restaurant chain in 1875 with ultimately a restaurant every hundred miles throughout the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe system. The next innovation was the inclusion of special dining cars on the train; these became very popular on long-distance runs such as la Compagnie des Wagon-Lits historic Orient Express from Paris to Constantinople.
Much of the cuisine served on trains and at stations is eminently forgettable, either because the same fare can be readily found elsewhere or because the rail operator is merely treating voyageurs as a captive market. There are exceptions; on some heritage and tourist train lines a dinner train is the main event, a slow but scenic short run which provides just enough time to serve an elaborate but expensive meal.
In some cases, historic station buildings have been re-purposed to be full-service restaurants or have been restored to reflect the heyday of a lost era before motorways and drive-through fast food.
Lake Louise Railway Station & Restaurant, 200 Sentinel Road, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, ☏ +1 403-522-2600. Interesting building and a few exhibits for rail enthusiasts. Reasonable food but the number of tables exceeds the kitchen capacity, so expect a long wait at peak times.
There are also a few novelty restaurants where a rail-themed “All Aboard Diner” or “All Aboard Restaurant” brings plates of food to diners aboard a model railway train. These have no historic significance, but are entertaining for small children.
Historically, the status of beverage service (and alcohol in particular) aboard passenger trains is mixed. Diner cars often did serve beverages, although a patchwork of provincial or state regulation often meant the bar opened or closed every time the train crossed a political boundary. Passengers in sleeper train compartments were sometimes permitted to bring their own food and beverages, while dining cars only allowed items sold on the train and short-line commuter services often prohibited food or drink very restrictively.
A few tourist trains employ enotourism or brewery tour themes; there’s a Tequila Train from Guadalajara to the distillery in Jalisco, México and an intercity Napa Wine Train in California’s Napa Valley.
At least one former station has been repurposed as a brew pub:
The NCO Railway (see Nevada–California–Oregon Railway on Wikipedia) completed a narrow-gauge line from Reno, Nevada north to the California-Oregon border in 1912, only to go broke by 1925. The Southern Pacific Company (now Union Pacific) purchased and re-gauged the line. The 1 Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad Depot (325 East Fourth St, Reno NV) and a vacant Locomotive House and Machine Shop (401 East Fourth St.) still stand, although the tracks and turntable are gone. The Depot was renovated in 2014-2015 and opened as a craft brewery distillery.
Izaak Walton Inn, 290 Izaak Walton Inn Rd, Essex (Montana), USA (the Izaak Walton has its own Amtrak stop, served by the Chicago-Seattle-Portland Empire Builder daily), ☏ +1 406 888-5700. It was built as accommodation for railway personnel on the adjacent Great Northern Railway. Still retaining the railroad ambiance, guests can lodge in the building or in a converted railroad caboose across the tracks.
Many grand old hotels were constructed by or for major passenger rail operators; Canadian Pacific (CPR) used to own the Fairmont Hotels chain. Some of these old hotels were landmarks in their own right. Less commonly, a major hotel was built as a mainline wayside station — convenient until the voyager was awakened by noisy freight trains rushing past at all hours. Amtrak still serves a few former Harvey House hotels in places like Needles and Barstow, California; most of these station buildings are now otherwise vacant, or the hotel space has been re-purposed as museums or offices. One exception, Amtrak’s “Winslow, AZ (WLO) Platform with Shelter”, is the “La Posada Hotel Lobby”; a rather modest description for an elaborate million-dollar hotel (in 1930) with extensive gardens which opened at 303 East Second Street (Route 66) only to struggle through the Great Depression, close in 1957 as rail passenger traffic declined, then return after an extensive, expensive 1997-era historic restoration. The $120-170/night hotel (+1 928 289-4366) includes a fancy restaurant, an art gallery, a pair of souvenir shops… and an Amtrak train every day.
In London, the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel (in the buildings of the former Midland Hotel), at St Pancras is once again accepting guests, although it’s in a 5-star premium price range.
A few motels employ novelty architecture where each room is a decommissioned rail car, usually a distinctive red caboose which once housed crews at the end of North American goods trains. The Old Harbor Inn (515 Williams Street, South Haven, Michigan, USA ☎ +1 269-637-8480) operates a handful of caboose inn rooms; there’s also a 3 Caboose Motel, at 60483 NY Route 415, Avoca (New York), USA, ☏ +1 607 566-2216.
Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad, 407 S Perry St, Titusville (Pennsylvania), USA, ☏ +1 814 827-5730, toll-free: +1-800-827-0690. A 21-room caboose motel (seasonal, April 15 – October 23) looks from the outside to be a consist of red rail cars on the tracks next to sightseeing railway OC&T’s 1892-era Perry Street Station and museum. Inside the cars one finds standard modern hotel/motel décor and amenities (heat & AC, TV, telephone and shower, one king or two double beds, a small desk, cupola or bay windows, deck chairs); the rooms are narrow to fit the rail template. OC&T operates one train, a seasonal three-hour local history tour of Oil Creek Valley ($19/person coach, $30/person first class). There is a working Railway Post Office car on the train.
In some parts of the world, taking pictures of trains or rail infrastructure could cause issues with the authorities. Authorities in the United States may regard too much interest in a railway as potential terrorist activities. On the other hand, some railways have sought to cooperate with railway enthusiasts to be better informed about the state of their track and/or suspicious activities. Some railways have programs where interested people can register. They also offer safety guidelines more exhaustive than this travel guide.
Being around trains is also dangerous if the correct safety procedures are not followed. Standing on or near train tracks is an obvious safety risk. Interfering with railway operations, either intentionally or unintentionally, can pose a risk to yourself as well as many other people traveling on the train itself. Also, most railway operators (including a number of working museums and heritage lines) prohibit flash photography, as a flash could distract personnel at a critical moment.
Railfans in America have been asked to keep railroad areas safer by reporting crimes and suspicious activity. In the United Kingdom the British Transport Police have asked trainspotters to report any unusual behaviour and activities at stations.
In the United States, concerns about terrorism have led to situations where railfans are followed or confronted by local law enforcement or transit police. This has also led to situations where certain transportation agencies has implemented photography bans systemwide.
The BNSF railway instituted the “Citizens for Rail Security” (CRS) program for the general public to report suspicious activities on their railways. Obtaining this card is common for railfans and is a derivative of the BNSF “On Guard” program for employees. However, this card does not recognize members as employees or contractors, and asks them to keep off railway property. Amtrak offers a similar program, “Partners for Amtrak Safety and Security” (PASS).
Network Rail, the British rail infrastructure owner and station operator, has produced guidelines for the behaviour and responsibilities of railway enthusiasts at its stations. In May 2010, the dangers of acting carelessly in the vicinity of an active railway were highlighted after an enthusiast, standing next to a double track line photographing the Oliver Cromwell, failed to notice a Turbostar express train approaching at 70 mph on the nearer track in the other direction, and came within inches of being struck by it.