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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
Terrorism fear derails train-spotters
By Giles Wilson
BBC News Online

King's Cross
King's Cross - one of the major stations where train-spotters have been ejected
Train-spotters are being told to leave stations as rail bosses tighten anti-terror security, BBC News Online can reveal.

To many people, train-spotters are a joke.

To Network Rail, the company which now runs the UK's train network, they are potential terrorists.

The firm is telling train-spotters who are standing on platforms at its stations noting down names and numbers of locomotives that they must leave, or move to the station concourse.

Permission can still be granted to take numbers or photographs, but to get permission, train-spotters are being told to contact the company by phone or in writing in advance.

Peter Olding, a 37-year-old website designer from Bournemouth, who has been train spotting for 20 years, says he has been asked a couple of times in the past few weeks to move from platforms at King's Cross.

Peter Olding
I don't see why they want to make us public enemy number one
Peter Olding
"I was just at the end of the platform, waiting for one of the trains, when a security guard came out and asked me what I was doing," he told BBC News Online.

"I said I was train spotting. He said I would have to move, for my own safety, on to the concourse. It's a bit pointless trying to spot trains from the concourse. I was doing no harm there, I wasn't in anyone's way.

"While I can accept being the butt of a lot of jokes, I don't see why they want to make us public enemy number one."

His is not an isolated tale.

Brian Morrison, network news editor for Railways Illustrated magazine says a number of readers had complained about being ejected from platforms - so much so that the magazine's next issue contains a rundown of which stations have now forbidden train spotting and photography.

"It seems remarkable. One guy in particular was frogmarched off the platform. Another person was yelled at over the Tannoy. I witnessed one young fellow - he was about 15 - having the film taken out of his camera.

"It's getting silly. I know we've got to have security and there are warnings about terrorism, but somebody with a camera in a perfectly safe spot photographing trains, inevitably covered by CCTV, is not going to harm anybody."

Phone in advance

Network Rail spokeswoman Jane Vincent confirms the company's policy at the 16 major stations that the company runs.

Enfield chums
A familiar butt of jokes - Paul Whitehouse, Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke as train-spotters
"We do have issues with people coming along to take photographs on our stations. We do allow people to do it if they phone us in advance so we can arrange for the station to be told that people will be turning up, they know they are there and who they are.

"It could be any sort of terrorist activity or whatever. Unless we know who these people are, and what they are doing, it's best to be on the safe side."

There are also several safety concerns about train-spotters, including the hazard of them getting closer to the trains than other people, and that they will often step over painted safety lines on the platform to inspect the engines.

"At the end of the day it's about the safety of people using the station," she says. "It's the best thing if they write to the station to state their interest. They should say 'I'm interested in trains, and would like to come along on X day at X time'.

"Provided it's not in the rush hour, and we haven't got film crews there that we have got to look after, it should be all right."

Different policies

The majority of the 2,500 railway stations around the country are managed by the individual train operating companies which run services from them. Their policies towards train-spotters and photographers vary, but one company, Virgin Trains, has dedicated a waiting room at Stafford station for their use.

Mr Morrison, a celebrated train photographer, had an engine named after him in 2002 to mark 50 years taking rail pictures.

Photograph: Brian Morrison
Photographer Brian Morrison unveiling his nameplate in 2002
He now monitors the movement of "his" locomotive each day via the web, but the irony is that in theory he would not be allowed to turn up at a London station to take a photograph of the very engine which marks his contribution to train photography.

He denies that train-spotting or photography poses a security threat. "They have been around a long time," he says. "I've been one since I was eight.

"In the past there have been incidents - people have been known to lose a leg. There are some silly folk who prance about, but 95% of them are genuine anoraks and are not doing any harm."

The heightened security since 9/11 has until now been largely focused on airports. The observation balcony at Heathrow from which plane-spotters could see airliners coming and going remains closed more than 18 months after the attacks.

But a meeting of US security officials in Washington in March reportedly classified "people sitting on train platforms who appear to be monitoring the timing of arrivals and departures" as suspicious behaviour.

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