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Friday, 18 September 2015


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What's the fascination with train tracks?? Seems like every photo sharing site has teens-on-tracks photos. People who shoot Senior Photos show seniors-on-tracks shots—why??

Camera Assistant Sarah Jones was killed during the filming of Midnight Rider http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/midnight-rider-production-company-hit-823929 Ms Jones was a professional, much more aware of the danger, than some high school students.

Just looking at that photo is painful. Anyone who's experienced the loss, despite the cause, knows the feeling all too well. We just don't realize how freakin' vulnerable we are at that age. Death is the farthest thing from our mind. And yet...

Something as yesteryear slow and old fashioned as a train still has the power to take us completely by surprise and kill us in our tracks; iPhones, Twitter and Instagram be damned- there are still things out there in the world today bigger than you or I that can actually kill us in our own back yard. Or half a world away. Trains, thoughts... and lack thereof.

And in a few years hence when nature rebels full force against the atrocities we have committed against it, only then will we begin to realize the dangers that we have (un)knowingly unleashed- and in turn, be subject to.

For Robert, who was slower than a speeding train.

Very sad. Particularly So because it is a nice moving picture, and the rail line does not even form any pat of the photo. D

#StayOffTracks or similar can be a succinct social media hashtag for awareness. This issue does deserve awareness by EVERY photo instructor!

"...were being photographed on the tracks by his girlfriend's sister"

I'm going to jump to conclusions and suggest that in this case, there may not have been a lot of formal photographic training going on.

I'm really not sure what the solution is except make the general population more aware that train tracks are very dangerous places to be. After all, it's not just photographers and their subjects getting killed on them.

I did not realize how stealthy trains were until this article, so thanks for posting and I am sending it along to others. When I was growing up, and going to high school in the late 70's in a small farm town, we knew a kid that could not out run trains in his car. Sort of a test to run with the train and then beat it to a crossing. There were three grades, pass, fail or get a steal plate in your skull. This guy got the middle grade.

This is similar to what we see at the Grand Canyon where people try to get as close to the edge as possible for a photo. Several people die every year at the Canyon from falls. Some of them are posing for photos. The warnings say to stay at least six from the edge but that warning is often ignored.

As a long-time rail enthusiast, was most interested in the photograph of the deceased person. Operation LifeSaver tells the general population there will always be one or more people who want to "beat the light!" Thing is. it is not just the people racing to beat
the train that end up as dead meat. It is the distracted/doing something else operator of a set of wheels or even their own two feet that also
meet their demise. Then too why would two (or more) parallel pieces of steel be placed on the road surface? If you have "never" seen a train or physically experienced a train; how do you know what the danger is, and there are many places where there is no railroad. Then too some people are simply dense between the ears; more interested in what now than what if.

The light isn't even that good. Okay, kidding aside (though it does seem spotty), we need a national PSA campaign that shows how many people get killed or injured each year, because it's been written about over and over the message is just not reaching people.

I bet if we went to any high school in the US and asked kids if they thought that train tracks are dangerous, they'd say they can handle it. Not to worry.

It could be told from the POV of the train operators who have to live with such tragedy.

Just like texting and driving, one becomes engrossed with what they're doing, and doesn't perceive the danger until it's too late.

I am a Faculty member at large University with about 5,000 students enrolled in our business program. On Friday, the Fire Alarm went off during my Lab and I instructed my students to leave the building by the nearest stairway.

I was shocked at the number of students who ignored the alarm and were still heading up the escalators while I was exiting the building and ignored my loud warnings for them to leave the building. Sadly many of our students lack the life skills to make wise choices regarding their safety.

Photographers want that 'special shot' and all safety considerations seem to go out the window in the process. Stupidly, I'm guilty of taking risks in my own landscape work.

Good on you for raising the issue.

There was a piece on the news recently about the amount of Russians dying taking selfies..


Here in the UK, it's not unusual to hear of people losing their lives taking photos near cliff edges. For example....



This could perhaps be distilled to a plea for what used to be called "common sense" but now seems strikingly uncommon. Perhaps we should have a class in that prior to the selection of potentially lethal photo sites. While I have walked upon train tracks, crossed them, and even rode upon them in a train, I have never felt endangered. It may be because I exercised "uncommon sense", or it may be I'm just lucky. If it's luck, I've also been lucky cave diving, using firearms, riding motorcycles on and off road, and other things potentially lethal. It's tragic when a young life is lost, I have watched my best friend deal with that loss, a college age son. I don't lack empathy. But getting run over by a train is something that takes a significant amount of carelessness. Use common sense. Maybe you are seeking the best train tracks portrait ever, still, you should watch for trains. You can get the shot after the train passes, and at least for a short while, there's likely only one direction the next one will approach from. Uncommon sense, use it or acquire it. either way, it could save your life.

Most who photograph along tracks are trespassing. The kid and his friends were stupid and not paying attention. Now the engineer has to live with this death even as he was not responsible.

There's a fine balance between teaching a child his or her limitations, and instilling a healthy sense of self-confidence. Adolescents in particular are largely unaware of their limitations—I know I was. If my parents had any idea how much time I spent on subway tracks when I was that age, I think they would have either had heart attacks, or locked me up in my room and thrown away the key.

Photography teachers might be able to help, but they're only one part of what needs to be a unified effort to educate these kids and young adults with regard to the dangers involved in what seems to them, to be innocent fun.

This video pretty much says it all. https://youtu.be/b8ZDXCd59-U

So tragic and so unnecessary.

If memory serves, I believe the sound radiation pattern of a moving train is such that most is radiated to the sides, which is why regulations require the engineer to blast the horns at specific distances from intersections. Which does little for folks on tracks in other locations. People also grossly missjudge the speed of on coming trains.
This should be required viewing:

The time it takes a person to perceive a threat and react to it is called the perception-reaction time. In addition to that is the maneuver time (the time it takes to move out of danger). In accident reconstructions, the perception-reaction time is usually found to be at least 1.5 seconds and increases with increasing danger (i.e. people have a tendency to freeze in very dangerous "unusual" situations).

A train moving at 70mph covers about 100 feet per second.

A person on the tracks will need to see it at minimum of 300 feet (100m) away to just about get off the tracks before it hits you assuming you can react in 1.5 seconds and it takes another 1.5 seconds to get off the track. I suspect most people will be slower than this.

You really need to get 10 feet or more away from the track to avoid being buffeted by the displaced air from the train (another 3 paces or so -- perhaps another couple of seconds).

So you need to see the train perhaps 600 or more feet away to get clear. You won't hear it at this distance.

This is nothing new, unfortunately.

On the first journey of a passenger railway service between Liverpool and Manchester on 15 September 1830 the MP William Huskisson was killed when he was runover by the Rocket at an informal stop on the journey.

At Parkside railway station, near the midpoint of the line, the locomotives made a scheduled stop to take on water. Although the railway staff advised passengers to remain on the trains while this took place, around 50 of the dignitaries on board alighted when the Duke of Wellington's special train stopped. One of those who got off was William Huskisson, former cabinet minister and Member of Parliament for Liverpool. Huskisson had been a highly influential figure in the creation of the British Empire and an architect of the doctrine of free trade, but had fallen out with Wellington in 1828 over the issue of parliamentary reform and had resigned from the cabinet. Hoping to be reconciled with Wellington, he approached the Duke's railway carriage and shook his hand. Distracted by the Duke, he did not notice an approaching locomotive on the adjacent track, Rocket. On realising it was approaching he panicked and tried to clamber into the Duke's carriage, but the door of the carriage swung open leaving him hanging directly in the path of the oncoming Rocket. He fell onto the tracks in front of the train, suffering serious leg injuries and dying later that night.

More details here (including the warnings of an approaching train and the unfortunate sequence of events that give this the character of a "normal accident" (i.e. multiple contributing failures and omissions leading to the incident).

One of the points that came up at the enquiry was that as Huskisson was unused to the speed and the aspect (viewing the locomotive head on) of a steam locomotive he misjudged both the train's speed and distance. He tried to climb onto a carriage (without steps) rather than moving to the side of the line and up onto the embankment (where most people moved to).

Given it was 1830 photography didn't have anything to do with this accident but people and active railway lines don't mix.

Some seniors,...never get to be seniors.

Metro Trains Melbourne, Dumb Ways to Die.
111 million likes.


I grew up in the South East of England where most railway lines are electrified using a third rail system so even without trains present railway lines are dangerous and as a result are nearly all fenced in. British Rail (as it was then) regularly visited schools and showed films about the danger of both trains and the third rail. They lacked the budget to show "real" accidents but were well written and artfully shot so that your over active juvenile imagination filled in all the gaps. Forty years later I still feel uncomfortable being near railway tracks, even those without a third rail!

Dear Jim,

Perhaps it is unintentional, but your message reads as " If you're reasonably careful and cautious, this is a sensible thing to do."

Ummm, no. Very much no.

Please think about Kevin's maths. Human reaction times, especially when doing something else. Real lines of sight and hearing. Real train schedules.

At a minimum it requires two people beyond those involved in the photography, plus practice response training. Not discussion, actual practice, with someone else running a stopwatch.

That isn't sufficient prep, but it's mandatory. Anything less and what you call "common sense" (God, but I hate that phrase) will still kill you.

Your advice is so bad that if it were my post, I'd be asking Mike to delete it.. He can do that.

Please consider it.

pax / Ctein

As for the public consciousness: just one hour ago I watched a report together with my children in the childrens news on the German childrens channel (KiKa) about this case. It warned very strongly of doing such foolish things.

Timely post. I did a favor for a friend today, taking a few portraits of her son. But I had to talk them out of the train track location they had been looking forward to, this article still on my mind.... Instead I found a nice safe, pretty creek for a backdrop.

This may be (sadly) a losing battle. I asked the mods of a photo model site to ban or at least restrict photos taken on train tracks. My argument was, besides simple safety, also liability, since every photo set used on the site is reviewed by real humans. My request was never responded to by the site administrators/owners, but plenty of photographers responded about why the site should not ban train track photos. The reasons ranged from somewhat plausible ("I've shot on tracks that are clearly abandoned and have connections to live track removed") to absurd ("Everything we do carries some risk").

I've made my point and put them on notice, but the lack of action is frustrating.

I linked to this on a Facebook page, and it's been shared and commented on by others. It might do some good there.

OSHA upholds fines against producers of 'Midnight Rider' http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-osha-fines-midnight-rider-20150916-story.html

"They were fully aware that the railroad tracks were live, and that they did not have permission to film there," Petermeyer added.

Maybe it's time to sue the parents of the teen photographer.

What is especially sad about these train track deaths is that almost anywhere there are train tracks (generally speaking. Think regionally) there will be abandoned/dis-used/defunct/decommissioned tracks that will be inherently safe as they don't support actual train activity, and may well be more photogenic.


I second Kevin Purcell's terrific post. At 600 feet (200 yards), you won't of course, notice the train at all unless you happen to be looking straight in that direction, and will not perceive the train to be moving at all.

Perspective effects at that distance will take care of that.

Nobody thinks taking picture in the middle of a seemingly empty highway is safe. Why do they think it is safe to do so in the middle of train tracks?

It is depressingly common to do these kind of shoots. Just Google Image search for "formal photographs railroad tracks" and the amount of photographs of people on shiny-railed "live" tracks is quite disturbing, some even with entire families with little kids!

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