Train spotting was the idea of a chap in the Public Relations office at Waterloo Station in London. A young chap called Ian Allan. His job in 1942 was engrossed by rail enthusiasts writing him letters asking questions about the locomotives and train services.
He went further in 1944 after a group of teenage spotters were arrested in Tamworth due to trespassing on the tracks thus having very little train safety.
Ian Allan set up the Loco-spotters club this was to teach railway safety to anyone who joined. Once set up, its popularity expanded dramatically, and by the 1950s roughly one million locomotive guides, or ABC guides were sold every year.
From then on the hobby of spotting trains exploded across the country and even took a hold over seas in the states.
So much so it’s now one of the UK’s most recognised past times whether or not your visit to a railway station is just to take down numbers of the train sets or loco’s, or you maybe wanting to capture video or take photographs on the station grounds there are rules you must follow.
It’s been a grey area for some time now, especially since the privatisation. Many train operating companies have installed barriers or turn styles to stop unwanted people gaining access to the main station or platforms solely to prevent ticket evasion. A huge loss in revenue that runs into millions of pounds a year.
In fact, your ticket price you pay does account a small percentage to help cover this black hole of avoided revenue. Otherwise train operators would loose out and suffer these losses and probably not be able to run an efficient service to the franchise agreement.
So the barriers and alike are there for a good reason and not to stop enthusiasts gaining entry to the platforms.
As you will expect some of the stations are larger than others, with many different operators running services daily. So who own the stations, is it Network Rail, the operators or another private enterprise?
Well it’s mainly the train operators. Especially the non major stations.
Network Rail in 2018 managed 20 stations – including Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Edinburgh Waverley, Glasgow Central, Leeds, Bristol Temple Meads and 11 in London these are Britain’s busiest and biggest stations.
So as you can see if you want to get access to a platform at one station, the rules or permissions maybe different at another.
What I mean by this is, in my experience the busier the station, the more likely you will have to pay a visit to customer services and ask.
For instance, my main station here on the Fylde coast is Blackpool North. Not the busiest nor is it run by Network Rail but Northern manage it.
Blackpool North is mostly a tourist type station. Unlike the rest of the smaller stations on the local network it see’s about 1.8 million visitors a year. Some for work but a large portion are visitors to the resort.
So for example, Blackpool North have barriers, locked doors to the platforms and at times the station will close the main doors after the last train have left.
Reason being, as you can imagine, with 1000’s of holiday revellers a day some characters are bound to be feeling a bit fizzed up and alcoholically sophisticated. That’s the nature of being in the holiday mood.
So form a rail operators point of responsibility they can not afford to just have the station open as a free house.
Passenger safety is above running trains and selling tickets. So as with Blackpool if you were wanting access to the platforms you would have to inform the station staff or supervisor of why and how long you intend to say.
My advise would be to avoid peak times, your more than likely to be refused on good grounds. If there is a special excursion during the busy period you maybe kept to one side with other eager sorts and let on once the train has arrived.
As with all stations, if your allowed and as long as it’s for personal use and not commercial you do have a right to film or photograph on the platforms as long as you don’t get in the way and observe your and other peoples safety.
As regards for social media and video sharing platforms like Youtube this is still allowed. If you make money from your work you may need extra permission from the station manager or you may need to put a request in to the train operator or network rail.
There are lots of variations to the rules of being on a platform.
Once on the platform you must act safely and sensibly at all times. Stay clear of the platform edge and stay behind the famous yellow lines where they are provided. Be aware of your surroundings.
Now common sense kicks in here because you do not trespass on to the tracks or any other part of the railway that is not available to passengers, climb on any structure or interfere with platform equipment. Don’t obstruct any signalling equipment or signs which are vital to the safe running of the railway.
I have been asked at some stations to wear a high viz top only so the station staff can clearly see me on the platforms for my own safety. Unless otherwise, avoid any clothing that may be similar in colour to safety clothing, such as high-visibility jackets, as this could cause confusion to drivers and other railway employees.
If you are filming for quite a while or might be using bulky equipment you should let our station staff know so that the reasons for your filming are clear. But don’t film security related equipment, such as CCTV cameras.
Flash photography is a big no. It can distract train drivers and train dispatch staff and so is potentially dangerous.
It maybe a public space but the grounds can me seen as private property as you would in a shopping centre, a pub or other similar venue.
Don’t be hard faced or hostile if a member of station staff ask you to move to another part of the station or to leave the station altogether.
If your asked to leave you are well within your right to ask why. But be it for an emergency situation, your safety as regards the running of the train services, or any other fair reason you are best just to leave.
Don’t put up a argument on the platform - you’re just going to validate and strengthening their case to have you removed off the grounds and it is possible to be barred.
If you think you are being removed unfairly my advice is to leave and make a complaint the correct way.
Now I say this in the most respectful way - if you have reduced physical or mental capabilities and find this type of situation more stressful, please explain to the member of staff or a manager why you feel this way and say for example you have Autism don’t be shy to tell them. Staff are not there to be awkward or unfair - if they value their job they will be more than happy to explain in better terms or help you assist in any way.
One reason why rail operators and the BTP don’t mind you taking photos or video will be for crime or terrorism. You are in a way an extra set of eyes at the station. As they always state report anything suspicious at the station I quote: “If you see anything suspicious or notice any unusual behavior or activities, please tell a member of staff immediately. Your presence at a station can be very helpful to us as extra "eyes and ears" and can have a positive security benefit.”
Now not just referring to stations, track side photography will fall under Railway Bye-laws. Britain’s Railway Bye-laws cover trains, track and stations across the country.
As a recent event occurred with some over enthusiastic individuals they trespassed on to the railway. This proved how important it is to keep off the railway, be it the tracks, track sides, trees, bushes and any other form on encroachment.
It’s not just to stop you from getting your block knocked off but if you enter the grounds of a live railway it will cause the services disruption. A train driver will have to stop and report you or your daft mates and wait for permission to proceed off probably slowly and the BTP will come charging down and within the law prosecute you. The likely hood is you will be punished, made an example off and barred from doing the hobby you loved so much for a very long time.
This punishment is most favorable than considering the amount of red faced passengers wanting to be let loose at you off the train as it were.
Now before I finish, I want to cover an area of photography about drones or unmanned quad copters.
It is simple to remember this one - It is illegal to fly a drone on or near the railway or railway infrastructure unless certified and given permission by the Air Operations team. It can be a criminal offence to fly a drone on, over or within 150 metres of the track in built up areas. You could be taken to court and face a penalty of up to £2,500 and again possibly be rightly humiliated by the press.
So quite a lot to remember, most is common sense and a practice of respect.
I’ve listed everything I’ve got to share in the comment section below plus with links that are relevant.
Don’t be the one that fails and causes the hobby to become more regulated or restricted for those who do follow the rules and codes - because we will remember you!