Train spotting is a real hobby where enthusiasts write down their train sightings at railway stations. According to "The Telegraph," in 1958, British Railways tried to ban train spotters from watching and noting down information about each train. Train spotting is a simple pastime and beginners just need a notebook and a writing instrument to enjoy their hobby.
In 1942, Ian Allan invented train spotting. According to "The Independent," he worked in British Railways' public relations office at London's Waterloo station. He was inundated with letters from train enthusiasts wanting more information about the trains. He requested that the company print out a booklet with data and statistics about the trains, but it was rejected. He set up his own Loco-spotters club and wrote "The ABC of Southern Locomotives," a pocket guide of engine numbers and types. It sold out immediately and other ABC guides followed.
Train spotters need a few tools for this hobby. A notebook is needed to jot down all the train details, such as their numbers, station names and railway lines. A pen or a pencil is typically used by train spotters though many spotters are using digital cameras to photograph the trains. Tape recorders and cellphone cameras are also used by enthusiasts. Train spotters should join local groups that share their interest or online forums where pictures and data is shared.
The height of train spotting was in the 1960s where there was an estimated one million train spotters in the United Kingdom, according to "Sports Illustrated." In 1964, there were still 8,000 steam locomotives in use and train spotters were obsessed by specific classes and engine types. A Cambridge printer and well-known train spotter, Gerald Tweedie claimed to have has seen all 25,000 steam engines as of 1964.
Dr. Uta Frith of the Medical Research Council's Cognitive Development Unit, believes that the obsession of train spotting may be a sign of Asperger's Syndrome, which is a type of autism. It is characterised by social problems and obsessive compulsive behaviour. Michael Sams was a train spotter who was sentenced to life in prison for the abduction and murder of Julie Dart in 1993. According to "The Independent," Sams' home was filled with books and photographs of trains. He had a model railway and he lived next door to Sutton's east-coast train line.