What is a Railfan?

Meet the railfans, train lovers who track everything from locomotive makes and models to the schedules and freight loads of their favourite railways.

September 18, 2018 | | Community

People of all ages and backgrounds can be drawn to the hobby – even folkrock icon Neil Young had a model train collection. But the image of someone wearing an engineer’s cap running trains in their basement only describes one kind of railfan. Some spend their spare time trackside, watching trains roll past, especially if they know a rare train (such as a foreign locomotive) is coming their way. Others are history buffs and meet to share stories and pictures of the glory days of rail travel.

On the final run of the Cando Rail Services locomotive on June 29, the train pauses in Streetsville where engineer Steve Bradley and conductor Steve Thomas reminisce with railfans and allow them to take photos to mark the occasion. Photo by Warren Schlote.

On the final run of the Cando Rail Services locomotive on June 29, the train pauses in Streetsville where engineer Steve Bradley and conductor Steve Thomas reminisce with railfans and allow them to take photos to mark the occasion. Photo by Warren Schlote.

Sharing information

A number of railway communities call Yahoo Groups home. Other groups, such as FPON, for rare locomotive sightings, can be found at Groups.io. Facebook, too, has grown in popularity, now hosting several discussion and sighting groups. On Facebook, fans of the OBRY would find Ontario Shortline & Regional Railways of interest. Canadian railway photography can be found at railpictures.ca.

Keeping track

A favourite tool for trackside railfans is the scanner. These handheld radios can be programmed to receive railway communications between trains and the dispatcher that can provide hints to a train’s location. A more technologically advanced method is ATCS (Advanced Train Control System) Monitor, a computer program that gives rough train locations on a specially created map. To prevent misuse, users must be approved for access. However, ATCS only tends to work for high-traffic mainlines with signal systems. The OBRY is mostly considered “dark territory,” and can only be seen on ATCS where it crosses the CN line in Brampton.

About the Author More by Warren Schlote

Warren Schlote recently graduated in media studies from the University of Guelph-Humber and is now a reporter with the Manitoulin Expositor in Little Current, Ontario.

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