Photographing on railroad tracks has a definite appeal to both photographers and consumers/clients. The article below has been copied with permission from thelawtog.com and explains why photography on railroad tracks is not only illegal, but also not a very smart thing to do.
For clients, please understand when your photographer says no to this request. Or maybe think twice when a photographer agrees to your request. It could mean your life!
Exposed: The Risks of Photographing on Railroad Tracks
(reprinted in part with permission from thelawtog.com)
Each headline reports another loss of life while photographing on railroad tracks. Frankly, the number of articles found just related to deaths while photographing on or near railroad tracks is astounding. Add in all the other articles reporting injuries and/or deaths from general trespassing on railroad property and your head will spin.
A national nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing deaths and injuries on railroad tracks and property, as well as collisions at railroad crossings – Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI) – launched the “See Tracks, Think Train” rail safety campaign in 2014 to highlight the dangers of trespassing on the railroad right of way, as well as raise awareness of the tragic results. Why? Because according to OLI, a person or vehicle is struck by a train every three hours in the United States. Every. Three. Hours.
Joyce Rose, OLI president and CEO, remarked at a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) forum in March 2015 that railroad trespassing deaths have outnumbered those from car-train collisions in the U.S. every year since 1997. In 2014, 526 deaths and 419 injuries resulted from trespassing on railroad property, with an additional 213 suicide deaths and 40 injuries from failed suicide attempts on railroad property. In comparison, there were only two deaths and 128 injuries resulting from derailments and vehicle-train collisions in 2014.
Photographing on railroad tracks, equipment, or buildings is illegal
Most railroad tracks are owned by a railroad company, not the person who owns the land or the town/city/county/state the tracks traverse. Being on the railroad right of way, which typically extends 25 feet on either side of the track’s centerline, but can be up to 200 feet from the centerline, without permission is trespassing. It doesn’t matter if the tracks are considered live, ‘dead’ or if the rails have been removed; it’s still trespassing in most states. However, in some states it may not be trespassing if the tracks in question have been legally abandoned following an order by the federal or state agency with jurisdiction over those tracks, and the tracks are not being used for railroad service. Trespassing is a misdemeanor in most states but can become a felony depending on the nature of the offense. You can look up the laws and regulations for each state on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website; go to Chapter 9 of its compilation of state laws and regulations. While misdemeanor trespassing fines also vary from state to state, again depending upon the nature of the offense, there is a 2012 report of a woman in California being fined $6,000.
Tracks you think are inactive, dead and/or abandoned may not be
Shiny rail is a sign of an active rail line, but rusty rail is not necessarily an indication of inactive or abandoned rails. Under the right environmental conditions, rust can develop quickly on tracks that see regular use. Likewise, tracks overgrown with weeds may not be an indication of abandonment, but infrequent or poor maintenance. Those tracks may see occasional movements—for example, to service an industry along the line. Case in point, there is a rail line in my area that only sees rail traffic when the circus is in town, or the local dinner train is running; both schedules are highly unpredictable. The only tracks you can be sure are abandoned are those that have been legally abandoned after approval from the Surface Transportation Board.
Any time is train time
Freight trains don’t follow set schedules. Passenger trains can be delayed or even early due to a number of variables. Just because you see a train pass by a specific location at a certain time today doesn’t mean it will pass by at the same time tomorrow, or at all. It’s also not unheard of for inactive tracks to be suddenly put back into service. Always expect a train, day or night, weekday, weekend or holiday. ANY. TIME.
You may not hear or see a train approaching
Really! I’m not kidding here. There’s an optical illusion that makes trains appear farther away and slower moving than they are. High-speed passenger trains like Amtrak are much quieter than heavy freight trains. Highway traffic, emergency vehicle sirens, snow, trees, and other environmental elements can muffle the sound of approaching trains. Most of us are used to hearing the distinctive “clickety-clack” sound of a train moving along the tracks. This sound results from the wheels hitting the joints between sections of rail. However, especially on busier lines, jointed rail usually has been replaced with miles-long stretches of welded rail, which eliminates much of the distinctive sound of an approaching train. Then there’s the Doppler effect, which is how the pitch of a sound changes based on where you are in relation to where the sound originated. Popular Mechanics magazine published an article in March 2014 explaining these factors.
Now you’re thinking, “But I’ll hear the train horn and/or the crossing gates and lights.” WRONG! Although engineers always were required to sound the train horn for crossings, more and more areas are designated ”Quiet Zones”—and the horn is not sounded for crossings. More important, by the time the engineer sounds the horn and the gates and lights are activated, it’s too late—the train is almost at the crossing.
You need to be even more attentive if there is more than one set of tracks, as there is now potential for more than one train to be traveling along those tracks at the same time. The July 2015 incident in Fresno, Calif., resulted in the photographer’s death when he was photographing one train and didn’t see or hear another train approaching behind him on the other track. We’ve all been in ‘the zone’ when photographing and don’t really see or hear anything else going on around us. You can also read about a recent experiment in the UK and take a test to see if you can hear the train and identify its location.