Railway magazines

Crowded services, HS2, labour disputes, even freight trains to China – the rail sector is hardly out of the news. Alan Geere gets down to the booking office to see which magazines are on the right track.

By Alan Geere

Railway magazines

Modern Railways

What’s it about: ‘Official journal of the Railway Study Association’ – revealed in the tiny print publisher’s nonsense on page 5.

Vital statistics: March 2017 issue: 100 pages of 297mm x 210mm. Gloss paper, heavyweight cover, stitched. £4.50 cover price. States a sale of 16,287 on its website. Published by Key Publishing in Stamford, Lincolnshire, although writing is done in Tunbridge Wells.

Cover: Underwhelming picture of a small, square engine to go with an engaging story about a freight train from China arriving at Barking, of all places. Two other train pictures. Nine coverlines fighting their way onto the page. Pictures of people count = 0.

Content: Two well-illustrated pages on contents including a useful page number key to the coverlines. Stories seem a bit on the dry side but the clever design works overtime to keep the reader engaged. Well-researched features and the dreaded ‘Regulars’ plus a good range of advertising round out the offering.

Digital: Directions to website from the folio line where lurks a competent looking site that only appears to be updated monthly when the mag appears. Click-through to Facebook does not work – it is there, though, with 3,000 likes - and Twitter is jogging along with 6,000 followers.

What they say: “Want to network?: In association with the Railway Forum, Modern Railways runs the Fourth Friday Club, a luncheon club for rail industry executives.” – an invitation on the website that may be too good to refuse.

Verdict: The prosaic headlines like ‘West Coast partnership prospectus issued’ and ‘HS2 train procurement starts’ mark this out as a serious publication not to be messed with. They’ve been doing it for 50 years so appear to know their stuff and know their market.


What’s it about: ‘The best news, comment & analysis’ – tagline under masthead.

Vital statistics: March 29 - April 11, 2017 issue: 96 pages of 297mm x 210mm. Thin gloss paper, heavier cover, stitched. £3.80 cover price. Combined ABC of 19,238, all from print. Published by Bauer in Peterborough.

Cover: Two futuristic-looking trains heading straight at us – the new Intercity Expresses under construction – and one other small picture. Seven newsy coverlines, BIG masthead. People count = 0, although rail minister Paul Maynard does get a mention, but no pic.

Content: Detailed contents and publisher’s guff on page three set the scene for a small type experience. Neatly divided into News, Features and Regulars (nothing fancy please guys), there’s also an annotated front page showing the page numbers of the stories featured. For a fortnightly publication, they find a ridiculous amount of news which goes up to page 31. Well researched and carefully designed features and even a crossword. ‘Free 16-page special’ on light rail is stitched into the centre with the page numbers running on it doesn’t feel particularly free or special.

Digital: Lots to like about the comprehensive website with well-populated tabs such as Infrastructure, Operations and People but sadly “Sorry, there are no jobs matching your search criteria” under Jobs because there are no jobs at all. No links to social media from the website but a search for railmagazine on Facebook finds a somewhat eclectic page with 4,881 Facebook likes. The same search on Twitter lands you at a Dutch magazine of the same name. However, editor Nigel Harris has snagged the enviable @RAIL on Twitter for himself and has gathered 13k followers from his near 40,000 tweets.

What they say: “Even the cover of the East Coast timetable depicted a somewhat scruffy young person holding a ticket in his mouth. Yuk!” – a correspondent to the ‘Stop and Examine’ column bemoans marketing strategies that target young people.

Verdict: As packed as a commuter train from Brighton. Difficult to fault the enthusiasm, energy, diligence and completeness of the best £3.80 you are likely to spend while waiting for a train.

Railways Illustrated

What’s it about: ‘The railway world – past, present and future’ – tagline incorporated into masthead.

Vital statistics: April 2017 issue: 100 pages of 297mm x 210mm. Thin gloss paper, heavyweight cover, stitched. £4.50 cover price. States a circulation of 14,026 on its website. Published by Key Publishing in Stamford.

Cover: Big picture of an InterCity express from 1991, two smaller pictures, eight neatly crafted coverlines plus a sticker asking if you won the Photo Comp. People count = 1 (a train driver on the phone).

Content: Bright contents spread followed by nine pages of news. In-depth features copiously illustrated as you might imagine from the title. Sadly, only one double-page picture spread, although other images loom large in well-designed features. ‘Rumours’ are just that and a brave play in this litigious world. A good spread of reviews and ads for auctions and books that make good reading too.

Digital: Link from folio line to website which has info on how to subscribe, some very old news and one even older feature. Click through to Twitter (7,162 followers) but the Facebook button does not work although it is there with 5,353 likes.

What they say: “While every effort has been made to ensure the veracity of these entries, Railways Illustrated cannot be held responsible if the conjecture does not become fact.” – a ‘well that’s ok then’ disclaimer on the ‘Rumours’ page.

Verdict: Lots to read and lots to like. Tries to live up to its ‘Illustrated’ name but sometimes tries to cram in too many words to the detriment of the pictures.

Steam Railway

What’s it about: ‘The world’s biggest selling steam magazine’ – tagline on cover.

Vital statistics: March/April 2017 issue: 116 pages of 297mm x 210mm. Thin gloss paper, heavyweight cover, stitched. £4.10 cover price. ABC of 30,541, all from print. Published by Bauer in Peterborough.

Cover: Full frontal of the ‘Golden Arrow’ charging through Kent, small pic of an old futuristic train and six coverlines. A well-ordered, bold cover under that rather twee masthead. People count = 0.

Content: Contents on page three followed by a confident comment spread on pages 4-5 complete with editor’s signature. The news pages are tight and bright – and with 25 (yes, twenty-five) pages of between three and six stories per page plus briefs, that adds up to… well, lots. Superb, well-researched features with ‘We track down all 20 Light Pacifics’ taking the prize for diligence and detail. Two pages of letters, events diary, reviews and small ads prop up the back of a thoroughly entertaining book.

Digital: Promos for both website and Facebook page on folio lines. Lots to see and do on the website, including an innovative ‘Have your say’ questionnaire (couldn’t resist completing it!). Facebook (9,894 likes) and 5,709 Twitter followers although there have been no posts since January 2016.

What they say: “We pay competitive rates for published submitted material. All rates are at the discretion of our Editor.” – Good news for freelance contributors in the online FAQs.

Verdict: Not as nerdy as some of the publications reviewed here and the concentration on steam keeps it very focused. So much to read from front to back, amply illustrated with largely superb photography. Enough to make you want to put the kettle on…

The Railway Magazine

What’s it about: ‘Britain’s best-selling rail title’ – boast under masthead.

Vital statistics: March 2017 issue: 124 pages of 297mm x 210mm. Thin gloss paper, heavier cover, stitched. £4.40 cover price. Combined ABC of 37,250, with 710 from digital. Published by Mortons in Horncastle, Lincolnshire.

Cover: Biggish picture of a steam train hauling goods wagons, five smaller pictures of trains, seven coverlines and the masthead complete with stamp celebrating 120 years of the venerable title. Comes with cover-mounted DVD. People count = 0.

Content: After editor’s comment – Train of Thought, no less – and a neat contents spread, it’s straight into six pages of newsy news, albeit in tiny type. Beautifully researched features combine the old (newspaper trains) and new (more women in rail industry) then another 40-odd pages of news and info in ‘Track Record’. Letters, reviews, a crossword and a good spread of display ads (rail holidays, railwayana, models) plus small ads complete the comprehensive offer.

Digital: Seem rather coy about promoting the thoroughly decent website which has plenty to offer including links to Facebook (6,000 likes) and Twitter where only 137 tweets in nearly two years have yielded just 860 followers. None of the digital activity is promoted in the magazine.

What they say: “Judging by the number of non-railway emails today, office junior has been given a PR directory and told to update email addresses.” – editor Chris Milner gets grumpy on Twitter.

Verdict: Oldest and best-selling title in the marketplace – and not difficult to see why. Enough names and numbers to keep the train buffs happy along with well-written, topical features for the simply interested. Digital seems parked up in the sidings, but with print sale holding up, looks like that strategy can wait.

Today’s Railways

What’s it about: ‘The very latest news from Britain and Ireland, and unrivalled coverage of UK rolling stock’ - info on company website.

Vital statistics: April 2017 issue: 84 pages of 297mm x 210mm. Gloss paper, heavyweight cover, stitched. £4.40 cover price. Combined ABC of 45,483 with 703 from digital. Published by Platform 5 Publishing in Sheffield.

Cover: Dramatic main picture of a goods train powering through a snowstorm (a detailed 32-word caption is inside), two smaller pictures of trains, five coverlines and that big, big masthead. People count = 0.

Content: Following a big, bright contents spread, the mag kicks off with the editor’s excellent ‘Train of Thought’ column which actually contains some hard-hitting opinions. Under the headline ‘Hell is other people’, the piece on those selfish, ignorant passengers we all hope not to meet would not be out of place in a national newspaper. News is a comprehensive, well-illustrated round-up although the sans type across very wide measures is difficult to read. Features are serious, in-depth reads well illustrated with quality, good sized pictures. As if there isn’t enough for the enthusiast, both ‘Rolling Stock News’ and ‘Heritage News’ are a well-designed wealth of information

Digital: No obvious in-mag promotion to anything digital… because there isn’t any. Publisher Platform 5 has a one-page website with telephone numbers and links to email the sales team.

What they say: “I have written illustrated features on the more obscure aspects of the rail industry, such as Japanese rural communities getting together to clean their local station.” – editor Jonathan Webb telling it how it is on LinkedIn.

Verdict: The research detail of a PhD – NINE pages on ‘Barking to Pitsea via Tilbury’, for example – but with a lively design flair make this an approachable publication for mere mortals. Occasionally feels like it’s put together on the kitchen table, but who cares? They’re on Issue No 184 so looks like it’s on the right lines.