Thursday, December 12, 2019

Photographing on railroad tracks can mean your death!

Strasburg Railroad, steam locomotive 89 manufactured by the Canadian Locomotive Company in 1910Last month, a 17 year-old teenager from Oregon was having his high school senior portrait made. He and the photographer decided it would be a great idea to shoot it along railroad tracks. It wasn't a great idea. The young man was struck and killed in the midst of the session, while on the tracks, by a Union Pacific train in Troutdale.

A Union Pacific spokesperson said, “Our thoughts are with the teen’s family and friends. We plead with parents, students and photographers to not take photos on or near the tracks.”

Earlier this month, the Shiawassee, Michigan County Sheriff's Department reported that a photographer photographing the legendary Pere Marquette 1225 steam engine, known as the “North Pole Express,” featured in the animated film The Polar Express, was almost killed. In the words of the Sheriff's office, people “don't always use good judgment when watching or photographing her along the way.” A photographer had part of her coat literally ripped off her by the passing engine as she was photographing it. Fortunately, unlike the Oregon teenager, she's still alive and hopefully a lot wiser.

Making photographs while on train tracks and in train yards is very dangerous.
Here are some important facts to consider about photographing railroads:

It's illegal to be on or very near railroad tracks for photography without the permission.
Many railroads share tracks with other railroads. You need the permission of the tracks' owner and typically its users as well. Get it in writing.

It's “criminal trespass,” generally a summary offense or misdemeanor, if you're on railroad property such as tracks, bridges and yards, without permission. Violators are subject to a citation, potential jail time and a hefty fine, which in the U.S. is as high as $10,000.

Railroads like the Union Pacific and Amtrak will go after any publication, in print or online, to have them remove any photograph or video that was made while the photographer and/or the subject of the photograph was trespassing on their property.

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, or 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.
You don't have to be directly on the tracks to be literally sucked into an oncoming train moving at a high speed, if you're close to the tracks as the train goes by.

Tracks which appear safe because they look abandoned or inactive are rarely so.
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 will derail.
Derailments often cause severe property damage, and can kill or severely injure many people. It can cause deadly chemical spills. If on a bridge, chemicals from a derailed train can pollute a river below, killing large numbers of wildlife and eliminate it as a source of drinking or agriculture water for years.

A photographer who causes a derailment due to trespass would be legally and morally responsible for any injuries or deaths, derailments, chemical spills, property damage, delays in shipping, etc. caused by it.

The more photo shoots are held on railroad property, the more others will imitate it.
Let's face it, photographers will imitate other photographers. We must educate all photographers about the dangers of railroad photography from tracks and yards.

If you think I'm overstating these warnings, think again. The U.S. Federal Railway Administration reports that about 500 trespassing deaths occur along railroad tracks annually. Photographers and their subjects are too often among those dying on railroad property each year due to the illegal and reckless behavior.

• Cathy Carlisle, an art teacher for Saint Francis High School of Sacramento, California was photographing a train while standing on tracks on which another train was running. That train struck from behind, killing her.

• 27 year-old camera assistant, Sarah Jones, 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.

• Jonathan Eade was killed by an Amtrak train near Sedalia, MO, while trespassing on a narrow railroad bridge conducting a photo-shoot on the tracks, when the train came around a “blind curve.”

• A 19 year old woman from College Station, Texas, who was trying to launch a modeling career, was being photographed standing at the intersection of two train tracks. While waiting for an incoming train to pass, she didn't notice another train which struck and killed her.

For additional information check the Operation Lifesaver website.

Safety is always my first consideration when making railroad images in my work. For example, when I shot photographs for an article about Amtrak's Auto Train, I was on railroad property, right at the tracks, with permission of the railroads owning the equipment, tracks, and yard, and with the cooperation of their operational and security personnel, who helped ensure everyone remained safe. It's the only safe way to work at or near railroad tracks.

Making photographs on railroad property without permission and cooperation to ensure everyone's safety is at best irresponsible. With creativity, any good photographer can safety make fantastic railroad images safely.


Alan-Houston said...

When are people going to learn that if you take on a train you're going to lose your life. It's just not worth the chance.

Charlie-Birmingham AL said...

I regularly get seniors who want to pose on railroad tracks for their senior pics. I refuse every time, but there are "low end" photogs (not really pros but they charge for their work) who will do it. They're reckless morons who will put the lives of these young people at risk.

Perhaps one or two of these duds should be awarded a Darwin which could be good publicity to warn people away from making this too often fatal mistake.

Sue-LA said...

Photographers and school administrators must figure out how to dissuade young people today from this kind of dangerous decision.

Sarah-Orlando said...

Great article. It's a shame that most who need it likely will ignore it.

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