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Thursday 11 December 2014

Trainspotting to rock music!

The wide open plains of America, panoramic vistas and huge skies, are for many the staple components of an unforgettable road trip across parts of America. Add a 1970s rock music soundtrack, a desire to move away from the beaten track to a railroad track, a Mamiya (medium format camera), a video camera and sound recorder, and you will have all the ingredients needed by Southampton Solent University lecturer Andrew Cross to produce some of his very best work.


Andrew Cross is the artist behind ‘Parallel Tracks’, part of the National Railway Museum’s current exhibition dedicated to train spotters. But it’s just about as far as you could get from the stereotypical depiction of men of a certain age with thick glasses, blunt pencils and anoraks!

‘Parallel Tracks’ is the result of an ambitious itinerary that took Andrew from Kentucky to Seattle, from Oregon to Vancouver, California, Los Angeles and New York, embracing Snake River Canyon, Cascade Mountains, Tehachapi Mountains and the Mojave Desert in America; The Gotthard Route in Switzerland and the counties of Oxfordshire and Wiltshire here in the UK. Train spotting yes but not as you’d know it.

“This exhibition is as much about the journey as the end product”, explains Andrew. “As a photographer I am used to waiting for that moment when the composition, the light and the moment are exactly right and that takes a great deal of time and patience. There is a certain suspense until everything comes together.

“Much of my trip was spent either getting to where I was going, or waiting for a train. And that could be a long wait.. But the waiting, soaking up the atmosphere, chatting to people (if I was in a town), or contemplating the meaning of life (if I was on my own somewhere) were all just as important as the arrival of the train – if and when it arrived.”


Train spotting began for Andrew, age 10, when he was taken with a group of train spotters to Reading railway station by a family member.

“I think that Nick Hornby in his book Fever Pitch sums it up perfectly”, explains Andrew. “When a boy gets taken to a football match for the first time they are like an impressionable sponge. As a result they can end up being a lifelong supporter of a certain team. Well train spotting for me was a bit like that, it just became this thing that I did both as part of a gang and, perhaps more importantly, on my own.

“By the age of 15 I had been to virtually every major city in Britain. I have memories of grey, dull and dingy streets and always being cold or damp – as if it was always winter. I didn’t realise it at the time but actually I was witnessing the period of decline in British industry.”

Andrew says he officially stopped trainspotting on 21August 1976 ….. the occasion The Rolling Stones at Knebworth.

“I was totally unprepared for how I would be affected by this mass of people coming together to share an amazing experience” says Andrew, “the whole thing seared on my psyche. Knebworth may have been the first huge rock gig I went to but it certainly wasn’t the last. I was absolutely hooked and I have tried to recognise this as part of ‘Parallel Tracks’ because, for me, the two are inseparable.” Watching trains and rock concerts share a similar intensity of experience.

Andrew’s commission is the first occasion the National Railway Museum has worked with a contemporary artist and the exhibition on train spotting, which runs until March 2015, is the first of its kind in the National Railway Museum to address a hobby that has been around since the early 19th Century.