Railfanning in IndiaOn this page
There are some obvious attractions for the railway enthusiast, including the Ooty rack railway (Nilgiri Mountain Railway), the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Kalka-Shimla route, the Neral-Matheran route, the National Rail Museum at New Delhi, the Mysore Railway Museum, etc. Information on these is available in this FAQ and elsewhere. Below are some further suggestions. The list is far from complete, of course, and should be taken only as an indication of the possibilities!
In and around New Delhi
- New Delhi Station - An amazing place to spot trains and locomotives from all over the country. Chief attractions are the departures in the evening of the various Rajdhanis. Also variety of diesels can be spotted here. Must see - New Delhi trip shed on the north exit of the station which has hordes of locos lines up.
- Okhla Station - One station south of Hazrat Nizamuddin, many expresses & Rajdhanis can be spotted going through this station at high speed .
- Brar Square Station on the Ring Railway (GAL). Sylvan surroundings amidst the ridge forest. Highly recommended for freight action with electrics & diesels from all over the country.
- National Highway No. 2 to Agra is parallel to the New Delhi - Mathura mainline. Many highway side resorts provide ample opporunity to spot high speed action while sipping a cold beer!
- Anand Vihar on the New Delhi - Ghaziabad line via New Yamuna Bridge. Many high speed east bound trains.
Mumbai and the suburbs
- Churchgate and CST Stations. The two locations from where Mumbai's iconic 'locals' begin their journeys. To get a feel of just how many people these trains carry, get to one these stations at around 9:00 AM or 6:00PM. CST has also has mainline express trains with a wide variety of locomotives.
- Vidyavihar Station on CR, at the CST Mumbai end, has a panoramic view around Kurla; there is also a marshalling yard nearby. There is also an EMU shed here. Some express trains departing from or arriving at the nearby Kurla Terminus can also be viewed moving slowly through here, whereas other trains from Mumbai/Dadar can be seen speeding through.
- Khar Station on WR, at the Santa Cruz end, affords good views. There is a railway yard attached, and the Bandra yard is also nearby.
- Vasai Rd Station, offers good views all around. Towards the Virar end, a fairly large yard often has many freight trains standing. Towards the southern end, the sweeping curve that leads the Vasai - Diva line away from the WR mainline is visible.
- Kaman Rd Station on the Vasai - Diva gives excellent views of container traffic hauled by various locos. This station surrounded by lush green rolling hills, which makes it ideal for photography.
Note: Mumbai's suburban stations see extremely heavy traffic throughout the day. Often the platforms are very crowded. Please be extremely careful while railfanning at these locations and never cross railway lines directly. Use foot overbridges and subways.
- Chennai Central - Southern India's biggest station. Excellent place to spot locos of all kind. The rare WDM-7 locos also make an appearance, often shunting large 24 coach trains. Best time to railfan - between 7:00 and 10:00 PM.
- Chennai Egmore - Chennai's second station. Trains bound towards Madurai and Kanniyakumari depart from here. The restaurant attached to the main concourse serves good food! Best time - 6:00 to 10:00 PM.
- Basin Bridge Jn. - Just 2km north of Chennai Central, this is the station where the lines towards west/north split. Express trains can be spotted snaking their way out. A large trip shed nearby also offers views of many electric locos from all over IR. Also of worthy mention is the large coaching yard nearby. Many diesel shunters can be seen trying to partition and form rakes.
- Villivakkam Station - 10 kms from Central on the line towards Arakonnam, this place sees express trains speeding by at 105kmph. Container freight to and from the Chennai Port also pick up speed ahead of the station.
- Howrah Station - One of India's largest stations with over 20 platforms. Expresses and suburban trains arrive and depart almost continously throughout the day.
- Dum Dum Jn - A major junction with four intersecting lines. The Sealdah Rajdhani hauled can be spotted here in the mornings and evenings. Also of interest is a elevated single line of the Calcutta Metro passing nearby. The morning and evening rush hour sees thousands of passengers use the suburban EMU's.
- Bally Station. This is where the Howrah - Burdwan main and chord line seperates. Lots of express train action. Also of interest is the nearby Bally halt. This halt which is grade separates offers fine views of the Howrah - Burdwan main & chord lines and the Sealdah - Dankuni route. Mornings and evenings are ideal times with trains passing by in 3 minute intervals.
- Kolaghat Station on the Howrah - Kharaghpur line. This station is built some 50meters above ground level offers great views of trains passing by at speed. Famous trains that be spotted here are the Geetanjali and Coromandel expresses. An added attraction is the Rupnarayan river bridge just after the station.
Mumbai-Pune section (192 km) has very heavy traffic, with long-distance expresses, local passengers, and suburban trains. Suburban sections have automatic signalling. On this section is Neral, 87km from Mumbai, from where a narrow gauge train plies the route to Matheran, 20km away, hauled by NDM class locos. (Earlier NDM-1, now NDM-6.
- Also on this section is Karjat, 100km from Mumbai, where banking operations begin for the ghat section; you can see twin or tripe WAG-7's banking a train up the ghats from here to Lonavla; the bankers usually return light to Karjat, but often with people all over them using the locos as their commuting vehicles. Further along on this section, a smooth long anti-clockwise curve between Ghorawadi(160 kms) and Begdewadi (164 kms) makes the whole train visible as you peer out of the window. The route has beautiful views of of the western Ghats and the Sahyadri mountains.
Bangalore-Chennai section (355km) is a doubled section but the two lines are some distance apart at many places, making it easier to see the destination boards of the trains you spot on the other line as they fly by. This line also has heavy traffic, and lots of freight too. Between Baiyappanahalli (10km from Bangalore) and Krishnarajapuram (14km from Bangalore) is a triangle from where track forks north to Dharmavaram from both directions; there is a good view of the signals of Channasandra station in the distance here.
- Jolarpettai Jn. (144km from Bangalore) is one of the more important junctions on SR, and has many platforms, by-passes near the station, and marshalling yards around the station.
- Arakkonam Jn. (292km from Bangalore) has an AC electric loco shed; there are twin forks in the track for Renigunta just before Arakkonam; and this is the earliest point before Chennai that you can spot an EMU.
- Guntakal-Chennai is a good section to spot long and heavy freight trains.
- Braganza Ghat in Goa is a good place to spot double-headed, triple-headed and even penta-headed diesel-hauled trains.
- Pune-Nira-Satara section: A horseshoe curve after Nira makes for good pictures as the train goes around it. In addition, there are rugged hills, viaducts, etc. that look good on an early morning ride.
- To see some of the heaviest freight loads in India, the Kirandul-Kottavalasa section is the prime area. There is a lot of movement of ore from the mineral-rich areas, and one can spot long and heavy ore rakes hauled by several combinations MU'd locos (WAG series -- multiple WAG-5's at the front and rear are common, this section also has the rare WAG-6 series locos, and now the more powerful WAG-9 locos). There is not much passenger traffic on this section, so some planning is needed.
- For diesel lovers, two good regions are the Kalka-Shimla route (NG), and the Mysore-Hassan-Mangalore section, both of which combine diesel-spotting opportunities with scenic locations.
- Matunga has WR's premier loco restoration workshops; similarly, Golden Rock near Thiruchirapalli is SR's premier diesel loco restoration workshop.
- It is possible to arrange for visits to the loco manufacturing units (Benaras Locomotive Works, Varanasi, and Chittaranjan Loco Works) with some advance preparation and correspondence with appropriate official staff there. Do not expect to be able to walk in without notice: these places do not generally offer tours for the public.
- Many trains on IR now have "Vistadome" coaches featuring large side windows, panoramic openings in the roof and a viewing gallery at the back. These coaches are typically attached to the rear of trains that run on scenic routes and can booked like any other class through the reservation system. These coaches offer some of the best railfanning opportunities in the routes they run on.
Notes: On double-tracked lines, bear in mind that IR trains use the left track (except in very unusual circumstances), so you have to be seated on the right side of the train you are travelling in, in order to spot the trains coming by on the other track in the opposite direction. Looking in the reverse direction, pay attention to the starter and advanced starter signals for the other track at all stations – a green signal indicates that a train is due to pass by on the other track between the current station and the next one. Green home signals also indicate approaching express/mail trains. Green starter signals are not always necessary for passenger trains.
Q. Where can I see steam locos in India today?
See the section on the last of steam and present day special runs and excursions.
Q. Which loco sheds or workshops are good for catching sight of or photographing new locos, strange locos, old locos, etc.?
Q. What are some good spots to observe shunting activity?
Generally the bigger stations have large yards attached where you can observe a lot of shunting activity as rakes are formed and dismantled. The large marshalling yards such as Bandra, Mughalsarai, etc. are good bets. Access is generally not too hard, although do keep in mind the restrictions on photography that apply on all IR territory.
Q. What are some good spots to see banker locos in action?
Karjat on the Mumbai-Pune section is the starting point for banking operations over the ghats, often by WAG-7 locos, going up towards Lonavla.
Q. What are some good spots to see freight trains, multiple-headed operations, etc.?
Most big cities have freight yards at nearby stations. In addition, at Mumbai, Chennai, etc. there are special freight yards for the port container traffic, oil depots, etc.; however, sometimes activity at these yards can be sporadic as it is geared towards shipping timetables.
The ore-hauling sections of SER, SECR and ECoR are the best bets for seeing "heavy-duty" freight rakes hauled multiple WAG locomotives, e.g. Kirandul-Kottavalasa section. Also, the sections around the Dhanbad area where there are many collieries and mines have a lot of freight traffic.
These areas are the best bet for seeing some of the stranger or more unusual freight locos, often new models being tested out for performance under load, locos with non-standard gearing, etc. Watch out for the tell-tale strange suffixes, extra (sometimes hand-painted) numbers or other designations next to the model numbers on the locos, or new-looking locos fresh from the loco works or major overhauling centres.
- The entire Vishakhaptnam - Kirandul line is remarkable for the beauty of the ghat scenery. (Take the Kirandul passenger from Vishakhapatnam.) Koraput-Rayagada is another impressive line in the Eastern Ghats.
- Palghat-Coimbatore is a route that crosses the continental divide over the Ghats and takes one from tropical rainforest to semi-desert in a couple of hours, with spectacular cliffs and gorges thrown in.
- On the Calcutta - Vishakapatnam line, between Behrampur and Khurda Road the view of Lake Chilka is spectacular, especially at night.
- The Kalyan/Karjat-Lonavala sections are also beautiful, especially in the rainy season with dozens of waterfalls to be seen along the route (the Deccan Queen is a good train for this). Similarly, the Kalyan-Igatpuri section.
- Jaipur/Bikaner/Ajmer/Jodhpur/Udaipur/Jaisalmer for the Rajasthan tourist circuit and great desert scenery
- Guwahati - Rangapara - North Lakhimpur - Murkongselek for the views along the Brahmaputra valley
- Silchar - Dharmanagar (Nagaland) for remote but lush countryside
- Mangalore - Mysore for the rough features and thick forests of the Deccan plateau
- Other routes include the entire Konkan Railway stretch (Mangalore-Panvel, etc.), the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in summer, the Neral-Matheran train right after the monsoon season when the line opens, the Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge route, BG stretches like Hassan-Arsikere, Nagpur-Bhopal / Itarsi, Titlagarh-Raygadha, and the Dharmavaram-Bangalore and Daund-Manmad sections for numerous curves and gradients; the descent of the Khambli ghat in moonlight, Kalkund-Patalpani, Khandwa-Akola, Muri-Raurkela and Usilampatti-Teni
These are just some suggestions – there are many scenic routes all over the country. (Not being specifically of railfan interest, information on scenic routes can also be picked up from general travel information sources.)
IR has recently relaxed restrictions on photography within station limits and at locations that previously required extensive permissions. You are now generally permitted to take pictures for non-commercial uses without seeking prior permission from station masters and security personnel. But restrictions might still be in place for areas like sheds, yards, workshops, etc.
However, in practice, these relaxed restrictions are often ignored by the railway security persons (RPF, GRP, etc.) as an opportunity to extract bribes. More often, a security person might just be operating under an antediluvian notion of "security" and harass photographers with or without permits. Other railway staff (drivers, station masters) are sometimes quite sympathetic to railfans while others (shed foremen, particularly) might insist on following the rules and seeing a permit.
Lineside photography in general does not require a permit (unless near a bridge, tunnel, etc.), but security personnel may sometimes be ignorant of this. One will often find security personnel and railway staff both more friendly and accommodating at the smaller stations.
Many railfans have had good results without an official permit by being discreet and using small cameras (phones, compact point-and-shoot cameras etc,.) which can be concealed easily. Bulkier and complex equipment (such as sophisticated SLRs, long zoom lenses, tripods, or video recorders) is more likely to be noticed and may result in questioning or trouble, especially if the photographer does not have a permit or if personnel in charge deems that the activity is of a commercial nature. Similarly, flashes may draw more attention, so unless it is essential, it is probably better to avoid them. The best advice is to avoid overdoing it and not to draw too much attention to oneself.
Q. How do I get permission for photography? Is permission really needed?
As discussed above, often it is best to avoid problems by getting a permit ahead of time (apply at least 2-3 weeks in advance) if you plan on doing any significant amount of photography or videotaping. A permit may be obtained by writing to the Joint Director of Public Relations, at the Rail Bhavan in New Delhi, or to the Senior PRO (Public Relations Officer) of any regional division, or the Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO) of a zonal railway. List the stations where you intend to take photographs, and the dates for which the permit is desired. Some offices also have simplified forms that can be filled instead of writing a letter.
You must also state that the photographs are for personal use and not for commercial gain, and that you will not "tarnish the image of the railways" or otherwise defame IR with your photographs(!). You will receive a sheaf of permission letters – multiple copies of the permit, which you hand out on demand to various officials later.
Although a station master may not always ask to see the permit, it's a good idea to drop by the station master's (or assistant station master's) office and let him or her know before engaging in extensive photography. A station master at some of the bigger stations (e.g., New Delhi) might also dispatch an orderly to accompany you while you are photographing, which prevents further hassles with security personnel. Similarly, before photographing at a shed you should talk to the shed foreman. A permit from the CPRO of the zonal railway is almost a necessity at loco sheds and even that may not work; a letter from Rail Bhavan is often not sufficient. Even railfans with multiple permit letters have sometimes been turned down by shed foremen and others.
Sheds and Workshops, Production Facilities
Permits are needed to enter and visit carsheds, loco sheds, workshops, and production facilities. You may be able to get an invitation from an official at such a facility; otherwise, you need to get a permit from the concerned PRO's office. Loco sheds, workshops, etc., are under the relevant zonal railways' PRO; manufacturing facilities like CLW, DLW, etc., have their own PRO offices. Even with the permit, you need to arrange for the visit at a specific time – you will be escorted around the facilities and cannot roam around on your own (this is mostly for your own safety since there are hazardous locations and equipment in these facilities). The permits for visiting these facilities may or may not allow photography, and you are advised to double-check with your appointed guide when you do visit the facility.
Q. How can I estimate how fast a train that I am in is going?
There are several ways to get good estimates for a train's speed. Distance markers by the side of the tracks provide indications of how far the next (or previous) important station is (in kilometers) and it is straightforward to time the train for a distance of a couple of kilometers to estimate its speed.
Telephone poles, catenary posts or other posts by the side of the tracks often have indications such as "100/5" on them. The top number is usually the number of kilometers from some station; the lower number marks the number of posts within that kilometer section. There are usually 16 or so such poles in a kilometer. So, successive poles may be marked as follows: 79/15, 79/16, 80/0, 80/1, etc. Sometimes these indications are found on the distance posts at ground level next to the tracks. Timing the train while observing these indications can give you a good estimate of the speed. You can't always assume there are 16 poles to a kilometer, though, so estimates are better made by timing from, say, 15/2 to 16/2 or 80/1 to 79/1
On welded track it is usually possible, by listening carefully, to count the number of joints passed by the faintly different sound made when the wheel passes over the weld (the spot where the weld is often has a slight concavity with the typical thermite welding technique). Only with sections where the track is flash butt welded is it truly impossible to hear the rail joints. Often wheels have flat spots which add to the noise and make it more confusing. All this makes timing by rail lengths very hard.
Of course, GPS equipped devices like phones and standalone units will give you a fairly accurate estimate of your speed.
Q. How can I tell how fast a train I see passing me is going?
This is in general a somewhat harder question than the previous one. One way to do this is to time how long it takes the train to pass you, and then compute its speed based on the number of coaches or wagons and knowing the length of each coach. BG coaches are 22m (72'4") buffer-to-buffer, BG EMU coaches are 18.2m (66') buffer-to-buffer. BOXN wagons are 10.7m (35.1'), etc. E.g., an 18-coach train is doing roughly 100km/h if it passes you (not counting the loco) in about 15 seconds.