We've heard the tales of the original trainspotting generation. The original railfans. Endless hours spent on the platform, over a footbridge or against a fence, waiting, listening, watching for something to come by. They'd have caught part of a conversation with staff or maybe doorstepped a guard or a driver hoping for snippets of information that would lead them to believe that a special was due. An unusual working. A seldom-seen locomotive. These recollections are often poetic, fascinating and tell of a time when railfanning was a lottery of sorts and a fine art to master.
Today, of course it is easy to falsely assume that technology has diluted this aspect of the hobby. The truth is, it does much to enhance it. The days of chatting to drivers and staff are far gone to many railfans, particularly the younger generations with security threats and trespassing being major concerns for operators. But in addition, the sheer volume of services, passenger and freight, means that catching something unusual, special or specific is much, much harder than in 'the good old days'. Thankfully, technology can help in a safe and responsible manner without taking anything away from the excitement of railfanning. We take a look at how Rail Record (https://rail-record.co.uk/) adds a great deal to the railfanning experience in the UK.
Screenshots courtesy of Rail Record. Photos by Joe Rogers.
Rail Record, as written on the homepage "...is an online train timetables and train schedules website. We have information on nearly every train service in England, Scotland and Wales to help you get from A to B." And of course for commuters and train travellers, websites like these are vital. Like others, Rail Record gives real-time updates on services, allowing passengers to switch trains or alter their plans accordingly. But it can do much more than that. By signing in as a member and understanding the options available, Rail Record allows railfans to:
Screenshot courtesy of Rail Record showing passenger services at Carlisle Station. Useful information for passengers and railfans includes current location (Gretna Junction, Haltwhistle, etc) and whether they are late or early at these locations. The two letter reporting mark (NT = Northern Rail) and headcode (2H12) are given on the right, with the platform number (P 6) given on the left. At busy times and at busy stations, knowing how Rail Record's information translates to reality can be really useful. Here a Class 172 from Whitlocks End arrives at Worcester Foregate Street. You can see via the information (below) that this service ran to time most of the way. 1 minute late (1L) between Tyseley and Small Heath, 1 minute early (1E) between Smethwick Junction and Stourbridge Junction. 'RT' stands for 'Right Time' which is a term commonly used in the industry in place of 'on time'.
Of course for railfans, the appeal of services like this is to track unusual or specific services and locomotives and this is where Rail Record becomes an invaluable tool. Freight service timings, unlike passenger ones, are generally not published by operators and for novice railfans can be difficult to find or understand. What is also difficult to judge is whether freight services are actually running as often the 'path' (the timed service) is booked or reserved but isn't always run.
This Rail Operations Group (ROG) service from Doncaster West Yard to Ilford EMU Depot was 'activated' earlier in the day, but by the time this service was due to depart (1038), no movement had been recorded. It is likely therefore that this service was cancelled and a red banner (rather than the yellow one) will appear later in the day. Knowing this can save a lot of time and effort, especially for railfans travelling to set locoations for spotting or photography. Other freight services run more regularly and using Rail Record, we were able to meet this DB Cargo Class 60 'The Midland Railway' 60100 at Sleaford on its way from Wolverhampton Steel Terminal to Boston's Sleaford Sidings. This runs almost every weekday as a return, starting at Wolverhampton.
Members of Rail Record can also share their favourite locations to railfan, spot or photograph and offer handy tips to fellow railfans. You can also review each location out of 5 stars. We recently went and spotted at a couple of locations (Seaton Junction and Frinkley Lane Level Crossing) and have recently added them to the interactive map, which you can view here: https://rail-record.co.uk/places/ Samples of photographs taken from those locations are below, but have also been added to Rail Record's Gallery. This GWR Class 150 is what is known as an 'interloper' as this line is used for passenger services exclusively by South Western Railway (SWR). Rail Record clearly shows Empty Coaching Stock (ECS) movements on its schedules and this ECS movement occurred between Exeter St Davids and Castle Cary. After spotting this Class 66 at Frinkley Lane Level Crossing, we were able to input the locomotive number (66051 'Maritime Intermodal Four') for the benefit of other railfans further down the line. Only six Class 66 locomotives are painted in this Maritime livery. This service was heading to Plasmor's facility at Heck, having started at their facility in Biggleswade. Our time at Lincoln Station was limited only to an hour, so we have not yet reviewed the location in full, however this spot was probably the highlight of what Rail Record had allowed us to catch thus far. Two Class 20 locomotives (20205 & 20227 'Sherlock Holmes') running light engine starting and finishing at Derby. Another Rail Record user had already recorded the locomotive numbers which we were able to view before it had arrived. Previously, we weren't sure what this service would include.
The ability to be able to more accurately pursue unusual and non-passenger train services across the UK makes the hobby much more appealing to those more in tune with the digital age but equally encourages casual railfans to best make use of their time by exercising their hobby more efficiently. The excitement and trepidation of waiting and not knowing what exactly is on its way still remains in many cases, but in others the danger of wasting time is almost eliminated. Rail Record provides an invaluable tool for the UK Railfan of today and does much to enhance the hobby for enthusiasts of all ages and disciplines.
To find out more, head over to https://rail-record.co.uk/ where you can sign up for free to take advantage of the full set of options available.
An overview of the Class 166 DMU as it enters 30 years of service across a number of routes.
Heritage railways provide the venues for most of today's 8F and Jubilee steam action.