What has brought this motley group of people together? A fascination for trains, discovers Anusha Parthasarathy as she chats with members of the Indian Railways Fan Club

On Platform 4 at Egmore Railway Station, a motley group animatedly discusses their upcoming trip. Their aim? To cover 5,000-odd kilometres in three days, experience as many train rides and visit as many places as possible. They are members of the Indian Railways Fan Club (IRFCA).

Since its launch as the Usenet group by a few students in the University of Maryland in 1989, the IRFCA has grown by leaps and bounds. “It is now an online community for people who love the Indian Railways,” says Sridhar Joshi, who has been a member for over a decade. “We have a strong presence all over the world, with 6,000-odd members. In Chennai alone, we have around 60 active members. The original group (Indian Railways Fan Club of America) was started by a few Indian students in the U.S. who were hungry for information about the railways.”

The IRFCA is now considered a repository of information about the Indian Railways, online. “Members of the group talk about everything from locomotives and coaches to history and other aspects of the railways,” says Sridhar, going on to add, “Our photo gallery is considered to have the best pictures of trains, railways and rail routes. Our pictures are often used in official Southern Railway information brochures, time tables and banners. The wealth of knowledge we have gathered over the years has been lauded by many officials in the Railways.”

While the members themselves come from diverse sections of society and professions, each has a story behind why they love trains. “Our youngest member is 9 while our oldest is 90. Our club comprises software engineers, directors, entrepreneurs, railway officials…,” says Krishna Kumar, another member. “My first train journey was when I was six. I travelled on the Vaigai Express and ever since, trains have fascinated me. As I grew older, my love for trains simply grew. I think it’s because ten years or so ago, no other form of transport was as fast or convenient as a train and we all grew up travelling in them.” Sridhar adds, “My parents are from Karnataka and every summer vacation, I would travel by train to my native place. Thus began my love affair with trains. All of us have a particular train we are fond of.”

The Chennai chapter of IRFCA, which boasts its own group of shutterbugs, is now all set to travel on the Konkan railway. “Because we love trains so much, we want to travel in as many trains as possible within the shortest time. So, we always pick the most convoluted route to get from one place to another. We’re planning a trip that will start at Chennai Central and end at Chennai Egmore and another that will cover the entire Konkan railway from Mangalore to Mumbai.”

But is there any other reason to love trains? “It’s a hobby,” says Sridhar, “Just like people collect stamps and other objects, we are passionate about trains. Perhaps it’s because we were exposed to this mode of travel early in our lives. And in spite of all the complaints people have about train travel, we love trains.”

Being a member of the IRFCA is not just about sharing information and knowledge about trains. “You meet so many people online and make friends all over the country,” says Gowrishankar. “The good thing about this is no matter where you travel to, you know you can always count on knowing someone in those places. I’ve had instances where other members have helped me book or cancel tickets, visited me at stations, offered their homes to stay in and even provided me with food particularly during a long journey.”

For details, visit www.irfca.org.

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