I've been writing about the problem of photographers and videographers, amateurs and professionals alike, working at, on or near railroad tracks and yards for a long time, without the permission and the cooperation of the railroad. Too often, they're putting themselves and others unwittingly in serious jeopardy by the way they are conducting themselves.
Just last September, you might have read my article, “Photographing trains…Stay off the Tracks!!!”
Unfortunately, my articles, and those of colleagues haven't had enough of an effect. Photographers, videographers, and sometimes those being photographed or videod, continue to die needlessly while making images or videos at, on or near railroad tracks.
In September I wrote that in February last year, less than thirteen months ago, 27 year old camera assistant Sarah Jones, working on the set of the movie “Midnight Rider” outside Doctortown, GA, was killed by a train while working on a narrow train trestle over a river.
This year, in January, Greg Plitt, a well known American model, and TV reality “actor” was killed by a train, apparently while trying to outrun it while working on a commercial for an energy drink. Police said after reviewing video of the accident, it shows Plitt standing on the tracks as a train raced toward him, then racing the train down the track, and finally losing the race to the train. It hit him, throwing him off the tracks to his death.
This month, Achilles Williams, a popular Atlanta, GA personal trainer, was making a video for his YouTube channel. Investigators say Williams and a friend were shooting the video near train tracks, though not directly on them. The friend, who shot the video, said Williams was jumping rope when a freight train struck and killed him. He said Williams must have misjudged the overhang of the train cars.
When will people learn, making photographs or videos at, on or even near train tracks and in train yards is very dangerous. Many people die every year by being hit by trains. The deaths are a needless waste of a human life.If you think I'm overstating the warning, think again. The US Federal Railway Administration (FRA) reports about 500 trespassing deaths along railroad tracks each year.
The list of needless deaths of those involved in photography and videography near trains, on railroad property is lengthy. It includes Cathy Carlisle, an art teacher from Sacramento California who was photographing a train, while standing on the tracks of another, when a train struck her from behind. It also includes Gregory Duncraft, who was apparently so engrossed in checking images on his camera's LCD, while standing on the tracks, he ignored two long warning blasts from the train's engineer, before being run down.
Beyond the dangers involved in photographing on railroad tracks, near rolling stock or on railroad property generally, it's illegal to be on railroad property without permission of the railroad which owns and uses the tracks. Going there without permission is criminal trespass and the railroads are prosecuting those found trespassing.
Railroad trespass violators in the US are subject hefty fines, as high as $10,000. In light of the number of railroad trespassing deaths occurring every year in the US, judges are meting out heavy fines regularly, with the average fine running around $2,000. While that's not $10K, that's still a great deal more than most can afford to throw away.
For photographers and videographers, there's another downside to making images and videos while trespassing. The photos and videos might not ever see the light of day. Railroads, like the Union Pacific and Amtrak, scan publications and Internet sites, then contact publishers and site owners to remove any images and videos from their publications and sites made while the photographer/videographer and/or their subject(s) were trespassing on railroad property.
It's critical, if you intend to make railroad images and videos to understand:
• It's dangerous, very dangerous! Trains can't stop quickly to avoid people or vehicles on the tracks. In fact, it can take a mile or more for a train to make an emergency stop. An optical illusion makes it hard to determine a train's distance from you - and its speed.
• The average train overhangs the track by at least three feet. You don't have to be directly on the tracks to be hit by an oncoming train.
• Trains moving at high speed induce a vortex which can suck people into the train if they are standing too close to it. You don't have to be directly on the tracks to be literally sucked into an oncoming train.
• Tracks which appear safe because they look abandoned or inactive are rarely so, and are still dangerous, plus it's still illegal to be on or very near them without permission. Every year people are killed by trains running on “abandoned” or “inactive” tracks which aren't.
• It's highly possible a train attempting to avoid a photography shoot on or near the tracks will derail. Derailments often cause severe property damage, and can kill or severely injure many people.
I've made many railroad images for travel articles about train travel, including the one at the top of this article, while on railroad property, right at the tracks, with permission of the railroad, and more important, with their operational and security personnel cooperation, ensuring everyone's safety and security.
Making photographs on railroad property without permission and cooperation to ensure everyone's safety is at best, irresponsible.For additional information and to learn more about railroad dangers, check the Operation Lifesaver website.