Railroad Tracks and Photography

Trackside photography for seniors, engaged couples, even newborns has been trending in the industry for a while. Everyone seems to do it. Photographers will set up newborns on top of suitcases or on chairs and shoot images. Couples will sit together on the tracks. I live fairly close to railroad tracks and I can’t count the number of times I see people with cameras out on the tracks. They figure “Oh, I can see or hear the train..and they will sound their horn if they see us. Right?”

Not exactly….

And did you know that not only are you putting yourself, your client, your reputation and the lives and safety of the engineers on the train at risk when you get on railroad tracks, but you are also trespassing? Yes, you are. Tracks, all tracks, even abandoned tracks that trains do not go on are all considered private property. So even if no trains go on those tracks, you can still get fined. And depending on which railroad owns the tracks, they can even have you delete and remove any images that were taken on their property because you were on it without permission.

It takes approximately one mile for a train to come to a stop. Trains travel between 79-125 mph even though it may not look like they are going that fast. Amtrak trains also run about that speed. Think about trying to stop your car quickly at 125 mph safely with a bunch of other cars behind you….it’s the same thing. There is no safe way to do it.
People always say “Well, it’s only dangerous if I get caught!”. NO! It is dangerous every single time you put your client on a track. I have also heard people say “Well, I see other photographers doing it, so it must not be illegal where I live.” If you want to verify the laws in your state, just go HERE. You might be surprised!
Union Pacific Railroad even has this directly on their website:
Safety is of paramount importance to Union Pacific Railroad. Taking pictures or video while on Union Pacific property is dangerous, so when taking pictures or video of Union Pacific Railroad trains or structures:
  • Stay off Union Pacific Railroad property. This includes tracks, bridges, buildings and signal towers.
  • At passenger stations, Amtrak and Union Pacific’s commuter partner guidelines must be followed.
  • Obey all safety rules, regulations and instructions provided by law enforcement and Union Pacific employees.
Violators are subject to a citation for trespassing on railroad property.
Union Pacific will seek removal from publication any photograph or video that violates this policy.

If you are a photographer, I urge you to read this article from Operation Lifesaver.

And if you need more proof, just go to Google and type in “hit by train while taking photographs”. It is a very eye opening way to see that it does happen and you do not want to be a statistic. You do not want your client to be one either.

If you client insists on having some train track images done. Find a local transportation museum. We have one here in St. Louis. Also across the river in St. Charles, MO we have a train display with tracks that lead nowhere and display trains that never, ever move. Let you client know that being on active tracks is illegal and that you are putting their safety first. If there is no place like a transportation museum or display tracks close to you, then find another creative and fun way to photograph your client. Think outside of the box and always, always, always put your client’s safety above getting a trendy image!


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