There is an often-quoted joke among railway enthusiasts that a rail buff standing in a station is more interested in watching a locomotive than a good-looking woman who might pass by. If there is something that binds such people from across the world, it is their passion for trains. And, it is a bond that has become stronger with the advent of social media.
Rail fans are die-hard enthusiasts who gather details about anything related to railways. Some of them are so passionate about their ‘railfanning’ that they go to any extent just to enjoy a good train journey . Some also sign up actively for volunteer services, including cleaning drives initiated by the railways.
“Railfanning does not have age or barriers. Trains have been fascinating people for several decades,” says Vaidyanathan Krishnamurthy , a 71-year-old rail fan from Bengaluru.
With the advent of social networking sites such as Facebook and WhatsApp, rail fans have become more active than ever, rapidly sharing every detail they get.
Many fans have specific areas of interest. For instance, some are interested only in locomotives and track their movement. They can distinguish locomotives by their liveries, which are specific designs on them. Some even give the locomotives names according to their colours, peculiar names like ‘ Barbie Doll’, ‘ Tiger Face’ and ‘ White Beast’.
“Railfanning was always there. People were doing it independently , but now with social networking sites, we can share this interest among others,” says S K Pragadeesh, a postgraduate student in Trichy .
Pune-based Apurva Bahadur, a rail fan for the last 25 years, has a more philosophical view of things. ” We should not forget that India and Indian Railways are interconnected, and evolved together. In short, the railways unite the country by transporting people from one corner to another,” he says.
Interest in trains takes these rail fans to all kinds of places. Some go on long journeys just so they can take pictures of the trains, while others hop on for a short trip to ease stress. for a short trip to ease stress.There are even fans who go to other countries so they can travel in trains there.
A Chennai-based rail fan group travelled to Malaysia to catch a glimpse of the trains there, since most of the meter gauge (MG) locomotives operated in that country were shipped from India after MG sections were dismantled here.
Another stream of rail fans study the lost and abandoned railway networks in the country . For example, it is believed that there was a railway track to Kulasekarapattinam in Tuticorin during the British regime and it was lost over the period. ” There are hundreds of such lost railway networks, tracks and rolling stocks.Researching on these is an emerging thing among rail fans,” said M Arun Pandian, a Chennai-based Pandian, a Chennai-based rail fan.
But extreme passion has also caused rail fans to run into trouble. There have been cases of fans being run over while taking photos of trains.
” It is heartening to see the immense interest some people have towards the railways. But their overenthusiasm results in trouble at times because they assume they know better than railway employees,” commented a railway official from Madurai division.