Railfan Harassment

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Abilene Ks Railfan

Active Member
I have never been hassled by the locals, I have been watching trains for so long, that they always expect to see me. I always shoot from a public place, and I know a couple of the officers on the local, and county popo.
 

Extralist

The Origin Of Storms
I've been away from this site for a long time...now I remember why. I've never been hostile to fans but when one of the first things I read on my return is this...

"That was me, posting about my best friend back in Florida in the 80s...He mailed a letter to the president of Amtrak with a print of the photo with the date and location so the train could be ID'd. He got a long apology letter from the President...and I can only guess what happened to the engineer. "

Well son...it's fairly likely he wound up with discipline for Conduct Unbecoming...unless that little tantrum got him fired completely. Wonderful. You have a crummy day in the seat, get tired of wondering what the next camera-nut will do, spin up a single finger in frustration and the righteously offended fire off an 8X11. Bet that'll make the crews REALLY happy to see you next time.

A letter to the president with dates and times because you got flipped off? Really? And everybody wonders why lots of RR people truly hate railfans.

Then as soon as somebody gets busted, there's a whole new 'harassment' thread of woe-is-me because some supposedly out of control, two-bit RR cop ran your plate or a crew blew you in. Ever consider that they might occasionally be right?

Jeez you guys. You really are your own worst enemy.

Case in point: "Oh and BTW, with the encroaching on property lines, I have been guilty of that many times myself. If I see a hard to pass up photo its hard for me to think rationally sometimes . Usually I will take a few days on a railfanning trip, the first one is for scouting mostly. To try to find that little nook or tree stand that gets me closer to the action but is not dangerous. A spot that is hidden. Sometimes I will even bungie a camera to a solid area near the tracks. It really depends on if the zoom on the camera is going to be enough. I am always safety conscious though. I always liked calling it guerrilla railfanning." (emphasis added)

I rest my case.

I really love that "guerrilla railfanning" thing. As long as YOU think it's safe and appropriate for the shot you want...it's all good. Property lines are for everybody except a full-on railfan on a mission. Of course there's nothing that would make anyone suspicious if they happen to spot you slithering around in the trees and bushes. And that camera you left by the track...any idea what that looks like from my seat? Yeah, I don't know what it is either. Nothing to worry about though because you were being "safety conscious".

Here's a thought to chew on...I'm being safety conscious...you're trespassing.

You even acknowledge that you are willing to do it and then come to a rail fan forum looking for legitimacy, support and tales of similar adventures so it all sounds ok. The old bullsh*t meter is pegged.

I know...if I don't want to hear about railfans, why visit a railfan page? Well, for a long time I haven't but maybe a little perspective from the other side of the camera once in a while is a good thing.

Railfanning from my point of view is a great hobby, even though it intrudes on my livelihood sometimes. Perhaps a little constructive self-examination on the part of some in the railfan community would go a long way. Honestly...some of you folks scare me.

Think about it...
 

MCtrlSys

New Member
Wow, that was utterly hostile. I have NEVER been at odds with a train crew. More times than not I was completely up for helping them. If a crossbeam is stuck I am the one who reports it. I am the guy who directs traffic for a crew if the beams don't come down. I never get in anyone's business and if the driver of a train crew gets that hostile, they need therapy. I never get into a position where it is a threat to a train crew. EVER. Now I am going to ignore that post and move on. Troll elsewhere.

Also that comment will definitely flavor my article. If that is the way train crews view us, I will definitely make sure that the world knows that. With as many stupid drivers that get hit and as many people who idiotically stroll down the tracks and get hit I think railfans are the least of a train crews worry. Priorities dude. Any hog driver that gets pissed off enough to get enraged by a railfan taking pictures of the locomotive, that is not the railfan's fault and denotes a serious anti-social tendency on the loco drivers part. If they can't be an acceptable human well that is not the photographers fault.

Oh and just for the record, I am not one of those people who reports the hostility of a driver. I just rack it up to the dude having a bad day and move on to the next shot. I would never attempt to get anyone fired in this day and age. I think most railfans do the same. Don't lump people together like that, the people who identify with one group are not all the same. If you want to group people into one big lump why not just lump the idiots together instead of blaming the whole of the wrong group.

Finally, I worked technical support for 10 years, a job where every call that you get is on some level, hostile. I did that for 10 years which pans out to over 10,000 angry customers who wanted to blame me directly. I never became hostile or disgruntled with them. In fact I made it a priority to meet them half way and by the time I was done with every call, the customer was sane again. While I know the results of this are not the same as hitting a human with a train. I know stress. Technical Support is rated at the same stress level as Law Enforcement. Maybe the hog drivers need to become Buddhists or something. Mellow out.
 
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ByronWillcutt

New Member
Ex-Conductor

I live in Northeast Arkansas and love watching m.o.w. do there thing. I was in Jonesboro in 2011 taking pictures of a crew replacing ties on a switch on the BNSF the railroad I previously had worked for. I was on the shoulder of the highway taking pictures when a road foreman was notified by his crew while sitting in his truck. This person stormed across 5 lanes of traffic and started chewing my ass and making threats and even said he would take my camera. I tried to explain nicely I was a off duty deputy sheriff and he needed to calm down. Second I was on public property and third I knew the laws and rules of both sides and that I myself had worked for BNSF. Just like a light switch this guy was super friendly and apologized and walked away. Thats when I called him back over for my chat enough said. Thats the only problem I have ever encountered in 20 years of railfanning and I myself don't hassle the railfans. I know many and I will stop to chat about trains or the weather.
 

MCtrlSys

New Member
You know, it seems to me that the hostility between people has been getting worse and worse as time progresses. Me personally I try to get along with everyone. I think that maybe it is the stress that has been perpetrated by the corporate environment. I have worked for a few big companies and I know the type of pressure they can force on a person. As those companies grow larger and the amount of oversight that the government uses goes away it becomes worse. That and with the economy going into depression. People are feeling the pressure. As those factors grow the hostility gets worse. Plus there is also the media representation of human interaction that is flavoring things as well. They represent hostility as normal human interaction. Almost like it is a game. One way or another I do understand pressure. I feel for both sides. Oh and by the way, thank you for your take on this. It is interesting to get a story from someone who has not only worked for a railroad entity but knows the law as well. Thank you.
 

MCtrlSys

New Member
I have to say again, thank you all for helping me with this. I apologize for the my post that was before this last one but really, I detest human hostility. I believe that without knowing all of the details of a person you cannot pass judgement on them. In essence "Walking a mile in someone's shoes". But as it stands, even the statement that what I wrote was in response to is valuable information. I really do want to know everyone's opinion even if I don't agree with it.

Overall though, please keep posting, I find the whole thing to be quite fascinating. For the most part you all sound like people who I would love to go out railfanning with. There is nothing more important in this than human relations and the information that is exchanged in the process.

Mainly, I am writing this article and my book so that I can immortalize what happened during my 30 years of railfanning. I had the opportunity to stop actually going on railfan trips because my Nikon has passed on to the great camera shop in the sky. This makes it a good time to digitize photos and write my experience down. You are all making the initial process of data gathering very easy. :)
 

p51

Marty, it runs on steam!
You have a crummy day in the seat, get tired of wondering what the next camera-nut will do, spin up a single finger in frustration and the righteously offended fire off an 8X11. Bet that'll make the crews REALLY happy to see you next time.

A letter to the president with dates and times because you got flipped off? Really? And everybody wonders why lots of RR people truly hate railfans.
Well, 'son,' if you're having a bad day, you suck it up, buttercup, and don't flip off the public. That, or go buy a box of maxi-pads and think maybe you need to have a job where you can't act like a professional when the public sees you. You think people working the drive-through at McDonald's can flip people off and just say it was because they're having a bad day? Got a news flash for you, skippy, if I'd flipped off someone in a Humvee on a public highway when I was an Army officer, I'd have had my butt handed to me even if a member of the public didn't complain and my CO saw it (conduct unbecoming carries a pretty stuff fine for a Captain, possibly even jail time). I represented my entire organization and I wasn't to do childish stuff like that no matter how hard a day I'd had! It's called being a professional. In my current job, I have to be friendly and helpful no matter how crummy a day I'm having. I'm paid for that. It's my job.
You represent the freaking railroad in a cab. You don't like railfans? Ignore them or call it in when they're doing something that should be called in. Otherwise, stuff your union-inspried cloak of self-importance where the sun don't shine and don't take out your surly disposition on some guys who were just taking photos from a public road (which is what was happened to my friend who dropped the dime on that hogger to Amtrak).
I'm sick to death of hoggers who come onto these sites and whine like little children when things don't go their way. There are RR cops for a reason, if a foamer is doing something idiotic, then call the cops on them! But if the guy is just standing on a public road or off the RR property, then just deal with the fact that we have a free society that allows people to take photos of stuff when you're not trespassing...
 

Tacoma Tom

New Member
I have been a avid rail fan my entire life. My first cab ride was at 4 years old. I have photographed trains from coast to coast and have rode trains in nearly every state. I am still a rail road photographer and often go to very remote places where rail fans rarely go. So I will try to make a few points.

Long before 9/11 there was railroads that did not want photographers on their property. I grew up around Denver and the D&RGW wouldn't even let you take photos from their parking lot. If they caught you anywhere near their property they would chase you off and tell you not to come back. The Burlington northern on the other hand would give you a waiver, you signed it, and you could do pretty much anything you wanted. I used to go all over the locomotive taking photo's including walking on the roofs.

Times have changed drastically. I have personally been interviewed by the local police, homeland security, port police, State police, railroad police, and countless security guards. I have also been interrogated by locals who live in the area who wonder what I am doing. I was once followed by a Nebraska railroad cop from the Wyoming border all the way to North platte. Everywhere I stopped he would be sitting a half a block away.

I know that fighting the system is not going to work. So if you can't beat them join them right? And that is just what I did. Instead of pulling out a card with my rights as a photographer and demanding a lawyer. I instead went to the offices of the police department, railroad police, homeland security, and others and explained who I am, where I was likely to be on what day, and why I was there. I gave them all my information and signed anything they wanted me to sign.

Now when some jerk off rail road cop gives me a hard time, I tell him that I have already spoken and registered with the department of Homeland security, the Sheriffs department, the State patrol, and many others and that they can not only verify who I am but what I am doing there. I also explain to him that some of my biggest fans of my rail road photos are rail road cops, and managers in other states. He really can't say much after that.

My advice to other photographers is to make as many contacts as possible and get their cards. The more credibility you have the less they are going to care about you. Many of these people will consider you part of the security force once they trust you.
 

MCtrlSys

New Member
Really what I guess it comes down to in this respect is that the law states that you can take images of whatever you want from public property. Although certain public authorities have gone out of their way to say otherwise, that is the law. Also railfans do a great deal for railroad PR. So really when it comes down to it there is really nothing that the law or the railroad can say if it is being done properly.

Those who say otherwise are treading on some seriously un-american ground. Photography from a public area is right between Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. While it is not stated specifically the intent of those rights falls in the same category. Both of these try to keep an open flow of information going on about things that may be infringing or a potential infringement on the rights that this country was founded on. Overall so that the people know enough about the surrounding area that they can make informed decisions on how to deal with it. I always question corporations or government who has issues with a citizen documenting what they do. That always reeks of corruption.
 

MCtrlSys

New Member
@ Tacoma Tom: That worked out for you then? I am surprised. I definately didn't think I would hear that response while I was digging for information. I have to say, I am impressed. I would also like to hear more about it. If there is anything that you can tell me beyond what you just said let me know. You can write it here, PM me or I can give you my email addy. Whatever is more comfortable. You just hit upon the one main point I was looking for. I would also like to know how you approach these various entities and if there is any little stuff like dress, speech or something the react to more positively. Thank you for that bit of info.
 

Pat

Photo Critiques Welcome
A letter to the president with dates and times because you got flipped off? Really?
There is a bit of dichotomy there. What would the railfan say if he was told he wasn't allowed to photograph the train? That photography is a form of free speech protected by the Constitution. Believing that, shouldn't the photographer respect the engineer’s right to free speech as well?
 

p51

Marty, it runs on steam!
There is a bit of dichotomy there. What would the railfan say if he was told he wasn't allowed to photograph the train? That photography is a form of free speech protected by the Constitution. Believing that, shouldn't the photographer respect the engineer’s right to free speech as well?
Tell you what, tell that to a supervisor and see what he thinks. Flipping off the public when they're not doing anything wrong (or, if you want to be honest, even if they are doing something wrong) is something you should get in trouble for. They represent their employer, a photographer doesn't represent anyone but himself/herself.
If you can't see that fact, that a engineer represents the RR when he's in the cab (same as any employee on the job when dealing with the public), well, I'm glad you're not working for me. Does that mean that if I am dealing with you as a customer, I can say anything I want to you or flip you off? OF COURSE NOT!
 

RCH

Been Nothin' Since Frisco
I had to block a crossing for 26 minutes today to set out some cars. I was told I was number one by a couple members of the public who chose to express their opinion using a hand gesture. I thought of this thread and smiled and waved.
 

Abilene Ks Railfan

Active Member
I had to block a crossing for 26 minutes today to set out some cars. I was told I was number one by a couple members of the public who chose to express their opinion using a hand gesture. I thought of this thread and smiled and waved.
I've heard crews say this too when they're switching, and have crossings blocked.
(Sometimes I've had the idea, during summer to sell bottled water to waiting motorists at $5 a bottle) :D
 

MCtrlSys

New Member
Honestly I have heard those arguments. Lets face it guys, yes a photographer has the right to film whatever he wants from public property. Also I don't think we should punish an engineer having a bad day. Really the more we lay into each other the worse it gets though. If an engineer or track maintenance or even a manager flips me off I just shrug it off and move on. You are right in the fact that it reflects poorly on the company but honestly I have never had any respect for large corporations anyway. They aren't alive so why give them respect? However when it is person to person I say give everyone some leeway, treat them well and it will come back to you. Also, just because our idiot government is applying pressure to the railroads to tighten security doesnt mean we lay responsibility on the railroads feet. It is just another case of a hyperactive, tyrant government trying to make us afraid of the big bad phantom terrorist. If we dont let it get to us, they fail. We are all a part of this and it is always better to cooperate.
 

MCtrlSys

New Member
Oh BTW guys, just a note of the state of the article. The Kalmbach editor blew me off. That guy is a major elitist *******. He wouldn't even answer me directly. All of his responses were either one sentence or him sending me guideline PDFs. Man I am tempted to tell him where to stick it. He also told me that the whole railfan vs railroad thing is not a problem that it has actually gotten better. This guy is seriously detached from reality. I might keep on bugging him about it just to annoy him but I am giving up on the Trains magazine thing. I think I will hit up Railfan & Railroad. Hell maybe I should start up my own publication, it seems like I am more in touch with reality than they are.

One other question I have for you guys: My current blog is being made to deal with the issues that other magazines wont. The stuff that they won't touch. Real issues like self-defense in the case of bad areas. How to not be seen or not attract attention while railfanning. Stuff like that. Also good stuff like locomotive spotting tips, advanced optics, shoot and scoot techniques in high security areas and so on. Nothing illegal but definatley real. I know we have all filmed in the occasional gangland areas. I don't think you can have a yard without a bad area being close. Also I know that most railfan magazines don't really have enough space to go into real detail on these things. I was wondering if this is the kind of thing you would all like to see. Hell I might just do the e-mag thing, that is really low overhead anyway. If I got to a point where I thought it would be sellable I would probably only charge like 99 cents to a 1.50 for the PDF. I don't like overcharging but should make something from it. Let me know what your opinion is since I am currently not incredibly happy with Trains Magazine.

Another note. If I did the E-Zine thing it would be something for real people. In other words, you don't have to be one of the great trains writers or photographers to get a spot. The whole thing would be there to convey information. The electronic format would give a great deal of leeway for this as images wouldnt have to be 100 MB TIFFs in LWZ format to be published. In fact I would prefer it not be. I have been in the computer industry long enough to know that they picked that format arbitrarily. A full uncompressed JPEG looks just as good and in some cases better. Also there wouldn't be all of the formality of if something is appropriate. I think truth is more important than all of that. I thought about this after I wrote the first part of this last post and the cool thing is that in an e-format this could be made to be better than any of the print magazines out there. It could even be subdivided for different areas to make it all more comprehensive. I think it is a good idea, but again, I want to know what you all think. Cooperation is always better than competition.

If the response is good here on the idea I will start on a new site. I have unlimited bandwidth and webspace, plus I have been working with web design for long enough that something like this would be fairly quick to put in place. Well minus the actual content. If best case scenario comes to pass I could possibly make enough to pay for the articles at some later date for all of those inclined to write. I am just seeing a decline in railroad enthusiasts as of late and I hate for that to happen. I think something aimed more at the common guy who has some brains, a good instinct and a point and shoot should have a chance as well. Dontcha think?
 
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HDSDcouple

The Unwanted Line
I had to block a crossing for 26 minutes today to set out some cars. I was told I was number one by a couple members of the public who chose to express their opinion using a hand gesture. I thought of this thread and smiled and waved.

by the letter of the law if the person doing the flipping off is in a motor vehicle on a public higway when they flip the bird, that is considered road range and they can be arrested.
 

MCtrlSys

New Member
Honestly I think that RCH did the exact right thing. Number one, there is no benefit to getting torqued off by the action of someone who obviously didn't have the intelligence of the common turnip. Number two, he probably did more damage to the guy giving the bird by not reacting to him. The guy was probably stewing over the interaction for a few days after. I would consider that some small portion of justice. Me personally I only use the one digit salute with someone if they have just endangered my life on the road. I consider it a god given right to use my digit in that respect. Also I don't agree with there being a law about something like that. It seems to me to be just another state run money maker and not something that is that valid. Kind of like the laws on how low to the ground your car can be, no real valid point to it except the fact that the gov makes money it doesn't deserve from you. I do understand things like not being able to use a cell while driving, that makes sense.

If someone gives you the bird for something that is beyond your control just rack it all up to human stupidity and move on. Besides I would rather not make any more money for the gov. They have too much already. Just my opinion.
 

Pat

Photo Critiques Welcome
The observation was not to say that it’s o.k. to flip off the customers or people at random as a train passes through town. It’s the irony of railfans who on one hand defend their right to free speech (photography) yet would take action to restrict someone else’s because they don't like the message.

Why sent the picture to the railroad and prove to the crews that railfans are something to scorn? Think that guy will give anyone the line up now or hand off timetables? Show the picture to your friends and get a laugh out of it.
 
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