Every time I see it I cringe. A photographer posts a photo on Instagram or Facebook of an adorable little kid, baby, high school senior, or even a whole family, sitting on railroad tracks. My first Mom instinct is to yell Get off the tracks!! Sometimes among the hundreds of likes and oohs and aahs someone will comment that railroad tracks are dangerous. To which the photographer replies Oh, its ok, they are abandoned. It’s still not ok!! I will never, ever take a client to shoot on railroad tracks, abandoned or not. And here’s why.
Did you know, it takes the average train a whole mile or MORE to come to a complete stop after the emergency brake is applied? So the engineer would have to see you a mile away in order to sound the horn and stop in time to avoid hitting you. Could you see clearly a small child sitting in the road a mile away? Around corners, through intersections? Not likely. What’s that you say? You’d obviously hear it coming and move out of the way? You’d be surprised. Trains can travel up to 125 mph, that means it would take that train about 30 seconds to travel one mile. If there are other city traffic sounds around you, if the train is coming around a corner, or if that conductor cannot see a mile ahead and never sounds the horn, you may not realize one is coming. Now picture a baby sitting on the tracks, someone has to see or hear that train, run to grab the child and run out of the way before that train barrels through. Is that really a chance you’d be willing to take? What’s more, if that train conductor does apply his emergency brake, which he has to if he sees someone on the tracks, there is always a possibility of a pileup of train cars, cars buckling and overturning, and injuries or even death of any passengers or crew on those rail cars. So you aren’t just risking your own lives, you are potentially risking the life of anyone on that train as well. Another fun fact… train cars can hang over the edge of the track 3 feet or more, and people have been killed simply standing too close. Don’t just stay off, stay clear.
Then there’s the little issue of trespassing. It is illegal to be on railroad tracks of any kind, in use or not. Railroad tracks are never abandoned, they may be out of service but they are still the property of the railroad. And even if a line looks abandoned, you never know when it may come back in service. Perhaps a major repair farther down the line caused the track to go out of service for a period of time, maybe even years, but with weeds growing up over the tracks it sure looks abandoned to you. Until one day it’s not. All rail lines have strict trespassing regulations with penalties ranging from fines to seizure of camera equipment to jail time just for setting foot on their tracks. They take rail safety very seriously, and so should you. Check these links for more information Union Pacific Railroad Amtrak Operation Lifesaver
It’s all in the perception. Let’s say you are a professional photographer and you have tracks near your house that you know for certain are no longer in use, not even physically possible that a train could get to them, now it’s ok to use them right? WRONG!! You may know that, but that budding new photographer a few towns over who admires your work and kisses the ground you walk on sees you shoot on the tracks and thinks, Hey great idea! Only he or she doesn’t know those were out of service, nor does he know the dangers of shooting on tracks, so off he goes with a new client to do a railroad session just like yours, only the tracks in his town are not out of service and along comes a train… (If you wouldn’t feel the least bit responsible for that scenario occurring then see reasons 1 and 2 above.)
As professional photographers, we have to be the change and quit shooting on railroad tracks once and for all. There have been too many senseless tragedies lately highlighting the dangers of shooting on tracks. Everyone from amateur hobbyists to full-on professional film production companies making a big budget movie have been killed shooting on railroad tracks. No one is immune to the wrath of a train, and even able-bodied adults have failed to clear out of the way in time.
As a client, I hope this has given you some insight into the dangers of shooting on railroad tracks and helps you to understand why many, if not most, professionals will not agree to shoot on or even near the tracks. And why I would never risk putting those who mean most to you in harms way. ❤️