Enthusiast – For Better or Worse

I sat down today to pen out an article (yet another long overdue…) extolling the virtue of 3801ltd after my recent trip to Bathurst with them a couple of weeks ago, although I find myself being drawn to this subject by various contacts (that, and I’ve not yet processed my photos from the Bathurst trip), so here goes…

Railway Enthusiast. Remaining an unknown commodity, a lot of enthusiasts are normal people who work normal jobs, and their hobby is simply to get out into the fresh air with a couple of mates to enjoy watching trains go past. While this may sound strange to the uninitiated, there is something appealing about the squeal of the steel on steel, the heavy machinery working hard, the clouds of smog blasted into the air by older locomotives, etc. Be it signals, sidings or shunters, all enthusiasts have something that draws them to the hobby, just like car enthusiasts, bushwalkers or stamp collectors. For a lot of people, this is a hobby, and an enjoyable, constructive one.

Some enthusiasts go further than their own enjoyment, giving up many hours into preservation, both restoring and looking after locomotives and rolling stock long since vanished from the commercial world of the railways. These enthusiasts give up days at a time to run tours, acting as carriage attendants, guards, locomotive crew, buffet workers, tour guides, safety officers… the list is endless. They do this to share their hobby with others, as the running of any heritage train requires a lot of work, and often their reward is simply seeing a smile on a small child’s face as his father takes him hand in hand to see the great snorting steam locomotive at the head of the train.

Often the best intending enthusiasts, or “buffs” are treated with suspicion, especially in a post 9/11 world. This is understandable, as a lot of the interesting railway activity is happening around mines, ports, warehouses, and other locations of importance that might, at some point, come under scrutiny from undesirable people looking to cause problems (and this is not just a terrorism issue either, there are extremist environmental groups that are always causing problems to coal trains entering/departing the ports at Newcastle, for example – an issue not restricted to Australia). Sometimes enthusiasts are treated with scorn from those within the industry. Of course, this is the exception to the rule, as most in the industry harbour a secret enjoyment of the railways themselves, as people naturally want to do what they enjoy for a living.

The reasoning behind the suspicion and the scorn is due to a minority of buffs who take things too far, jumping fences and trespassing, standing in dangerous locations, acting foolish around running lines (running along platforms, tripod in hand, near moving trains, for example), bothering railway staff who are trying to do their jobs, and so forth. Sadly, this is a fact of life in any hobby, and it is a shame that all enthusiasts are often tarred with the same brush.

Over the last couple of weeks, I personally have heard/experienced a number of incidents that (should) bring shame to the entire enthusiast community, and I was personally ashamed to be a buff when I heard about some of these incidents.

Seven Steam Locos (in steam) at Zig Zag

On Saturday the 20th of September, The New South Wales Rail Transport Museum (NSWRTM) ran a special train with no less than three steam locomotives on the front, to the tourist railway operating on the old Lithgow Zig Zag. Once at Zig Zag, passengers on the tour train were treated to a triple headed steam tour up the Lithgow Zig Zag and back down again. As well as the regular tourist train (itself steam hauled) for the railways other visitors, there were seven locomotives in steam at Bottom Points at once, no small feat!

Naturally, this attracted a lot of attention, and sadly, not all of the people who went on the tour shared the ideals of the majority, that is to have a good day out with good company. Zig Zag staff went to the trouble of organising a photo stop for the triple headed steam, allowing those on the tour to get photos of their own train storming up The Zig Zag Railway, and this proved to be a nightmare for the volunteers, with photographers hurling verbal (sometimes racist) abuse at the volunteers for “getting in the way of their photo”. It seems that they forgot that without such volunteers, there would not be a Zig Zag Railway for them to visit and enjoy.

Reports have also come in of NSWRTM volunteers who have personal grievances with Zig Zag volunteers making offensive gestures from the train as they departed at the end of the day. Considering the effort that all the NSWRTM volunteers put in to run their train, one would have expected a modicum of respect for their co-fellows that worked so hard at The Zig Zag. Especially as it makes The NSWRTM, and indeed all heritage volunteers look no better than those yelling abuse earlier.

ARHS NSW/3801ltd Bathurst Tour

As I mentioned above, I felt quite privileged to be invited on this tour, which was to celebrate the ARHS NSW divisions 75th birthday. The locomotives, train and crew were all provided by 3801ltd, who (as I will go into detail about in a further article) put on a stellar performance of professionalism and an enjoyable day was had by all.

However, looking out the window of the tour, it continued to amaze me of some of the antics of those chasing the tour. At Springwood, I watched two young men standing on the signal cabling (itself approx 1.5m off the ground, and only a small distance from the running line) in a very dangerous position, taking a photo. Had they fallen, they would have ended up under the wheels of the train without doubt, seriously injuring or resulting in a loss of their lives. The two gentlemen were later seen in the afternoon watching the train return, in a less dangerous position (but still well within the rail corridor), and as the train rolled past, they made offensive gestures at the passengers. It escapes me as to what they hoped to achieve.

After these incidents (and other, isolated incidents, such as watching another enthusiast trying to drive and film a moving train at the same time), I am ashamed to be included in the same category as such people. It is no wonder that people feel ashamed to admit that they are enthusiasts.

Certainly the entire railway enthusiast community should treat this as a wakeup call. We’re all in the same hobby together, and there is no excuse for acting in such a childish fashion. It achieves nothing and just bring disrepute to the hobby.

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3 thoughts on “Enthusiast – For Better or Worse

  1. Great article Trent. this expresses the views that most of us have in mind. These people abusing their privelages should also be aware of how lucky they are to even be allowed to enjoy their hobby in this state as laws on this are more stringent in other states/nations.
    Cheers,
    Anthony.

  2. excellent article and well said Trent, people just dont give a toss about their actions they do and gives us good railfans a bad name. ah well what comes around

    look forward to read excellent articales Trent and keep up the excellent work mate
    kind regards
    Michael (EL60) off railpage

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