The national lockdown due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected every single person in the UK and restricted many of their activities. What the future may hold is still unknown, and many believe that things will never be the same.
One of the hobbies that has been affected is trainspotting. Ever since the first Ian Allen books were published, trainspotters have been on a quest to ‘spot’ as many locomotives and trains as they can, ticking the numbers off a list.
Usually to be seen at railway stations, the trainspotter has been part of the railway family for generations. The hobby has drawn many into committing their whole career to working on the railway, whether it be as a ticket inspector, guard, driver, station staff or senior management.
However, with the lockdown in place, none of that is possible. Until, that is, Jamie Rowley wondered whether, as well as working from home, it would be possible to spot trains from home too.
Turning to social media, and using the hashtags #SpottingFromHome and #SpottingFromWork, Jamie has given a new dimension to this old hobby. No longer are spotters crossing off numbers and sharing information within small groups. Instead, they have joined in with the Railcam campaign and taken the opportunity to share many photographs or videos, some from on-board staff – the internet has been awash with rail-related content.
Jamie explained: “The #SpottingFromHome idea came after I saw a news article, circulating in the very early days of lockdown, showing three young enthusiasts still out by the lineside taking photos. It occurred to me that we already have the cameras there, we have the enthusiast base already aware of what we do, so why not bring trainspotting indoors?
“Enthusiasts could use our cameras to take screen captures and share them with the wider railway family by simply including the hashtag #SpottingFromHome and tagging @railcamlive, so we could like and share some of our favourite captures throughout the day.”
Hoping to get some interest in his ideas from the trainspotting fraternity, Jamie never expected the response that he had. Tweets surrounding the campaign on Twitter alone have generated 2.7 million impressions over the past four weeks. Other social media platforms have seen similar increases due to the hashtag campaign.
“I fully expected there to be a moderate amount of interest in this for a week or so, but it has gone from strength to strength, and shows no sign of slowing down!” Jamie continued. “It has been great to see interaction from the TOC’s social media teams, especially Northern, TransPennine Express and Transport for Wales, as well as industry professionals such as the British Transport police.
“This interaction from within the industry has expanded so quickly that we have had to start including #SpottingFromWork, for key workers to share what they are ‘spotting’ at work. Train drivers, station staff and depot workers are regularly updating us on what they are seeing passing through deserted stations or from the cab window, and also giving us an insight into some of the areas of the railway we wouldn’t usually get to see.”
Jamie worked with Railcam, which started broadcasting just over ten years ago and has 49 main-line cameras to view as well as 22 heritage, 2 guest and 26 international cameras available. The site has over 32,000 registered users and there has been a huge increase on demand since lock-down began.
Railcam director Adrian Bradshaw added: “We’re amazed and delighted at the runaway success of the #SpottingFromHome and #SpottingFromWork initiative. It’s great that we have been able to do our bit to keep rail enthusiasts safe and entertained during these strange and difficult times.”
The campaign has not only been supported by site members but by social media followers and some of the train operators themselves.
Train spotting has had a tough time with its image over the years. However, the community is now seen as a welcome addition to the railway family. With spotters being encouraged to share information and safety concerns with rail staff and police, the hobby has become an extra pair of eyes which helps not hinders.