I came into this pastime they label as 'trainspotting' organically. I just started capturing the memories of my train journeys. I have been in love with trains since I was a kid - since I was three when I travelled for the first time in one. I am from Coimbatore and we used to have meter gauge trains in our town in those days. That was the first ever train journey from Udumalpet to Madurai. I remember being awed by these big machines, wondering how they were moving. Since then I have been in love with trains and locomotives. On my journeys, I like to observe the way tracks are laid, how the electrification poles (OHE) are erected, the sound that comes from the track, and the sound when train changes track.
In my town, I used to travel a short distance every day to see a particular train – it was the only daily running train in our town which comes from Chennai. If I have to spot long distance trains, I head to Hyderabad. Basically, I love the city just for the trains I can spot. Once, during a journey from Nagpur to Chennai, I had diverted my journey to Hyderabad (via the Telangana Express) and had done a one-hour halt at Hyderabad Deccan Station just to spot trains and some locomotive actions. After that, I finally took the Charminar Express to get to where I was actually headed - Chennai. I used to travel frequently to Madurai from my town just to spot trains.
I use my mobile camera and try to make the best out of it. Perhaps I will buy a good camera later. On my trainspotting journeys, I carry my mobile and iPad for timelapses and slo-mo shots mostly, and of course chargers. We (trainspotters) use the Where Is My Train app to locate trains. So we get to know if a train is running on time or if it is delayed. That’s how we plan our trainspotting trips. If the train which we are waiting to spot is delayed, we wait for hours for it to arrive. Sometimes, when we are on a train and travelling, we try and spot an opposite train to see if it's a favourite. We stand on the doorsteps for hours to spot an approaching train, ready with our cameras. Co-passengers often look at us weirdly.
These Engines Grab Me
I have travelled to Hyderabad to capture the Charminar and Godavari Express trains, and to Chennai to capture some locomotive actions at the central railway station. My favourite locomotives are WAP 4, WAG 9, WAP 7, WAG 6B/C (these are specially designed in Visakhapatnam loco shed for the Kottavalasa - Kirandul line and can only be seen in the Visakhapatnam area). These are electric versions of locomotives. I also like WDP 3A, WDG 3A, WDP 4D – these are some of the diesel versions of locomotives. I grew up seeing diesel locomotives like YDM series engines which are now extinct. Diesel locomotives are everyone's favourite, and mine too!
Electric locomotives were a part of my life for a month as I had to attend a training in the Visakhapatnam electric loco shed. The programme was on electrical trade in electric loco sheds. The WAG 9 was the first loco which I stepped into. And the WAP 7 and WAG 6B locomotives are the first locos I have travelled in. The WAP 4 and WAP 1 locos are a favourite because that was the first electric loco I had ever seen in my life. I would call them ‘electric loco ka baap’. If any of these locos are pulling my train, I get super excited.
The Train Journeys Most Imprinted In My Mind
My first journey on a broad gauge train was from Madurai to Chennai – on the Tamil Nadu Samparkranti Express - when I was five. I had been used to meter gauge journeys till then, and remember wondering how the tracks became this big! I loved watching how the trains were coupled to locomotives.
I remember the journey to Visakhapatnam on the Coromandel Express when I was six. That was the first time that I realised that a train could actually run for a long distance. I remember experiencing the first long-bridge run at Godavari and Krishna rivers.
The first train trip that I did alone when I was 15 on the Shatabdi Express from Coimbatore to Chennai. It was just a day’s travel so my parents were okay with it.
It Gets Funny Sometimes
I had a spot in my town from where I could see trains very close. During the Covid lockdown, I was sitting near the track, waiting for the Covid-special train from Chennai. There was a tea shop very close to the railway track from where I used to spot trains. The aunty who ran the shop would see me coming every day and hanging around. A couple of old people also started noticing me. The tea shop aunty was like "Bhaiya move from the tracks. That train is going to come.” I replied that I was actually waiting for the train. She had an apprehensive look on her face. I realised she (and the others) thought I was going to commit suicide! Later, after seeing me every day in that spot, she came to the conclusion that perhaps I was a railway officer. Finally, she realised that I just loved trains, and that I came every day to spot them. We became friends and she now gives me train updates when I visit – informing me how many trains passed on that route since she arrived in the morning!
You get to meet some pretty interesting people when you are a trainspotter. Some people would even sacrifice their window seats for us after watching us work so hard to spot trains, hanging on for dear life near doors for a long periods.
Favourite Train Routes, Stations, And Spots
I really like the Chennai - Visakhapatnam route. It has two beautiful rivers - Godavari and Krishna.
I also like the route from Coimbatore to Goa via Kerala and Goa to Visakhapatnam via Karnataka. You get to see the beauty of the west coast and the famous Dudhsagar waterfalls (on the Goa - Visakhapatnam route).
I like hanging out around Visakhapatnam - not just the station, but almost all places there have railway lines and you can spot trains even while standing on roads as Vizag is a harbour city.
Another place I like to hang out at is the Hyderabad Deccan station. It is the cutest railway station in a big city with a good number of trains passing by.
And at the magnificent Chennai Central, you can see a new train every time you blink.
I have a soft corner for the Marripalem PH station. This is Visakhapatnam's suburban station - it was my lunch destination because it's situated very close the Visakhapatnam loco shed where we had some workshops. My friends and I used to have lunch there and spot a few trains and then attend our afternoon session.
I am not a part of any train spotting clubs, but I have collaborated with a trainspotter from Chennai - Jerin George (find him at @indianrails). We used to create real Indian routes in train simulator games. And we both share our works and created several gameplay videos.
Let me just say that I don’t always plan a trip to go trainspotting. Sometimes it happens organically. It depends on what train you take and what route you choose to reach your destination. Let’s say I have a function to attend in Chennai - I can either choose the Coimbatore-Chennai route or Madurai-Chennai route. I prefer day trains if it's a 6-7 hour journey. If it's more than that, I choose night journeys. Though l don't sleep easily. You will catch me peeping through the window, hoping to get a glimpse of a loco I love!