There are many reasons why we, as photographers, should stay off the tracks. The first being, of course, that losing your life is not worth getting the shot, no matter how spectacular. But if the sheer numbers are not enough to deter you, let's take a look at the other reasons:
Trespassing onto railroad property, of any kind, is illegal. This includes but is not limited to: tracks, bridges, buildings and signal towers. Violators are subject to a citation for trespassing, which could lead to fines.
2. You WILL be Caught Unaware.
A very common misconception with photographers, is that trains are huge and loud and they’ll have plenty of time to get off the tracks if one is approaching. An optical illusion makes it hard to figure out a train's distance from you - OR its speed. Plus, modern trains are, actually, darn near silent when you are standing on the tracks. I could go into a long scientific explanation about how sound moves away from an object, so you think you will hear or feel it while on the tracks, because you can hear or feel it while standing nearby...but just take my (and trained specialists) word for it.
3. It's been done..."to death".
Pardon the horrible pun, but it is a rather unoriginal idea. There are so many examples of these sessions, from senior portraits, family shots and yes, even mini sessions with toddlers. I could show you 1001 of these "posed while on train tracks, because I am so artistic and deep and/or bad-ass and rebellious" portraits, that it would embarrass you.
But I won't, because when I post any images that are not my own, I link to their sites for credit and I am not writing this to glorify the concept, give you ideas or promote photographers that do such sessions.
4. It Sets a Bad Example for Kids, and Others.
We all use each other as inspiration, no matter how tired a concept might be. If you happen to do a great job on your illegal, dangerous session, people will want to copy you. Kids see these images and think that train tracks are fair game for playtime. Do we not have a moral obligation to our neighbors, to be responsible for our actions and their consequences, whether you intend them or not?
5. It Can Cost You.
Direct from the Union Pacific Website: Union Pacific will seek removal from publication any photograph or video that violates this policy. For more information, see Union Pacific’s Policy.
Julie La Combe, Kansas Operation Lifesaver Executive Director, says “Railroad law enforcement can also fine the CLIENTS if a photographer shows a habit of continuing the practice…since the photographers give them all the evidence they would need on Facebook, tagging clients after posting trespassing photos in galleries available for public view."
6. Railway Employees are People, Too.
Julie La Combe, Kansas Operation Lifesaver Executive Director, read this article on the same topic, and contacted the writer to clear up a few of the arguments made by photographers in the comments. Basically, if you disregard your own life, please at least consider the lives that are affected when a person is hit and killed by a train (which happens every three hours in America.) How would you feel if you accidentally killed someone, in the normal course of doing your job? Source
7. Trains Do Not Always Follow Schedules.
Trains that hold cargo can change schedule any time, and you should never assume that any track is not being used, or "abandoned". Source
For example: We have a set in my small rural town that is not used for anything...except the occasional rail repair car will go running down it at high speed. It curves around trees and a large field, that is used for corn. Even abandoned tracks can sometimes be used, and there is obviously no schedule for a repair car to come tearing around a curve at you.
8. You Are Risking Your Clients Lives in Exchange for Their Money.
I know that comes off as harsh, but you need to realize that as the professional, you have a certain amount of responsibility here. “I would also offer that if a photographer knowingly uses private property for a shoot, and a client is injured or killed, that photographer could be liable.” says Julie La Combe.
Just stay off the tracks.
We, as photographers, need to know better and do better. To that effect, I am starting a pledge for photographers, videographers, models and clients alike. Click Here to Sign and Pledge to Stay Off The Tracks, because responsibility starts with us.