From Academic Kids

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Railfans practicing their hobby at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

Railfan or railbuff is an American English term for an enthusiast or hobbyist of railroads, usually including historic and modern trains. Some railfans like to use the term Ferroequinology (the study of the Iron Horse) in describing their hobby. They are also known as ferroequinologists or gunzels (in Australia). Railfans can be found worldwide.



The hobby extends to all aspects of the railway systems, though various people have particular concentrations of interest:


 GP59 4610 is a Railfan's favorite, she is on T71 in  and she is shown in the colors of her predicessor .  Jason Trew photo.
Norfolk Southern's GP59 4610 is a Railfan's favorite, she is on T71 in Cleveland, Tennessee and she is shown in the colors of her predicessor Southern Railway. Jason Trew photo.

Most railfans are interested in trains. In the United States, railfans are sometimes known as "foamers". This comes from slang used by railroad workers, who have noted that some people start "foaming" with excitement whenever they see a train. It is a slightly derogatory term but railfans have adopted it with pride. In Europe and especially the United Kingdom, the term "trainspotter" is sometimes used, although this refers to the specific activity of watching trains and tracking the locomotives which pass, and has a much narrower meaning than railfan.

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Railfans can have a custom License plate to designate either a locomotive model or road number. Jason Trew photo

Train photography is common among railfans; most railfans do so from public property unless they have permission from a property owner to photograph on their property. Occasionally, they run into problems with law enforcement, especially after September 11, 2001, because they are sometimes mistakenly thought to be terrorists. Railroad companies also sometimes dislike railfans, considering them a nuisance. Railfans respond that their presence makes the railroads safer, since they typically know what is normal behavior and can spot someone who is up to no good, or something that appears to be out of place or unusual.

Radio scanners are common equipment for listening in on railroad frequencies in order to know when trains are about to arrive. Model railroads including model trains are common hobbies for railfans when not out watching trains. Toy trains are less accurate but also popular items.

Other activities

Some railfans are interested in other aspects of railroads not directly dealing with the trains. It can be interesting to study the history of the railroad companies, their infrastructure and operations, including never-built plans. Abandoned railroad grades can often be found long after the railroad stops using them.

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.

See List of railroad-related periodicals.


Sometimes the appeal of trains is nostalgic, recalling an earlier era when the railroads played a central role in commerce and transportation, and the train depot was the center of every town. Sometimes the appeal can come from a fondness for the power of large machinery. Sometimes there is an appeal of the scenery of the railroad running through large, uninviting terrain, or the gritty ambience of the urban train yard.

Many people who would not otherwise think of themselves as railfans just like trains. Most cannot explain why. Songs and stories have glorified railroading ever since the invention of the locomotive, especially in the United States, while children's toys and books about trains continue to be popular. The Railroad Tycoon series of simulation computer games is another example of railroads' enduring popularity.

Railfan hotspots

Various places are popular for train-watching railfans due to the large numbers of trains that pass through or nice views.

Railfan jargon

Railfans have a lot of jargon that can be foreign to other people. Some railfan terms are:

  • Fallen flag: a railroad company that no longer operates
  • Catfish: Norfolk Southern C44-9 locomotives
  • Mating worms: Penn Central logo
  • Ford Edsel: Amtrak AMD 103 locomotives
  • Vommit bonnet: BNSF's first attempt at a paint scheme
  • Pumpkin: BNSF's current paint scheme
  • Ex-Con: Former Conrail unit
  • Dark future: The new CSX paint scheme
  • Horsehead: Norfolk Southern's new paint job
  • Flags n Flares: Union Pacific's paint job
  • YN1: CSX first paint scheme (Yellow Nose, 1st. attempt)
  • YN2: CSX 2nd paint scheme
  • Rent-a-Wreck: Locomotive owned by a leasing company
  • Furball: Locomotive owned by First Union Rail (FURX)
  • Ches-C: Chessie System's kitten logo
  • Red Barns: Canadian Pacific's SD40-2F locomotives
  • Kodachrome: Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad's red, yellow and black paint scheme
  • Warbonnet: Santa Fe's red and silver paint scheme

See also

External links

ja:鉄道ファン zh:鐵道迷


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