What, exactly, is trainspotting?

I even saw the movie, and I’m still not positive what the term means. Is it like, bird watching with trains? As in: “Look, there’s a steam engine! Look, there’s a diesel locomotive.”???

got it in one. Also bus spotting and plane spotting

Trains, especially steam trains, have different styles, makes, and designations, and are therefore worthy of being ‘spotted’ and recorded in a notebook. It is an extreeeeemely geeky thing to do, and it was a term for geeks before ‘geek’ was a word.

In this case, I am using the term ‘geek’ in the “person with an extremely detailed interest in something somewhat obscure, but not involving sports”.

However, the movie Trainspotting had nothing to do with that meaning of the word. I think it must have some other connotation.

The explanation I’ve heard is something to the effect of stealing certain markings off of trains. It’s an utterly pointless and destructive hobby, kind of like shooting heroin, which is how it ended up being associated with the movie (well, book first).

GuanoLad - has got it… spot on. It is a hobby for the guys (it’s usually guys – big surprise). They stand (usually) near the end of platforms at busy railway stations noting the comings and goings of trains in books, take photo’s of the individual trains and when a particular loco has been seen, they can tick it off from their ‘must see’ list.

I think it meant more in years gone by when trains were more varied and more still in the steam era (as opposed to network standard and electric powered) and is not as popular nowadays. I agree, it was the first geeky thing to do – those who trainspotted tended to have a keen interest in mechanical engineering and strange things like time tables.

Without researching, I’d guess the relationship between that kind of trainspotting and the druggy world of the film might be in the pointlessness, mundane – ness (eek) and plain why ?. I’d think Irvine Welsh probably explained it in the first paragraph or two but I don’t know.

People who train spot trains are not noted for their criminal tendancy.

The characters went trainspotting in one episode in the book which didn’t make it into the movie. I assume Welsh used that as the title to draw an analogy between the pointlessness of that activity and of heroin abuse.

OK, I’ve looked into it some, and can’t find any support for the thing I mention. I know I’ve heard it offered as a theory before, but I think my mind mixed which one was the likely theory with the “alternate” theory.

I saw the movie. Trainspotting must be an english term. Here in the states we affectionately refer to them as “FRN”. (Fuckin’ Railroad Nuts):slight_smile:


I must be way off base. My WAG was that it might have been referenced because junkies have “tracks”. I had reasoned that recognizing another junkie might be known as trainspotting.

I guess I’m both wrong and weird

Such is life.

Kindly also note …

Trainspotters = Anoraks


My wife’s cousin works in the national coordination/control centre for Australia\s National Rail Corp. The standard term he and his colleagues use for train spotters is “Gunzell’s”, presumably named after a particularly notorious individual. Anyone truly fanatic gets the label “Foaming (at the mouth) Gunzell”.

He tells me that most Gunzell’s are retired railway workers who can’t let go of the job. Apparently they now more about the network and the rolling stock (particularly individual locomotives) than the people who run it. The control centre is constantly plagued by phone calls from these nuts whenever something unusual happens: eg "Why is the XYZ express three minutes late?’ or “How come loco 678 is in Sydney, it normally works in Wangaratta”.

They can often be seen taking photos or video of trains in all sorts of localities, and even setting up microphones to record the sound of different diesel locomotives!

Whatever floats your boat…

I actually read an explanation somewhere when the movie came out.

Trainspotting is considered by some to be a pointless activity. A waste of time. Like using drugs.

Got to reply to this one… ‘Trainspotting’ is pretty much as GuanoLad put it. Traditionally, the British version involves numbers and notebooks, some photography, but not as much as in the US.

In the US, these people call it 'railfanning (as in ‘fans of railroads.’) The ones who are SERIOUSLY into it (scanners to listen in, time tables, know the designation of each train that goes by, etc) are called ‘foamers’ (as in 'foaming at the mouth;, ie a little crazy)

As you may have guessed, I am a railfan.

An interesting group or railfans is the Combat Railfans… these guys spend their rime sitting in the desert outside of Phoenix, getting drunk, or high, listening to STan Ridgeway and blowing things up. Kind of a strange group. Can’t wait to join them.



Here where I live, there is a tavern/cafe located very close to train tracks, and the first person who hears or spots the next train gets a free beer.

About fourteen or fifteen years ago, two young university students in this area kept a schedule of the trains that ran on the track in their university town. They were fanatical about it, and even slept on the tracks. Their infomation must have been incomplete, because one night, they were killed by a passing train. I will never forget it.

Of course, we Monty Python fans prefer camel spotting.


Get your favoured tipple to hand,
ensure your comfortable,
enjoy :



I don’t know about the rest of you but I find Commander Fortune’s explanation really fascinating and much more interesting than the “real” one!

Sure it is, evilbeth. Watching paint dry is more interesting than standing at the end of platforms looking at trains all day.

Actually, the real, real answer is they are all Smokey Robinson fans.

IIRC, there never was any trainspotting in the book. There is, however, a scene where the heroes are seen leaving a deserted train station after some serious drug abuse. They bump into a down-and-out (bum) on the way out who, ironically asks them if they have been trainspotting.

I am not a trainspotter. But I know some - and they keep notebooks full of sightings; engine type and number, location, time, unusual carrige configurations, etc., They are a wild bunch.