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Trainspotting reaches a new online generation of enthusiasts

Siobhan McCall


With millions of followers on Instagram and Tiktok, and a host of celebrity collaborations, Francis Bourgeois has been credited with making trainspotting cool again.

Online searches for the often derided hobby have soared in the last few years, thanks in a large part to Bourgeois, whose real name is Luke Nicolson. He's inspired a lot of young people to upload their own content – and in some cases gain their own following.

Jasper Curtis, a 15-year-old from Southampton, is one of the young rail enthusiasts inspired by Bourgeois. Traveling around the country to film rare trains, he has grown his TikTok following to 27,000. While it's not quite the 3.1 million who follow Bourgeois, Curtis hopes to make his passion for the railways into a full-time job.


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"I enjoy exploring the country, making new friends, it's a really good way to spend time with people," he tells CGTN Europe at Eastleigh in southern England – a station popular with trainspotters because of the variety of models that pass through to reach Eastleigh Works repair depot.

"It's the feeling of when you see a train that you've never seen before, you've seen something that maybe other people haven't. It's very exciting to see that train and hear that horn."

Oliver Smith is making a career from trainspotting. His YouTube channel Lazerjet has more than 100,000 subscribers and he says he loves the social side of his hobby.

"We all have a laugh, we all have a chat and talk about what we have seen," Smith tells CGTN. "It's a lovely community and I can't think of anything better to do.

"I like trainspotting because of the sound, hearing a train pass through a station at full speed, you feel the thud of how fast and strong these machines are."


The re-emergence of trainspotting

While Bourgeois is inspiring a new generation of trainspotter, the first records of the hobby date back to the 19th century and many of the most popular engines were built in the first half of the 20th century.

Arguably the most famous steam locomotive in the world is the Flying Scotman – the first steam engine to reach 100mph (160 km/h). When it passes through stations on its route between London and Edinburgh, enthusiasts line station platforms to get a glimpse. 

The much-loved Mallard train at the National Railway Museum in York. /CGTN
The much-loved Mallard train at the National Railway Museum in York. /CGTN

The much-loved Mallard train at the National Railway Museum in York. /CGTN

In 2023, the National Railway Museum in York put on a special exhibition to mark its 100th birthday.

"We had a lot of people come in for the centenary. We had some of the people who donated their photographs, their stories, their memories to the exhibition. We got fans old and new," says Manpreet Dhadda, Interpretation Developer at the National Rail Museum and one of the exhibition curators.

"We got people who didn't know anything about Flying Scotsman and people who knew everything about Flying Scotsman and they just wanted to come and see the locomotive and share that with other people."

Among the icons of British rail on display in York, there's also some Chinese history. The KF7 was built in England in 1935 and was used on the Guangzhou–Hankou railway.

In 1979, the Chinese government presented one of the KF7s to the National Railway Museum as a gift to the British people.

Trainspotting reaches a new online generation of enthusiasts

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