• How do young people get "into trains" these days?

  • A forum for teen railroad enthusiasts
A forum for teen railroad enthusiasts

Moderator: TAMR213

  by Steam
I'm definitely not a teen... in fact I'm approaching retirement. I've been a railfan since I was in high school, but railroading was a lot more visible back then than it is today. Steam had just gone out, and first generation diesels were the rule. There was lots to see, everywhere, much of which is long gone today.

How do kids today get turned on to trains, and why?

I note in some of these posts that the hobby is often looked on as "square", which would make one the object of ridicule.

We had a little of that in my day (they called me "choo-choo Charlie") but I'm sure it's worse now since railroading is not as commonly experienced by the masses as it was 50 years ago.

As curator of a major transportation archive, our ongoing task has been to get young people involved, so that the facility will carry on in years to come. It has not been easy. What approach ought we to be using?

Comments anyone?

Thanks for your time.

  by mc367
I was broght up in to it, my dad has been railfanning for years and going on trips with him got me in to it. I really enjoy railfanning every thing from a 4-6-2 to a SD80MAC. There are some things that intrest me more then others. What keeps me intrested? That 4-6-2 on the excursion storming out of town or a SD75I on a Grain Train going up hill or three M636's on a ore train. I enjoy it, every thing from Preservation to Photography.
-Justin Franz

  by HighlandRail/DEY-7 652
I was born into it, I'm a third generation RR Museum Member/preservationist, and 2nd generation railroader, however my uncle works for the RR a cousin did and my grandfathers cousin did as well. I guess you could say it's in the blood in my case.

  by bar358
I started to like trains while living in DC. I have been told. To a 3 year old, the new subway was just fun to ride and watch. After that I quickly became interested in the NEC, with the E-60's and F-40PHR's before moving to Maine where I still see the same F-40's rather often.


  by CNW4404
When i was a little kid (3-5) I had a babysitter who's yard had tracks right in the back...me and the other kids loved watching them...I'm the only one out of those 3 who is still into trains...I guess its that I kept getting exposed to them (my dad would take me out to the tracks after he found out how much I liked them) Now I can go out by myself

My suggestion is to start the kid's interests when they're young and make sure they never lose their exposure to it.

  by PRR_6755
same as everyone else just grew up around it my dad works for Candian Pacific and i've been on big trips across canada and the states been down to railfare and i'm mainly a steam fan. i'm workin on gettin my steam ticket this summer

  by TAMR213
I was given my first model trains when I was 2, by a family friend who has been a railfan and model railroader most of his life. And it doesn't hurt living next to one of the busiest sections of the NEC eaither!

  by WWRRDave
Well, the first aspect of railroad that ever entered into my life was a little plastic toy train that we had running around the Christmas tree when I was just a couple years old. My parents tell me I loved that thing, and would play with it and watch it for hours.

Shortly thereafter, my parents felt that I was old enough to take rides up at the nearby Strasburg Railroad and the Wilmington and Western Railroad. I personally believe this is responsible for the majority of my "railroad fever!" I got hooked on rides at these places, and must have visited them at least 3 or 4 times a month!

Progress continued on the model trains, until I discovered Live Steam. I wanted one of those locomotives so bad, that I cut lawns all summer, and saved up enough to buy a little "G" scale, butane fired live steamer. Unfortunately, this isn't large enough to ride on, so it didn't quite cut it for me. So I saved more money, and bought a casting and parts kit for a 1.5" scale 0-4-0 Plantation Locomotive (fortunately, my dad and I have a large metalworking machine shop), and I started construction.

Forseeably, this locomotive was going to take a while to finish, and I was in my second year of High School-- we weren't going to be able to run my engine until I was about the right age to go to college-- so we took the next step! -My dad purchased an "operational" 1" scale NYC 4-8-2 Mohawk, one which was constructed from the original NYC blueprints by a master tool and die maker. In fact, there were 2 models made, and my engine's sister is in the NYC Museum in Elkhart, IN.

During all the live steam activities, I had become involved with the Rough and Tumble Engineer's Museum's 30" gauge Shay Railroad. We run a Class A (2 cylinder, 2 Truck) shay around a loop which encompasses the entire museum. To this day, I dedicate many hours to this organization each month, in trackwork, and in working the train and locomotive.

Within the last few years, I have also become involved in the Wilmington and Western Railroad, here in Delaware. We're FRA regulated, so I can't do as many fun things as I can at the Shay (since I'm under 18), but I still work as a volunteer Trainman, and occasionally in the restoration shop.

Additionally, I attended the NRHS' RailCamp in the summer of 2002, which was one of THE GREATEST experiences of my life. I made so many great friends there, and had such fun doing what i love to do -- that is, work on steam locomotives. I enjoyed the experience so much that I wrote an article about RailCamp in the June 2003 Edition of Railfan and Railroad Magazine.

It was, in my opinion, luck -- that my favorite Christmas gift was a train. If it weren't for this, who knows what I'd be interested in today.

I believe one of the greatest steps that anyone can take in getting kids involved in railroading is to let them do some of the actual work that's involved in restoring and operating a railroad. RailCamp has successfully achieved this goal in my mind, and I hope that it continues to do so, and that others will pick up on this idea, and keep it alive.

I have a few ideas listed below that might help to get kids hooked:

-Invite kids up into the cab of the locomotive.
*Let them Shovel some coal, or blow the whistle*
-Initiate work activities which include younger people. Let them learn to drive a spike, or use machinery.
-Let them run the locomotive a short distance. In some instances where behavior is a problem, this may be stretching it, but just the feeling of taking the controls is a thrill NO ONE can forget.
-Put yourself out to kids, so that they know you're not feeling contempt against them. Railroaders have a tendancy to look "mean," I know I do at some times, but when you see a kid, try to smile and wave a bit, and ask them if they're interested in trains. Help to interpret the story of the rails to them.

I for one plan to dedicate my life to the machines that I am so enamoured with. I hope that one day I can help bring the joy of the Steam Locomotive and the Railroad into the lives of kids.
  by Steam
Dave H.

Thanks for the enlightening response to my initial question about how kids today get "into trains".

You have certainly immersed yourself in the hobby, and I appreciate how well you described the various steps which led to where you now find yourself.

Our situation is a little different in that our transportation collection is photographic and data oriented. No real trains. But in preserving these thousands of images and making them available to future historians and fans we need to cultivate young people. Our youngest regular volunteer is in his 30s and most of us are in our 60s. So we are actively seeking to recruit people of your age. A few who have come around are too busy with school, jobs, girls, life, etc. and can't get involved on a regular basis.

Yet it will be impossible to carry on if we can't transfer what we know about the material we have to a younger cadre of personnel.

Tis a quandry for sure.

Again, thanks for your insightful response. Good luck to you in all you do.


  by WWRRDave
Thanks for the compliments!
I admit, when directed for a collection based upon information and photographs, my advice doesn't help much. However, now that I realize what we're talking about, I (and some others???) might be able to conjure up some ideas of how to get the younger'uns interested.

I have a few thoughts--

-If there are any Live Steam clubs in your area, consider finding out about setting up a display of information and pictures during one of their open houses. (If you don't know of any, let me know what city you live in and I might be able to direct you to one).
You might also be able to set up a display at a tourist railroad during a big event day. I think anything that will put the hobby out there will draw more attention to it. Perhaps ouline to folks the importance of preserving information and pictures. This might spark kids' interest since they would be doing something with a goal in mind.

-Try posting signs at local schools about the collection, and discuss with administrators to find out if the hours students donate towards the collection could be listed as volunteer hours for the National Honor Society. I know in my school, students were looking at many different places to become involved to gain hours for the National Honor Society. This might give them a tase of something they'll want more of!

Perhaps I'll think of more later!

Good luck!

Dave H.

  by XRails
Well, I started as many do with a Lionel set. Then my interest went dormant until about 2 years ago whn I bought Microsoft Train Simulator. That got me into the hobby. Last year I joined my school's railroad club, and through my work on our school layout I became interested in model trains and started building my own n-scale layout.

  by Joe
My parents had gotten my brother a cheap HO trainset sometime before I can remember. (Might have been before I was born.) I played with that a lot and got more and more HO trains. I have no clue how I got into the real things, but that trainset probably helped! There is currently 1 other kid in my town that I know is a railfan and he posts on this site. There are a few others that I know that also post here.

  by Christian S.
I grew up in New York and watched and rode the subways beginning at age 2. We could see them from our house. Then came Thomas videos and toys. Then we went on vacation to Strasburg in '93 and '94 and that influenced us to move out to PA. I always say: It's my dad's fault!!!

  by prt1607j
i got sucked in thorught live steam.. my grand father had a live steam 4-4-0 and i loved ti go run his electric.. now adays i see younger kids getting involved and i get them to run my electric also my folks got me into HO as a kid than grampses g scale and here i am now 10 years later with haveing built my first garden RR and planning to build a live steam ruby 0-4-0 kit at 16.. i love it.. steam will always be around as long as we dont let it die.. model steam that is.. if i had the time (and money) id have a 7.25" guage steam loky.. but i dont so i keep what i have maintained... and concentrate on smaller locos.. time will come and so will my steam lokys.. but as long as i have my electric and I RUN with steam lokys ill be fine... its th people that make live steam great as well as the locos...

  by Lehigh Valley Railroad
At train shows, and Conventions, I briong my trains along (R/C) and give hids the remote, they go wild.