Railfan Atlas

The map, created by a self-professed rail geek, plots geotagged train-related Flickr images.

Nick Benson is a self-professed train geek. He has chased trains around the Midwest. When he "catches" them, he takes their picture and shares them with other train enthusiasts online. One day he hopes to photograph trains in other parts of the world—in countries such as Switzerland, Chile, and Australia.

"It might seem a bit strange to someone who doesn't groove on trains," says Benson via email. "It's an interesting hobby and subculture."

To nudge along his dream of chasing trains, Benson created an online atlas of railway photography called the "railfan atlas" in 2014. The atlas plots geotagged Flickr rail images onto a world map so train-related pictures are in one, easily accessible place. It displays thumbnails of the most popular images based on the number of Flickr favorites and comments. The atlas also creates a heat map to give a sense of where train photos are taken most frequently.

Here are train photography hotspots in and around Philadelphia:

And here's a picture of a freight train raging through a blizzard in Philadelphia, taken in the winter of 2010, shown on the map as a thumbnail:

(Flickr/mattblaze)

When planning a trip in search of a fresh and not-yet-photographed train, Benson and other "railfans" can look at the maps and get an idea of what they're getting into. "I wanted a tool that would allow me to find cool spots to take train photos in new places," he says. Benson says railway buffs are fascinated by an array of train features: tiny details such as the rivets (the grooves on the side of the car), or the entire locomotive.

"Some people are producing images that can stand on their own as fine art," he says.

Currently, the atlas has 450,000 images in its database—a  lot of them by fellow "railfans" who keep the site going. "While traffic to the site has been more of a steady trickle than a torrent, the people who do visit are spending a lot of time exploring," says Benson.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A crowded street outside in Boston
    Life

    Surveillance Cameras Debunk the Bystander Effect

    A new study uses camera footage to track the frequency of bystander intervention in heated incidents in Amsterdam; Cape Town; and Lancaster, England.                            

  2. Perspective

    Hurricane Barry: Lessons From a Disaster That Wasn’t

    Hurricane Barry largely spared New Orleans, but it underscored that climate change brings complex impacts and hard choices.

  3. A man stands next to an electric scooter
    Transportation

    Why Electric Scooters Companies Are Getting Serious About Safety

    Lime has joined rival Bird in establishing a safety advisory board tasked with helping the e-scooter industry shape local regulations—and shake its risky reputation.

  4. People wait in line, holding tote bags in the sunshine, outside a job fair.
    Equity

    How 3 Skill Sets Explain U.S. Economic Geography

    Metro areas in the U.S. with higher cognitive and people skills, versus motor skills, perform better economically and are more resilient during downturns.

  5. Little kids under a blanket.
    Perspective

    How U.S. Child Care Is Segregated: a Brooklyn Story

    At a daycare in a gentrifying Brooklyn area, is the entrance of racially diverse, middle-class families income integration, or more akin to colonization?

×