This string of Featured Comments from the second post about railroad tracks as a setting for portraits was good enough that I thought I'd make them into a separate post.
My thanks to commenters John Day, Mark Roberts, Dop, Kathy, Anonymous, and especially Allen.
John Day: "A couple of the comments to the earlier railroad post irritate me. Don't try to make light of being on railroad tracks. Being a railroad worker, some of you have absolutely no idea how much training we go through annually to be able to safely work on or around railroad tracks. And even with all this training, we still lose too many of our own out on the rails. You may think you have it all figured out, but you don't. You may get away with it. But some won't. When you're dead, you're dead for a long, long time.
"I've seen firsthand what a train can do anything from a car to a semi truck. What it does to a human being walking across the tracks is even worse. You no longer look human. Picking up severed limbs and pieces of flesh is something you don't easily forget. It gets worse but I'm not going there. Don't put other people or yourself in harm's way."
Mark Roberts: "My significant other is a pathologist who, though she is now mostly concerned with cancer pathology, used to do forensic work. She's told me about more gruesome scenarios than I ever thought existed. But she says the autopsies she hates most are people who have been hit by trains. (I did not ask for further clarification.) Next time you're in Boston give me a shout and we can meet for coffee and I'll share some of her stories with you.
"Or not.... :-)"
Mike replies: Coffee, sure. Gruesome stories, no thanks.
Dop (partial comment): "I'm reminded of this video clip of a guy who was so caught up in filming a steam train that he was completely oblivious to the regular service train coming up fast. Nobody gets hurt—but it would be a major shock for the guy who escapes death by an inch, the person filming him, and the train driver.
Kathy: "It's not the train you see that kills you. That's a truism I heard from my dad who was a railway signalman."
Anonymous: "And think about the poor engineer. Even if you are willing to accept the risk for yourself, railroad workers literally have nightmares and emotional problems from near misses and fatalities."
Allen: "Thank you for posting this story. As a working locomotive engineer, I can wholeheartedly say that there is nothing—nothing—I dread more than seeing someone on the track ahead. By the time I can make out what I'm looking at, be it a person, an animal, junk, or even a fallen tree, it's far too late to stop before I reach it. Physics is physics and momentum is the law.
"I have no way of knowing if someone on the track is a photographer, a suicide, someone playing chicken, a drunk or if they're just oblivious but I do know that if they don't move, I have to watch them go out of sight under the windshield and wait for the thump.
"Even the effort to slow down before impact by using emergency braking has the potential to derail the train and cause even more damage than just hitting someone. Everyone who runs trains knows that...but you still almost always have to try.
"Thankfully, in all my years I've never run over anyone...yet. Vehicles, yes, pedestrians no. Lots of close calls but so far they all made it. The young lady pinned in her car with the fractured skull was really bad, I can tell you. Hell, I even get misty about hitting a dog...I don't know what'll happen when the day finally comes when someone takes the wrong step. But we all know that if you stay in the job long enough, it's almost inevitable.
"I've worked with many engineers who remembered every little detail about people they'd hit...what they looked like, what they were wearing, what happened to them. The memories haunted them the rest of their careers and believe me, they are not photographs. The common thread is that most of them said the person on the track looked up and looked them right in the eye as they went under the nose. It's terrifying.
"So when people say they're going to continue to get their shots on the tracks regardless of the risk because they are the ones taking that risk, I would ask them to think a moment about me and my crew in the cab. Think about the flashbacks and nightmares I'll have after I see you flying like a rag doll. Think about the second or two I have to make the decision to try to save your life by slamming on the brakes...and maybe consider the consequences to people all around if the worst happens and the train piles up because of it. We carry some hazardous stuff you know and derailing it in a populated area because you were willing to take the risk is a terrible choice for an engineer to have to make...especially when it's all for a photo. A senior picture that causes a catastrophe will be a memorable shot, all right...the question is, to whom?
"In reading the comments, it seems most everyone here gets the idea, but please, if you absolutely must have tracks for a shot...be a pro, do some research to find a small carrier or scenic/tourist railroad that will give you permission and protection to work on their property. I have to believe that getting a client killed during a shoot has to be bad for future references, so do the right thing and go where you're legal. It might be a little less convenient and it might take a little more work but I'll thank you for it in advance.
"And maybe I can make it a career without the inevitable."
(posted by) Mike
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Sean: "A kid I grew up with was killed by a train when he took a short cut across the tracks after a night out. He knew those tracks well—we all did. We prided ourselves on the risks we'd take on those tracks and in the tunnels they ran through. He was 17 when the train hit him. His twin sister was in my class at school. He was from an Irish family much like my own. I'll never forget Mathew Clancey's wake. His casket was closed. We all knew why."
David L.: "I had an odd but enlightening experience with a train 40 years ago. I had a warehouse job and we were unloading a rail car in the back of the building. Running the forklift inside it caused the car to start rolling very slowly, maybe one mile per hour. We jumped to the ground and scratched our heads wondering what to do. The train crew that left the car obviously failed to set the brake. Being clever, I picked up a wooden pallet and pushed it onto the track figuring it would surely stop the box car. Wrong! In vivid slow motion the half-empty rail car slowly crunched and crushed the pallet under the steel wheels and continued on down the track as if nothing happened. If one rail car going one MPH could do that, imagine what a train going even 25 MPH could do? For engineer and physicist readers, kinetic energy = 1/2mv^2. If m is huge, the energy is proportionally huge. After my little education about trains and moving mass I'll never take a chance near RR tracks."