Please: talk to your students and caution them against the tragically dangerous practice of posing people on active railroad tracks. It's an example of a situation where peoples' natural instincts fail them: what we automatically reason about being on railroad tracks is wrong. Everybody assumes that they'll know exactly where the train is as it approaches; everybody assumes they'll have time to get out of the way. Those assumptions just aren't true.
I quote the Washington Post article on the death of John DeReggi, Jr., age 16, struck as he and his girlfriend were being photographed on the tracks by his girlfriend's sister:
One thing seems clear: The train, estimated to be traveling at more than 70 miles an hour, was moving much faster than he realized.
Several factors could have been in play. Trains are quieter than people think; their size makes them look slower; if they’re coming right at you, gauging speed is difficult.
"There’s very little clicketyclack. They can really sneak up on you," said Robert Halstead, president of IronWood Technologies, a firm that reconstructs train accidents.
He likened the deceptive speed of trains to those of planes as they’re landing. Even though planes are going 150 mph, "it kind of looks like they’re just hanging there."
We've posted several times on this issue, but our reach is meager. Public consciousness of this issue really needs to be raised.
It's a safety issue that every photography instructor ought to discuss with his or her students.
(Thanks to several readers)
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Featured Comments from:
Darlene Almeda: "I teach 'safety first' always whether train tracks, streets, studio lights, clients tripping over cords and stands, etc., etc. You can never ever stress 'safety first' enough times! So sad for this posting."
hugh crawford: "Trains are big, loud, hard to not notice from every direction except when you are straight ahead of one in its path. Then it's kind of quiet, doesn't seem to move much other than getting a little bigger slowly, and that's only if you happen to be looking at it. Otherwise it sort of suddenly just shows up.
"It should be noted that in a lot of these stories there is not just one person who fails to notice the train, but several. Three in this case. You would think that a person paying really close attention and looking for a train would see one coming, but that just means that the train coming from the other direction is going to be a real surprise."
Alex: "My spouse, a civil engineer, had to work on a bridge that crossed over some railroad tracks, and her entire work crew had to go take the basic safety training provided by the railroad to their own employees. The one thing that stood out was this little fact: if a Norfolk & Southern employee is found sitting on a railroad track, he or she is fired on the spot."
wts: "Welded rail (no clickety-clack), silent electric engines or almost silent modern diesel-electric engines, modern wheel bearings, almost no vibration, etc. produce efficiency needed by modern railoads. That's why the loudest sounds from the Boston MBTA D-line trains behind my house are the air-conditioning units on the roof. Every school should teach the dangers and specifically the quietness, speed deception, and the dangers not just of being on the tracks but even near the tracks (for example, steel straps on flatcars may come loose and strike anything within 10 feet of the tracks). Yes, there are noisy exceptions, like wheels with flat spots that do make click-clack sounds, but these are truly the exceptions that eventually will get maintenance."
TC: "It's frightening that, even after reading this story, there are still comments claiming that you have to be uncommonly stupid to be hit by a train. This, in my opinion, is exactly the kind of thinking that ends up in people, thinking of course that they personally are not uncommonly stupid, to do these kinds of things. Just stay away. Thanks for the reminder, Mike; I plan to make this point to my students tomorrow."