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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.

Last edited by Number 90
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Tom; apropos of your comment to be nice and polite; about two or so years ago I was set up across the NS Pittsburgh Line from the station in Huntingdon, PA. I was a good 20-25 feet back from the tracks when a Ford Explorer pulled up and the driver identified himself as an NS special agent. I introduced myself and shook his hand.

He told me he’d been watching me for about 15 minutes and had originally intended to cite me for trespassing on railroad property. (I’ll note I saw no signs indicating this when I pulled in off of 4th Street.) He then continued he had changed his mind as I was behaving in a safe manner, staying away from the tracks and maintaining good situational awareness.  His only criticism, he said, was that I was wearing a CSX Atlanta Division trainman’s hat. 😉

We ended up chatting for about 30 minutes before he drove off, leaving me with the admonition to “stay safe!”

Curt

Last edited by juniata guy

Yes, the times have certainly changed. I think back to Dad and me walking for miles along various railroads with never a care, other than for safety, of course. Friendly train crews were suckers for interested kids and I was certainly interested .

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Yeah, that's me in the Fireman's seat.

As late as the '90s I did my daily walk along the tracks of the old B&O Johnstown branch. I was safety-conscious and none of the crews cared. Probably get visit from a Railroad Dick these days. Even in the early aughts (up until 2007) Dad had the run of the B&P. Management got wind of the old guy (in his 90s) who had worked for the railroad when it was the BR&P and presented him with a B&P jacket and cap. He wore that and we were trackside here, there and everywhere. Again, always safely.



        IMG_2834

I took this pic March, 2007. Dad was 95. Just the B&P hat in this pic.

These days I'm content just listening to the trains a quarter mile away on the old Boston&Maine, now Pan Am.

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Last edited by Rich Melvin

I have been photographing trains for around 40 years. I was up in Canada and had just pulled off the pavement onto a gravel road to take a couple pix of a loco. The engineer gave me the worst case of rash threatening to take my camera, etc. He was trying to tell me I was on RR property while I was 25' away from the rails in the middle of the road.

That is the worst problem I ever had. I kept the camera. and the film.

Dick

I've been reported as a terrorist more times than I can remember.  The good news is when the police arrive they take one look at the situation, ask a couple of questions (usually about the kind of train I'm waiting for), wish me good hunting and leave.  The worst I've had has been from drive-by vigilante types who "just know" I'm planning something dastardly and who make threats.  In each case I've pointed to my car, told them to take down my license plate number and call the police if they are so inclined...so far, so good.

@geysergazer posted:

Yes, the times have certainly changed. I think back to Dad and I walking for miles along various railroads with never a care, other than for safety, of course. Friendly train crews were suckers for interested kids and I was certainly interested .

Yeah, that's me in the Fireman's seat.

I took this pic March, 2007. Dad was 95. Just the B&P hat in this pic.

What great memories!

When I received my first 35MM SLR camera in the early 70's I used to go to the CNJRR Elizabethport shops and later on to EL's Croxton shops. Both places RR workers would just tell me be careful and 'watch out for the Bulls'.

But a few years after 9/11 I did get hassled by local police when I was taking pictures of planes taking off and landing at Newark Airport. I was across the NJ Turnpike in a big box store parking lot. Cop came up to me in his car and wanted to know if I was a Taliban. After questioning me for a few minutes, I was told to beat it.

If it is not a station platform, I no longer go on RR property and if it's not at an air show, I don't photograph aircraft anymore.

I very, very rarely railfan. The reason is partly because I don’t want to be harassed. I know enough not to trespass but I would not know what places were safe and legal to be at besides a station. Also because I agree with Trinity River that new trains are ugly due to the tagging. Even if there wasn’t tagging modern railroads don’t have all the cool logos you could see back in the day. They are much more plain but would still be cool to me without the tagging. Just my opinion.

I disagree about the GP at the park at Horseshoe Curve. I think it’s a really cool locomotive, sure not as cool as a steam locomotive but cool none the less.

When photographing trains, I have rarely ran into issues.  I use a telephoto lens on active tracks and stay out of the right of way.  However I was told by an Amtrak employee that it was against the law to photograph trains at 30th street station.  I did not argue the point.  I had most of my photos anyway.  However at Harrisburg I asked permission to go down to the platform early before a Keystone Service train started boarding to photograph GG1 4959 and I was told I could photograph anything I wanted as long as I stayed on the platform.

While it does not operate nearly as frequently as it used to, the Apache Railway in northern AZ will allow you to access the entire property if you sign a waiver and follow their rules.  I have not made the trip yet, and need to soon as they still operate an all Alco fleet.  The Copper Basin about 2 hours from Phoenix has a similar policy.

To echo Rusty Traque's statement of having friends in high places:

On my way to Canyon, TX to do some business and have lunch with #90, I decided to stop halfway in Lubbock, TX to photograph this cantilever before its certain demise. (fast forward to today, it is gone).  While taking photos a westbound came by, and I knew someone would soon be showing up to run me off.  In only minutes a Roadmaster's truck pulls up to talk to me.  It turned out that decades ago he was a young hire working for an iron pants Roadmaster named J K Russell who also happened to have been my next door neighbor.  We had a few other mutual acquaintances, and the confrontation turned into a pleasant visit.

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I cannot prove it, but I am convinced that Joe McMillan actually climbed onto this signal bridge to photograph trains while he was a student at Texas Tech.

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Her are some rules of thumb to help you determine whether you are on railroad property or not:

  1. If there is a "No Trespassing" sign within sight, you can figure that it's right at the property line.
  2. If you are along the right of way, 50 feet from the center line of the nearest track is a good faith estimate.  The actual most common measurement is 45 feet from the center line.  If it is obvious that there was formerly a track closer to where you are standing, measure your distance from its center line as though it were still there.  The property line does not normally move when tracks are removed.  If there is a right of way access road between you and the nearest track, it is almost always railroad property, but is frequently just barely inside the RR property line.  Do the 50 feet to center line test and see of the road is within that.  The pole line used to be a good marker, but there are not many of them remaining.
  3. At facilities, as opposed to the right of way outside of facilities, you should make a reasonable search for a No Trespassing sign.  If the railroad does not post its property line, you can usually negotiate if challenged, as long as you are a reasonable distance from what is obviously railroad track or structures or roads.  You can't act too innocent and still make a credible apology.
  4. Paranoia is not relaxing, but watching trains is.  Try to relax and enjoy the show, and never turn a confrontation into a drama.  Wave and smile at every railroader who passes.  Being nice, friendly, and cooperative almost always works to get you the best deal you are going to get that day.
  5. If you are on a public street or the parking lot of Mc Donald's, you aren't on railroad property.  And the railroad doesn't own the air between you and the tracks when you are on a public bridge or other public or private property.
Last edited by Number 90

When I received my first 35MM SLR camera in the early 70's I used to go to the CNJRR Elizabethport shops and later on to EL's Croxton shops. Both places RR workers would just tell me be careful and 'watch out for the Bulls'.

But a few years after 9/11 I did get hassled by local police when I was taking pictures of planes taking off and landing at Newark Airport. I was across the NJ Turnpike in a big box store parking lot. Cop came up to me in his car and wanted to know if I was a Taliban. After questioning me for a few minutes, I was told to beat it.

If it is not a station platform, I no longer go on RR property and if it's not at an air show, I don't photograph aircraft anymore.

Many moons ago, early in the Conrail era and long before 9/11 I decided to go to E-port to look at the remnants of the approaches to the CNJ lift bridge at Singers.   While poking around an elderly Uniformed on-duty Elizabeth cop came over and struck up a conversation with me.   Fine gentleman and a lifelong resident and he was impressed how the intermodal business made more money for the city than Singer did when they were in business.

Didn't manage to get behind the building onto the right of way since it was locked and fenced so I went a block or so to where the CNJ overpass and steps to the old CNJ station were.   Went up and walked around the old right of way.  Within maybe 10 minutes two non-uniformed armed Conrail detectives came walking down the right of way to chat with me.  I expected a lecture, chasing or citation for trespassing but they were friendly.  Chatted with them and they said to not venture much further or linger longer for personal safety reasons.

They left and shortly thereafter I left.  Many, many hours (days) in the not so nice parts of cities so that part never scared me.

Last edited by Rule292
@SPSF posted:

The biggest thing is not knowing your rights. If you are photographing from public property - they can pound sand and mind their own business.

These guys, (although abrasive) document how uninformed people are and how paranoid they become when there's a person with a camera.



Both sides of this were wrong in the way they handled it.  Both of them elevated the situation beyond what it should have been.

Good morning, a few months ago, then Democratic Candidate Joe Biden made a campaign stop in Latrobe PA.

Mr Biden then took a special Amtrak train east from Latrobe PA to Johnstown PA.

My wife wanted to see this so we drove down to one of our favorite train watching spots along the NS Pittsburgh main line to see the train that was carrying Mr Biden go by.

You can guess the railroad police was there in full force. There was a nice crowd on hand and the railroad police seem to be occupied listening to their radio communications and talking amongst themselves.

After sometime two of the railroad police came over to the crowd carrying something in their hands.

What the officers had where glow sticks that once cracked open put off a green glow.

I am not sure how many glow sticks they handed out to the people but it was quite a few. The officers talked to the crowd and gave updates on the progress of the train that we where waiting for.

I thought to myself these officers didn't have to do this, but it was apparent they where there doing their job but also being great examples of what the police whether, railroad, local or state really are but at times don't get the credit they deserve.

As we waited patiently the train came by carrying Mr Biden at about 50mph and in seconds the excitement was all over.

Not sure if Mr Biden seen all those green glow sticks as he went by or not, thanks to those railroad police officers.

SPSF: You made my Monday!  Right on!

Are you one of the chosen few who supported the SP/ATSF merger?  I am, so if you are, I wanna join your club!

I did, but at only 13 years old I was more interested in the freshly painted clean SF locomotives that were coming out of San Bernardino on their shakedown runs to Richmond Ca & also the freshly painted SP locos out of Sacramento Locomotive works at the Stockton tower.

Those colors didn't hold up well, 3 years and they were faded.

5802SF

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  I railfan quite regularly, and photograph trains.   Personally, I've only had a few instances of being approached to find out what I was doing.   But, I generally do not hang out near rauk yards, or if the area looks seedy, wkich might be a cause to be approached bt some form or law enforcement, or lowlife seeing me with camera equipment.   Out in open rural areas, or in small towns, I've never had issues, other than locals curious as to what I'm waiting for.  After I explain my hobby, they are satisfied, and are gone!    Most of the Police or RR Police I've encountered are pretty cool about what I'm doing.    But, like what has been stated by others....it all depends how you handle yourself if questioned.  Be straight forworth, and you'll be okay,  act less than professional, and the response may be the same.  

@Number 90 posted:

Her are some rules of thumb to help you determine whether you are on railroad property or not:

  1. If there is a "No Trespassing" sign within sight, you can figure that it's right at the property line.
  2. If you are along the right of way, 50 feet from the center line of the nearest track is a good faith estimate.  The actual most common measurement is 45 feet from the center line.  If it is obvious that there was formerly a track closer to where you are standing, measure your distance from its center line as though it were still there.  The property line does not normally move when tracks are removed.  If there is a right of way access road between you and the nearest track, it is almost always railroad property, but is frequently just barely inside the RR property line.  Do the 50 feet to center line test and see of the road is within that.  The pole line used to be a good marker, but there are not many of them remaining.
  3. At facilities, as opposed to the right of way outside of facilities, you should make a reasonable search for a No Trespassing sign.  If the railroad does not post its property line, you can usually negotiate if challenged, as long as you are a reasonable distance from what is obviously railroad track or structures or roads.  You can't act too innocent and still make a credible apology.
  4. Paranoia is not relaxing, but watching trains is.  Try to relax and enjoy the show, and never turn a confrontation into a drama.  Wave and smile at every railroader who passes.  Being nice, friendly, and cooperative almost always works to get you the best deal you are going to get that day.
  5. If you are on a public street or the parking lot of Mc Donald's, you aren't on railroad property.  And the railroad doesn't own the air between you and the tracks when you are on a public bridge or other public or private property.

I've been taking images of railroads for a few years. Tom's suggestions above (especially #4) is about the best summation you will find.

I've only been approached twice - neither a big deal although a NYPD Plain clothed detective gave me a nod that said "move so I don't have to get out of my car" one day while catching equipment coming out of a tunnel.

Now if you are unfortunate to come upon someone who needs to exercise their authority remember you will not win a conversation with a cop. If you are 50' off the right of way you can perhaps tell them to pound sand and call the local PD, However if you are on the RR property then you better get your best humility and apology you have ready for display.

Paul

Thank you Tom for a view from the other side.  The only time I think I ever had contact (friendly) with railroad police was in Harpers Ferry in the eighties, and I'm not 100% certain about that.  I have been approached by local police a few times.  None of those contacts were nasty, although in a couple the officers were definitely in the wrong.  For a few snapshots though I wasn't going to argue.  I have found more often the police (and railroad personnel) are helpful.  One time I even got a private tour of an executive passenger car I was taking pictures of.

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