Wednesday, September 23, 2009


This evening I'm doing another review. this time its a bit different as its the 3rd railway magazine produced in this country, the Railway Observer which is the official voice of the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society. I picked this up in the local magazine shop while looking in vain to see if the latest Railfan was out. What caught my eye was the 6 pages of previously unpublished pictures of the Rimutaka incline. I sidled up to the counter, passed over my money and asked for a plain brown bag. The price was $11.20.

Now before we start here i have many happy memories of reading this magazine in the early and mid 80's back when the Observer was a source of information both historical and up to date.

So, what does we get for our shiny coin. In this issue, there is also an 8 page article on Vulcan railcars, which in the main focuses on their engines (Licenced by Vulcan from some Danish outfit), their shipping out to new Zealand (it was the second railcar which was lost when its ship was torpedoed; there's the answer to a railway quiz question right there), and a short (very) history of their service here. There is a plan and also a picture of the motor bogie without the lid on, which is quite instructive. There is a short article on the wellington electrification upgrade (photos of men in High vis gear doing stuff), the Rimutaka pictures, 8 pages on the early construction of the Otago central line, and an update on the restoration of Ab 608. Finally there's a couple of pages of short notes and a few letters to the editor and some bok/DVD reviews. The articles are quite 'dry' and don't seem to convey as much information as similar text in the Railfan, and there are not quite as many good photo's either.

So, final verdict? Its sort of a Railfan lite, but it is only a couple of dollars cheaper. It has not really changed content wise since the 1980's apart from moving from A5 to A4 format. Its not something I would purchase unless it had something I really wanted.

(The views expressed in this review are those of the proprietor of this blog, who has put his tin hat on to await the invertible incoming flames)


Andrew Hamblyn said...

Its rather refreshing to see an honest opinion expressed in a public arena!!

I very rarely purchase rail magazines these days and cannot tell you the last time I bought a Railfan, Journal or other such publication.

Back in the early 90's I belonged to the Taranaki chapter of the NZRLS and attended monthly meetings in New Plymouth once or twice when we could get a ride up there.
That was back in the days when I found anything pertaining to railways in NZ interesting and intruiging, especially as a young railfan new to trains.

With membership came the Observer and other such publications of the NZRLS, some of which are still in a box somewhere.

After 13 years of working for the railways, a lot of the excitement and gloss has gone, and I just glaze over the railfan publications in bookstores now, only purchasing something if it has content that I am really really into.

I dont think I would ever buy an Observer or for that matter a Journal.

Your comments on the Observer ring true for my personal outlook on the Railfan mag, as I have never been interested in black hissy things, nor much pre 1980 as I cant connect to any of that, and feel the Railfan's target audience is very much aimed at those who saw the last of working steam when they were young.
( the golden era? )

Sad but true, I go straight past the train mags and dive into Street Machine, Hot Rod, Dirt Track and other car nut mags that my local retail outlet stocks.

(p.s it is good to hear that the Observer is still being published...)

sxytrain said...

Have also had the experience of mixed feelings about the Observer. The Tauranga library carries copies which are interesting to go through, but I've only ocassionally bought one from a bookstore, because of a specific article of interest.
I'm definitely a Railfan and Journal mag. subscriber.

Darryl said...

All the NZ magazines have their ups and downs, and it's hard for them to cater to everyone's needs in such a broad hobby, but I echo the sentiments of those before me: I have bought maybe three Observers in the past ten years.

I've always thought of the Observer as having a historical bent, Rails was more of a trade/political rag (and while rail needs a lobbying body in NZ, it can't live in a mindless one-eyed rail rail rail rah rah rah vs evil-dangerous-unlevel-playing-field-polluting-trucks unrealistic dreamworld), the Railfan is generally more 'modern era' and photography biased (and while there's the occaisional fizzer, I think I have every one), and the MR Journal tends has swung this way and that - presumably on the interests of the editorial teams over the years.

Like Drew, I'm more of an 80's and beyond dude and I don't feel the Observer has much appeal to this demographic. Given that people that grew up watching trains in the 80s are now 30~50, if the Observer doesn't start appealing to these people, what of its future?

lalover said...

ditto to the above!
the Observer and Rails used to carry interesting info on new rolling stock which was helpful for modelling purposes, and I still scan older issues for any tibits I've missed.