When someone asks me what some of my hobbies are, I sometimes tell them that I love playing and collecting model trains. One of the common questions they ask next is if that’s a thing and what it’s called. Well, since the hobby has been around for a century, there are many names you can call to train enthusiasts. The terms depend on your location and the formality of the occasion. This post will cover the most common names given to model train enthusiasts.
Generally speaking, model train enthusiasts are called trainspotters or railfans. On formal occasions, they are called ferroequinologists. There are also informal names, such as foamers, gricers, and gunzels.
This post will cover the most common names given to train enthusiasts. We will talk about their origins and their story. There are also slight differences between these names we will cover in this post.
What is a train enthusiast?
A train enthusiast is someone interested in trains which include their rolling stocks, companies, tracks, activity, photography, and modeling. There are many types of train enthusiasts, such as the ones who like riding long train rides, taking train photographs, or building a train model layout.
Not all train modelers are the same since there are slight differences between them.
However, generally speaking, they are called railfans.
These people can engage in many activities that involve trains. Some of the common ones are train photography, train modeling, rail tours, railway restoration, etc.
Some might do all of these, while some may only do some of these activities.
For example, I like simulating and modeling trains. I even play train simulators on my computer when I have some free time.
However, I am not doing any train photography.
Train enthusiasts have been around for more than a century since trains have been around since 1804.
In the 1900s, model railroading is on the rage, and some famous brands like Lionel have been around and are still operational.
There are many reasons why a person becomes a train enthusiast. Some became a fan after receiving a train set gift when they were a child.
Some might grow up near a train line or have relatives working there.
There are others who worked in rail lines and enjoyed the train’s rich history.
In my case, I started researching model trains because I like diecast models. I started collecting diecast cars then decided to try model trains. Learning the deep history of trains kept me hooked, and I decided to write about model trains.
As you can see, there are many reasons why someone gets into model railroading. Since trains have been around for a long time, there are numerous names people gave to people who are fans of model trains.
Numerous variations of these names are given, and I will introduce you to the most common ones in the next section.
What are the terms used for Train Enthusiasts?
The terms used for train enthusiasts are trainspotter, ferroequinologist, gricer, gunzels, formers, railfan, railbuff, train buff, railway enthusiast, railway buff, and train enthusiasts. These terms are interchangeable, and some may be used more than others depending on the formality of events and location.
There are many terms used for train enthusiasts, but the most common ones are trainspotter and ferroequinologist.
The different terms may be used based on the occasion, whether it is a formal, semi-formal, or casual occasion.
For example, the term ferroequinologist is usually used to define train enthusiasts on formal occasions. These people are the ones who studied trains and their rich history.
Ferroequinologists came from three Latin words, which are “ferrum,” “equu,” and “logist.” Ferrum means iron, equu means horse, and logist means study. Thus ferroequinologist literally means a person studying iron horses.
Studying trains isn’t easy. For one, trains have been around for more than 200 years. Furthermore, multiple variations of the engines have been made. Ferroequinologists study these, and they are the formal way of addressing people who studied trains.
However, there are also semi-formal and casual ways of referring to train enthusiasts.
For example, one of the common semi-formal ways of addressing train enthusiasts is trainspotter.
In fact, trainspotter might be the oldest way of referring to train enthusiasts. This term allegedly started in 1861 from a man called Fanny Gordon, who recorded locomotives passing by his place.
Currently, most trainspotters have some sort of a book where they check and cross out locomotives listed in their book. These people are a fan of seeing rolling stocks, and they do their best to see as many as they can.
They also go to train museums to see their locomotives to cross them out on their list.
If you remember, I said that train enthusiasts could have different activities. So, for example, not all trainspotters are into train photography.
While some are, the most common thing trainspotters do is to look at as many rolling stocks as possible.
People who are into taking pictures are called train photographers instead of trainspotters.
Of course, some might do photography and trainspotting, but there is a minor difference between the two.
However, the minor difference is often negligible, and interchanging is widely accepted.
There are also informal terms for train enthusiasts, and these terms usually differ depending on the location.
Notable of which are Gricer, Gunzels, and Foamers.
The term Foamer is usually used in the USA to call someone into trains informally. The origin of this word is unknown, but the consensus is that people used this to describe people who build foam in their mouths in excitement when seeing trains.
In the UK, they call train enthusiasts as Anorak or Gricer. However, there is a big difference between the two.
Anorak is slang for a passionate hobby for something niche specific. This means someone who is interested in a niche hobby is called an Anorak.
So, all train enthusiasts can be called an Anorak, but not all Anorak are interested in trains. For example, Anoraks can be called “Otaku” in Japan or “Nerd” in the USA.
Gricer is a more specific term used for train enthusiasts. However, it is a very informal word, and it is not a nice term to tell people.
Gricer is slang for train geeks. This is a very informal word since it came from the word “gunsel,” which means a creep. So they used it as a way to tell that train enthusiasts are creepy.
While some train enthusiasts will accept this word, I do not suggest calling them Gricers. Better call them ferroequinologists or trainspotter since this shows respect to our differences.
If you remember “gunsel,” this is also where the term Gunzel came from, which is the slang for train enthusiasts in Australia. So, of course, they imply the same meaning.
Model trains have been around for a long time. Thus, many names can be used for trainspotters.
For example, in the USA, they are also called railfan, railbuff, or train buffs. There is nothing wrong with these words, and you can use them for describing people who are into trains.
In the UK and Australia, trainspotters are also called railway enthusiasts or railway buff.
As a general rule, the universally accepted names for train enthusiasts are trainspotters, railfans, and ferroequinologist. These can be used on formal and semi-formal occasions.
What’s Next? Model railroading has been around for more than a century, and it is still around today. One question people might have is if it is still popular. Well, I discuss the topic of model train trends and their present situation in this post: Is model railroading still popular?