Rail Enthusiast

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The F40PH locomotive, the idol of the trainspotter![1]
"I like trains."
"I Like Trains" kid, Asdfmovie

Someone obsessed with trains and railways, sometimes to an unhealthy degree, Otaku-like. This is a type especially common in British and Japanese fictional works, which makes sense since both nations in real life have a high population of such enthusiasts. The United States and Germany have a lot of such enthusiasts as well, as do most other European nations, but generally with fewer depictions in popular media.

In Britain, the most popular depiction is the trainspotter, whose railway obsession revolves around hunting down each and every locomotive—and sometimes other rail equipment—and marking down each one they've seen in a little book listing all such equipment existing. In the field, they may use a paper notebook instead of their master stock book, and modern technology means they may now make their notes using a voice recorder and keep their master list as a computer database. Being a trainspotter involves lots of standing around in the cold and wet on station platforms waiting for that elusive quarry; this made the waterproof coats that they generally wear, the "anorak", become a symbol of the trainspotter. The word "anorak" itself has become a generic term, in fact, used to refer to the obsessively geeky in other fields as well. Trainspotters are generally depicted with most of the nerd/geek stereotypes—thick glasses, bad hair, no fashion sense, and frequently physically unattractive and socially awkward.

The second common British stereotypical character is the older, more respectable railway enthusiast. This is a common pastime of The Vicar. Such an enthusiast is likely to be active in the railway historical and preservation movement, and may be actively involved in restoring or operating historical trains. They are also likely to have a model railway built with obsessive care, and may be a photographer as well.

In Japan, the most commonly depicted form is the densha otaku (not to be confused with Densha Otoko), also known as tetsuota (tetsu is Japanese for "iron", and railroads in several languages are known as "iron roads": chemin de fer in French, Eisenbahn in German, sikkat hadid in Arabic,железная дорога in Russian, and tetsudo in the aforementioned Japanese,[2] among others), a species of Otaku whose obsession is trains. This stereotype has much in common with the English trainspotter, being extremely geeky and socially awkward, and obsessed with their chosen subject. The Japanese version is more likely than the English one to be a keen photographer of railway subjects, and many depictions involve a big camera and lens. Japanese rail photography often concentrates on trains' heads, by the way.

In the United States, most media depictions of the railfan (sometimes also called a "trainspotter" on the East Coast, or "ferroequinologist" for "one who studies iron horses") involve model railroads, which were generally treated as a common and respectable hobby. It's more rarely depicted in recent years. Most portrayed tend to be older, and although respectable, it tends to be treated as Serious Business for humor's sake. Traditional railfans—already derisively referred to by railroad workers as foamers, a term some have adopted self-deprecatingly—have been massively hurt by post 9-11 changes where standing around bridges waiting to photograph trains is considered terrorist behavior.

Where British railfans use notebooks, German railfans prefer cameras, just like Japanese densha otaku. German rail photographs refer to themselves as Fotofuzzis or simply Fuzzis and don't need anoraks either because they usually refuse to take photos when the sun isn't shining, and be it a tiny little cloud blocking the sun the very second a train passes. Quality standards are high, and nitpicking on photographs is common in online communities whenever the standards of commercial photobooks aren't reached. For example, nothing is allowed to obstruct the view on the photographed vehicles, neither overhead catenary poles nor platforms nor signs nor vegetation (which Fuzzis sometimes cut down themselves). The common rules for vehicle portraits (45-60° angle from ahead, sun from behind and not too high, and so forth) have been used so often that some peope don't do portraits anymore because it's boring. Newer rolling stock and newer liveries are loathed by older railfans, especially those who have seen regular steam traffic in the West before 1977 and still put films in their semi-automatic SLRs, and preferred prey of younger railfans who hardly know anything older and go out with a compact camera or even their phone as their camera. While British railfans wait and see what comes, German railfans love to track down particular vehicles, especially locomotives with advertising on them, using sightings and leaked schedules and go ballistic when the expected material doesn't show up at the expected time.

Model railroading is quite popular in Germany, too, and the world's biggest model railroad is just one of the signs, as is the sheer number of German brands in the model railroad industry. Passionate German model railroaders know just about everything about the rolling stock they're running, they know which locomotives have been used in which services, which livery and numbering belongs to which era, and how train consists are composed correctly; occasionally, they don't even shy away from lecturing those who either don't know or don't care and just want to enjoy their beautiful trains (which is the case on most public model railroads). They would soup up a €500 locomotive with etched brass parts because the manufacturer got tiny details wrong, because the handles are too thick, or whatever. The fact that the core of German model railroaders is aging is shown by the majority still refusing any locomotives, cars, liveries, or letterings introduced after 1968, sometimes even 1960.

Related hobbies include bus spotting, plane spotting and model railways without significant interest in real trains.

See also Cool Train.

The Other Wiki also has an article on this.

Not to be confused with Trainstopping or Trainspotting.

Examples of Rail Enthusiast include:

Anime and Manga

  • Kotetsu Segawa from Hayate the Combat Butler: being a good-looking and stylish young man, he is a stealth rail otaku, until he pulls out a giant camera ...
  • Tetsuko from Dai Mahou Touge, whose name actually comes from Kokutetsu ("Japan National Railways"), followed by -ko, a typical suffix for a girl's name: Tetsuko Koku (Koku Tetsuko, in Japanese order).
  • Noboru and Yuuki in the Great Teacher Onizuka manga.
  • Yuichi Yamanoguchi is a troubled boy who gets turned into EI-04 in GaoGaiGar.
  • Touko in the Mariasama ga Miteru 4th specials; the normal Crowning Moment of Heartwarming scenes with Yumi turn into Crowning Moments of Funny.
  • Giroro of Keroro Gunsou has this as one of his quirks in the anime. One of the tadpole episodes touched on this during a plot where the Power Trio went treasure hunting: he revealed he had a special pass for the galactic trains, which they used to go exploring off-planet. A later episode had them becoming train conductors as part of one of their schemes, to his poorly hidden delight—and triggering a Heroic BSOD when the trains got blown up.
  • Kuragehime has a variation: Banba, the short girl with a Funny Afro adores street cars.
  • Suzuki, one of Those Two Guys in Ai Yori Aoshi, would rather take photos of rolling stock than of pretty co-eds.
  • Chitan, the resident Butt Monkey in Katteni Kaizo
  • Cilan in the Pokémon Best Wishes series is this trope 100%. And that's only one of his interests.
  • Kiichi Funabashi of Digimon Xros Wars: The Young Hunters Leaping Through Time becomes a full-on Keet when dealing with trains. With his partner Digimon, Locomon, he takes other children on tours of the world at night.
  • Given the series' name, it should be obvious that Rail Wars! has a few:
    • Takayama applied for the OJT program in order to become a train operator. He has a permanent track for model railroad trains in his room at home, complete with a full basic operator's setup.
    • Sasshou can identify trains by their sound.
    • Prince Bernina (from Episodes 10-11) invites Takayama to be on a First-Name Basis because they're both rail enthusiasts.
    • Out-of-universe, the entire series is Fan Service for Real Life Rail Enthusiasts.

Comic Books


  • Alfred Hitchcock was a well known train enthusiast and would find reasons to add scenes with trains into his movies if not make them key elements of the plot.
  • Vicar Sam Weech and Ollie Matthews, the Bishop of Welchester, in the movie The Titfield Thunderbolt.
  • The main character in the movie The Station Agent is a train/model train enthusiast. He uses his hobby as an excuse not to socialize with others.
  • One of the main characters of Transsiberian. He's the reason the couple are travelling by train in the first place.
  • Emmett Ray, protagonist of Sweet And Lowdown, has this as one of his alienating personality quirks.
  • Rex Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones' character's husband) in the film Intolerable Cruelty bursts out with "I JUST LIKE TRAINS!" in the middle of open court when a witness describes recommending him as a target for Zeta-Jones because he was "a silly man" who would not be able to stop himself from marital indiscretions. Later, he is shown in a hotel room with four blondes (scantily) dressed as conductors, jumping on the bed, with stock footage of old trains projected on the wall as he leads them in a round of "I've Been Working on the Railroad"


  • Thomas the Tank Engine was created by an English Vicar, the Rev. W. Awdry, showing that that stereotype can be Truth in Television.
    • The character of The Fat Controller is sometimes attributed to another railway vicar, the Rev. Teddy Boston, a friend of Awdry's who had a narrow-gauge steam engine in his garden.
      • And the occasional characters of the Fat Clergyman and the Thin Clergyman are confirmed as Boston and Awdry Author Avatars.
  • One of the Discworld books discusses Death's patient, methodical personality by saying that while there aren't any trains or steam engines on the Discworld, he'll surely be there to note it down as soon as one is invented.
    • Unseen Academicals has a brief mention of a magazine for "Golem-spotters", suggesting that this has become the equivalent. It remains to be seen if Death has taken it up.
    • Raising Steam, the last of the non-YA Discworld books, is about the Disc's first train and steam engine. Sure enough, once the permanent way has been set down, somebody in an anorak is there to spot the only train in existence as it goes by. This becomes a plot point later in the book.
  • One of the central characters in the fantasy novel "Palimpsest" by Catherynne M. Valente is a female Japanese rail enthusiast.
  • The title of Trainspotting comes from a chapter in the novel called "Trainspotting at Leith Central Station". The joke is that the station is long-closed and derelict, so trainspotting there is an utterly pointless, dull and squalid experience, like most things the characters do.
  • Watson from the Sherlock Holmes stories is occasionally noted to have a minor obsession with the rail system, including having memorized the London area schedules.
  • Tunnel Vision by Keith Lowe has a Rail Enthusiast protagonist, who accepts a bet about doing a Tube Challenge... on the day before his wedding!
  • In Notes From a Small Island, Bill Bryson recounts being stuck sitting by a very chatty, very obsessive rail enthusiast on a train journey through Wales.
  • In Sean McMullen's Greatwinter Trilogy, 40th Century Australian civilization relies on wind- and human-powered trains for long-distance freight and passenger transport. Accordingly, there is a social club of trainspotters, some of whom harbor greater loyalty to the rails than they do their ostensible rulers.
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia - The Last Battle, Edmund is described as “the sort of person who knows about trains.”

Live-Action TV

  • Gomez Addams from The Addams Family has an extensive model train layout in both the TV show and the movie adaptations, on which he likes to cause crashes and other disasters.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus did a sketch parodying all the rubbish about railway timetables. Michael Palin, who plays the enthusiast, titled his very first travelogue program "Confessions of a Trainspotter", riding from London to Kyle of Lochalsh, and now has a Virgin trainset named after him.
  • In one episode of Last of the Summer Wine, The Vicar refuses to talk to the protagonists because he's too busy... playing with his model railway.
    • In another episode, Foggy is revealed to be one of these.
  • In the Yes Prime Minister episode "The Bishop's Gambit", the candidate Hacker eventually appoints is said to be interested only in Islam and steam engines.
  • Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory is one of these. In an episode where Sheldon abruptly decides to move out (because he can't figure out any other way to keep a secret from Leonard) Howard and Raj list off reasons why Sheldon would move out. Raj very seriously asks "Did you make fun of trains?"
    • In the same episode, Raj attempts to dissuade Sheldon from moving in with him by announcing: "I hate trains."
    • In another episode the four of them take a trip to San Francisco by train.

Leonard: Well, we took a vote. Three of us voted we fly and Sheldon voted we take the train. So (unhappily) we're taking the train.
Sheldon: Don't say it like that, Leonard. Say it like (excited) "We're taking the train!"

    • In another episode, Sheldon states that he always tells people if they only have one day in LA, they should make it a "train day", after which he proceeds to describe an itinerary that includes eating at two different train cars turned into hotdog stands. Doesn't sound like your cup of tea? Then I guess you just hate fun.
  • While it's never mentioned afterwards, when Chris first meets Sam in Life On Mars, he asks if he'd ever been to the train museum in Hyde, where Sam had just transferred from.
  • Toby and Dwight in The Office (USA) share a moment of Rail Enthusiasm while they were staking out Darryl's house to see if he was defrauding the company for workman's comp, listening to a train as it passed by, this being one of the few insights into Toby's hobbies or personal interests.
  • Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation is a model train enthusiast according to an exchange with Jean-Ralphio.

Jean-Ralphio: Why don't you use that time and go after one of your passions like model trains or like, toy Gandalfs or something?
Ben: I don't know you jumped straight to model trains...I mean...it's accurate.

  • One episode of Highlander the Series had a Rain Man type immortal whose fixation was on trains. He kept quoting train facts during most of the ep.
  • Ernie Dell, the Red Herring of the Miniature Killer arc on CSI (see 'Loco Motives')

New Media

  • The F40PH locomotive, depicted in the page image, is a subject of Memetic Mutation. For some odd reason,[3] it's common to post it coupled with the phrase "Yiff in hell, furfags!" on Image Boards. Also, don't call it a train in front of Rail Enthusiasts.
  • Rail Enthusiasm is so prevalent on the internet, that Image Boards almost always have a /n/ board, for "Transportation". It's not called just "trains", because they allow talking about buses, commercial jets, subways, and even bikes as well as trains. As said above, the F40PH is always popular.
  • There's even a whole Image Board dedicated to trainspotting called 1chan.net. They feel very strongly about the political aspects of rail infrastructure.
  • Australian Something Awful Goon "Maximum Sexy Pigeon" created almost a dozen realistic pixel art train cars for the Goon Train art project. There were other train fans (all Australian, oddly enough) in that thread, but none as passionate as Mr. Pigeon.
  • The "I Like Trains" kid from the Asdfmovie series.


  • BBC Radio sometime in the 90s had a half-hour comic monologue called "Anorak of Fire". The narrator is a trainspotter who's so obsessed with trains that he misinterprets everything else he sees and hears. At one point in his narration he describes seeing a train carrying nuclear waste through the middle of town, but all he's excited about is the fact that it's hauled by a rare type of locomotive.
    • This was adapted and expanded into a TV movie/drama in 1998 for BBC 2.

Video Games

  • There's a Lakitu in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door who loves the Excess Express, and hangs out at the platform. Not sure if the nearby Toadette is this, or is just about the romance of scenarios involving trains.
    • Bub the Bob-omb is also an enthusiast, to the point where a necessary sidequest involves you getting him an autograph from the conductor of the Excess Express. Goldbob also wants to buy Bub a train of his own for his birthday.
      • Not a train set, mind you. An actual train.
  • Selphie in Final Fantasy VIII.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks features Ferrus (Tetsurou in the Japanese version), a rail hobbyist who can be found alongside the tracks at certain points in the game, shutter clicking away. The appearance of the Demon Trains is a boon for him, because it means that he gets to take pictures of them. He's also dying to meet Link's mentor Alfonzo (Shirokuni), as he's heard that the man is a legendary engineer.
    • A few of the punny names are also the kind of thing only Japanese rail otaku would get, such as Byrne (Diigo)'s name being a reference to the D51 locomotive, which was a mainstay of the Japanese railways until the advent of diesel and electrification.
  • Kingdom of Loathing gives the fandom a passing nod in the description for the yak anorak:

This is a heavy hooded jacket made of yak hide, perfect for keeping you warm while you're waiting to spot Seaside Town's train -- which is assumed to exist because of the track, even though no one has ever seen it. Seaside Town's trainspotting community are extremely patient (and extremely lonely) people.

  • In Lilly's route of Katawa Shoujo, she and Hanako express their preference for old trains when going to Hokkaido.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: Reverend Lovejoy loves, finds joy in, model trains. They have a tendency to get into terrible accidents.

Reverend Lovejoy: God, why do you hate my trains?

  • King of the Hill: Ted Wasonasong is shown playing with a model train in one episode.
  • The Classic Disney Short Out of Scale has Donald Duck building a very elaborate model train set in his backyard. Hilarity Ensues when he removes Chip n' Dale's tree because it's out of scale with the rest of the set.
    • In a related note, many of the Disney artists (including Walt himself) were Rail Enthusiasts, and had model trains in their own yards. Some even had full-scale locomotives!
  • Thomas the Tank Engine, a series about trains, probably has a few examples within the cast but might well have been the starting point for a lot of railfans. For that matter, its popularity with autistic and Asperger's children overlaps, with some social workers noting that a lot of rail enthusiasts are also autistic or have Asperger's.
  • The kid in Play Safe, leading to Nightmare Fuel when he gets a little to close to his beloved trains.
  • Mr. Bernard in The Rescuers covers his behind by invoking this trope, when Ms. Bianca accuses him of being too cowardly to travel by air.

  1. And bane of furries
  2. as in Ginga Tetsudo 999
  3. weekly posting of trains have replaced weekly posting of furry artwork on 4chan