Railroad tracks can be picturesque; their rustic feel of a simpler time may make photographers want to use the tracks for photo sessions. However, many professional and amateur photographers are unaware of the danger they put their clients in by posing them on the tracks, and that doing so is against the law.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, there have been 12 pedestrian incidents in Georgia due to trespassing on the railroads as of May this year. Three of those resulted in death. According to Jennie Glasgow, the state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver in Georgia, a person or vehicle is involved in a train collision every three hours in the United States. Operation Lifesaver is a national nonprofit organization, focused on providing railroad safety education.
“We know that photographers seek creative portrait settings; however, using train tracks as a backdrop for photos is not only dangerous, it is illegal trespassing,” Glasgow said.
She said that not only are professional photographers using railroad tracks for photos, but with the increased popularity of these photos on social media outlets, amateur photographers think it is OK to pose people on the tracks, as well.
“Can you imagine being a professional photographer and having one of your clients killed because you were posing them?” Glasgow asked. “There are ways you can take the pictures so the tracks are in the background but at a safe distance.”
David Trust, chief executive officer of Professional Photographers of America, said his organization applauds Operation Lifesaver programs that are educating photographers about the dangers of railroad pictures.
“Trackside settings have become popular for senior class photos, wedding and family portraits. But photographers need to know the laws and the safety ramifications of staging a photo shoot near train tracks,” Trust said.
Wilds Pierce, president of the Georgia Northeastern Railroad Co. Inc., which owns the railroads in and around Cherokee County, said he has seen an increase in photographers using the railroads for dangerous pictures.
“We have identified a large number, (the) latest count was 45, (of) photographers that have been taking pictures,” Pierce said. “You see it on social media, and everybody jumps on the bandwagon.”
Pierce sends letters to the photographers that he catches using his railroad tracks for pictures.
“I’ve written letters, and I’ve asked them to stop it,” he said.
The letters explain the dangers of posing on the railroads and remind photographers that using the tracks is illegal trespassing. The letters ask for the photographers to sign an acknowledgment of receiving the letter, to agree not to use the railroad for future pictures and to remove any existing pictures on display that show people posing on the tracks.
Pierce said he feels he has no choice but to send the letters in order to make it clear that the railroad does not condone the actions.
“If we don’t say anything then, in essence, we’re approving of this. So I have no choice. I’ll be liable if I don’t stop it or try to,” he said.
Pierce said he has received a good response from most of the photographers, many who seemed genuinely surprised that they were not supposed to use the railroad for pictures. However, for the photographers who have not responded, Pierce plans to follow up with them and possibly pursue civil action.
Out of the 45 letters Pierce has sent out, 15 have been sent to photographers residing in Cherokee County, he said.
“Cherokee and Pickens counties are probably 80 percent of our problems,” Pierce said.
In addition to photographers, Pierce said there also is the issue of people walking along the railroad tracks or walking across them.
“Everybody thinks that we go so slow — that it won’t happen to them,” he said. “Our engineers worry about it. Even though we’re only going 10 or 15 miles an hour, you can’t stop a train quickly.”
Being on the tracks also could mean criminal charges in some cases.
Lt. Jay Baker with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said it is his understanding that the property surrounding the railroad belongs to the railroad company.
“If the railroad wants them (pedestrians) off the property, we would ask them to leave,” Baker said. “At that point, it would be a criminal trespass issue.”
Pierce said his main concern is the issue of safety on the tracks.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to make a safe environment to operate,” he said.
For more information about railroad safety and statistics, visit www.oli.org.