In another topic, about banners on railroad equipment for publicity photographs, the following comment was posted:
"Plenty of taggers trespassing on private property who display their works of art on freight cars, even locomotives, but never seem to get caught, though railfans continue to get razzed for persuing their hobby photographing trains even from public property"
In order to keep from hijacking that topic, I will comment here. You're right, Boomer . . . Harassment of railfans by railroad police does happen, but not everywhere. Right now, there is some government committee preparing a report on security of railroad yards, tunnels, bridges, etc., and it could stir up some unpleasantness for railfans.
Railroad police are hired from other law enforcement agencies. Railroads do not have anything like real police academies, so they do not train their police in boot camp settings. Prior law enforcement experience is required. Railroad police work is not normally as dangerous as metropolitan police department work, and is generally absent the public scrutiny and onerous departmental politics of city police departments. Those are the desirable aspects. Many times, they work alone, in remote areas or in gang-infested ghettoes. Those are the drawbacks.
Many who apply at the railroad are good law enforcement officers who just want the freedom to do their work without overbearing scrutiny and politics. Once hired, they clearly see where they are needed and dutifully arrest thieves and transients who have outstanding warrants. They protect the property against real threats and bravely accept the risks associated with doing so,
Others are badge-heavy cops who want to have more freedom to take on all violators and like to exercise authority. They don't fit in well at their current law enforcement agency, which often gives good references when the railroad checks on their prior employment, so that their current agency can be rid of them. Once hired by the railroad, these officers soon find that gangs are behind much of the theft, and gangs will group up and fight back hard. Railroad police are lucky if they can get any backup at all when they encounter these dangerous individuals. Taggers are vandals, and often are associated with gangs, so, therefore, it can be dangerous to chase them down and make an arrest, simply to see them get a joke sentence of "community service," and then return to the railroad with more spray paint. These officers become the group that is badge-heavy on train photographers. Railfans are easy prey, harmless in nearly every case, and pose absolutely no personal safety risk to the officer, who can log activity questioning "suspects", write reports, do criminal background checks, even occasionally issue a written warning or a court summons for trespassing, attend court to testify against the train photographer, etc. It sure looks like work, at least on paper. And it's much safer than questioning a trespassing vagrant who might be a dangerous criminal. If they see a photographer on railroad property, they should stop and make contact. But it is not always necessary to be officious.
We had one of those officers at a location where I worked, who thought it would be a good idea to use radar to check the speed of employees' private motor vehicles, on roadways within the yard, as they arrived for work. He wrote a couple of tickets, and then the surveillance abruptly stopped. (No need to go over the details. You can figure it out.) But he was always trying to be a big man with a badge, and harassed many railfans who were not endangering themselves or anyone else. Even his peers did not trust him.
If you are ever approached by the railroad police while on railroad property and taking photos, just be nice, be polite, and things will turn out as well as possible, depending on who you're dealing with and where you are. If you show yourself to be harmless, and friendly to the railroad, that may be the end of it, with an admonishment to be careful and stay off of active tracks. Or you may be asked to leave and information may be taken. Big yards are not the same as lonely junctions or sidings. If you are absolutely sure that you are not on railroad property, you can make a stand against an aggressive railroad cop, but you have to be right, and be willing to prove it in court. Remember that discretion is the better part of valor, and, win or lose, you will have made an enemy on the railroad police force.
Generally, I stay off of railroad property. Even though I'm a retired official, I am no longer a railroad employee and not legally entitled to be there. For the Sheriff Departments and city police who might ask me what I'm doing, I always have old copies of Trains with me and that way they can understand my harmless motives and they get a railroad magazine as a gift, not a bribe, just a gift to give them a good perspective on what interests railroad enthusiasts. Honey catches more flies than vinegar does.