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Published May 31st 2012
Photo by Brian Cresswell - Railfan has moved to Mont Albert
For over 20 years the Railfan shop had traded from the intersection of Market Street and Flinders Lane. So there was a huge outcry when this beloved business tooted off into the suburbs in April 2012.
The train enthusiasts who objected longest and loudest haven't seen the new premises which are in the hub of train terrain.
The shop is right across the road from the charming Mont Albert Station, an Edwardian timber building in the Arts and Crafts Style. (c.1910). Opposite is Orient Expresso, a popular cafe where the walls are literally plastered with rail themed paraphernalia. There is even a basket of toy trains kept in readiness for their baby chino customers.
A short drive away (or a 20-25 minute walk) is Box Hill's famous Miniature Railway. So there are plenty of railway buffs and their offspring visiting the area.
For those, like myself who are ignorant of such passions, railfan is the term given to train enthusiasts along with other names such as trainspotter, loco, gricer and gunzel. It quite literally means any person interested in rail transport in a recreational capacity.
This hobby extends to everything train related including locomotives and rolling stock, disused railroad lines, bridges, tunnels, level crossings, stations, railway history, railway art, rail photography, signaling, model trains, as well as the collecting of related ephemera such as timetables and tickets.
The Railfan shop caters for such interests. This is where you can pick up such gripping DVD titles as Ghost Train, More Rail Freight and Marathon of Steam. Best selling books include Best of Buses and the Loco Spotters Handbook.
Stock includes train sets, model trains, magazines, huge portraits of famous engines, maps, postcards, fridge magnets and a charming cabinet of Thomas and Friends toy trains.
As one silver top said, as he stepped over a budding engineer playing with his train on the floor, "the only difference between the big boys and the small are the size of their toys."
Railfan is run by the Association of Railway Enthusiasts a group formed in 1961 to cater for those interested in railways and tramways. The group is also a licensed travel agent, which has run over 90 tours.
Often, they travel over lines which do not see regular passenger services, as well as offering combined bus/walking tours along abandoned railway lines.
I picked up a brochure for a forthcoming holiday in Japan. It sounded tempting as it covered the four major islands Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku and you got to ride on bullet trains, private railways, monorails, ropeways and steam operations.
Okay, so when the train stops I might be the only one taking pictures of Mount Fuji rather than the engine. But hey, with so many trainspotters on board one could be assured the holiday ran to schedule.