View Full Version : Its illegal to photograph trains in Staples, MN...

Christopher Muller
08-18-2006, 04:09 PM
...according to one officer.

As posted in the YahooGroup Nothern Minnesota Rail - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/northernminnesotarail (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/northernminnesotarail) Photo links have been removed. I posted this for the text and reading material only.

After train club at the depot in Bemidji, BSU John and I packed up
our gear and headed south to take in the perfect night for
railfanning. We left Cass Lake around 2200hrs, arriving in Staples
just before midnight.

On arrival, we found a coal train waiting on the mainline to head
onto the Brainerd Sub. He had to wait for an empty that was just
approaching Motley.

Once the loads started for the Brainerd Sub, I grabbed a shot of
both sets of crossing gates going down in advance of the coal loads.

I grabbed a shot of him snaking through the crossovers and with the
FRED blinking away as he goes across.

Next the parade of coal drags for Superior continued to pass
across. I think there were a total of three trains. I didn't have
any luck catching these trains.

Stacks started rolling after that, we caught several of them.
Here's what turned out.

A very not-so-friendly conductor eyed us up as he passed by... will
explain more in a minute.

Just as he was clearing, I heard the beautiful chime of the Amtrak
horn. He pulled in, and stopped short of where he did last time, so
I was out of position for a shot. Grabbed the camera and tripod and
set up. Had a little luck with the shots.

After Amtrak left, we were going to move to the 7th street crossing
between the yard and the split of the Brainerd and Staples Subs. On
the way, I observed a Staples Police Car turn around and start
following us. Knowing he was running my plate, I just kept driving,
trying to beat the inbound stack train to the crossing. However,
just as we crossed highway 210 the he turned his lights on. Hitting
the shoulder and getting my driver's license out, he came walking
up. Obviously the not-so-friendly conductor had called us in.
Despite being on outside of the BN tresspass signs, in a very safe
spot, atleast 15 feet from the tracks, he still felt it to be
unsafe. The cop knew what we were doing as he saw all the tripods
and cameras in the backseat of my car.

The officer told me, "Its illegal to photograph trains... you need
to get permission from the railroad. You can not be on their
property. He incorrectly chewed our butts out, telling us all
property north of the last road along the tracks is railroad
property. If this is true, all those parked cars for the car dealer
are tresspassing. Not wanting to get into it with a senior officer
(he was old), I told him we will stay off railroad property, but the
boundaries need to be made more clear. He went on to say its
suspicious to be next to the tracks. I didn't see where he was
coming from as he never seen us, only as we were leaving. But I
don't see what so wrong about having a folding table, two folding
chairs, three tripods, three cameras, and a cooler full of Mountain
Dew... I am nearly 100% sure the only reason the cops were called
is the train crew probably thought we were associated with the
couple of retards that were walking along and across the tracks. Oh
well, guilty by association I guess. This really blows because
Staples is a really great spot for doing night shots. Looks like
Detroit Lakes may have to be the next spot.

After missing two trains while sitting on the shoulder of the road,
we decided to leave Staples and started to head south, ending up
near Philbrook. We had just missed another eastbound stack train,
but a westbound was approaching soon as they met at Lincoln. I
tried to take a shot from a private crossing north of Philbrook, but
it didn't turn out.

Next we headed down to Lincoln and set up on the old highway 10
overpass. BSU John and I tried to use every available light I could
find to try and focus the cameras on the tracks. However, it
failed. (note to self, bring super enormous spotlight next time)
Finally a train came. We were point to the west (north) side of the
bridge, as we anticipated an eastbound. Wrong, a westbound M-train
came flying around the corner. I shot him, but messed it up because
I couldn't focus fast enough. Thats by far the hardest part of
night photography is trying to focus, especially when the subject is

With the camera in focus finally, all I needed was a train. About a
half an hour later, a grain train came into view. The lighting was
perfect with everything backlit by the headlights. The rails were
glowing with anticipation. I grabbed two shots that would take my
breath away. After the train passed, I got ready to review my
photos. I pushed the play button on the rebel only to have a dark
screen come up. I thought I totally messed up the exposure or
something, so I clicked to the previous photo I had taken of the
same train. It was also dark. I realized what had happened, I
started to curse myself and turned to John and said, "I forgot to
take the lens cap off". I couldn't believe it. I will take my D.
A. award now.

We decided to move after this serious of unfortunate events. We
went to Lincoln to try some gate lowering shots. One problem, no
trains. I took a few shots of the stars in the sky and the
motionless gates. Turned out pretty interesting with the stars in
the background.

We decided to head for home after this. Just when we were getting
into Motley, Amtrak was clearing their warrant from Richard's Spur
to Wadena. I figured without breaking the speed limit too bad
(didn't want to meet the Staples officer again tonight). We got
there with about two minutes to spare. Just as the gates started to
lower, the train pulled into the crossing. We would have to venture
into the roadway to get a shot to avoid "tresspassing" on public
property. Just as I got my camera set up and the train had just
stopped, two blasts of the horn meant highball. The train hardly
stopped. I don't think one person got on or off the train. Wish he
would have stopped for a shot with the crossing signals, but we all
have a schedule to keep. This would be the last train for the

Closing thoughts... its really too bad people are too ignorant to
understand and appreciate what were doing out there. I know its
even harder to understand when you drive over 100 miles to shoot
trains, let alone at 3am! The spot where we were, is clearly
visible, safe, and far enough from the tracks. There are no signs
posted, but what the law says goes. I've always believed that.
Hopefully this will not be an ongoing problem. Luckily just east of
the depot, there is a somewhat elevated parking lot for the grocery
store. Unless something else changes and this becomes railroad
property also, this is where I'll be doing night shots from.

-MN Chris

Please note, photo links removed because you have to be a member of the group to view them, obviously if you're reading it here you're not a member. If I get the time tonight/tomorrow, I will upload the photos off the group so everyone can view them.

Christopher Muller
08-18-2006, 04:14 PM

Here are the accepted photos on RP.net... I'll try to upload more tonight/tomorrow.

Andrew Blaszczyk (2)
08-18-2006, 05:48 PM
Awesome, but unfortunate trip report, Chris. I must disagree with the statement "What the law says goes." This is not true if there is no policy or signs. They can hassle you and even go as far as take you in (which I understand is not really something you try to provoke), but their case will never hold up if it goes any further. Having a reliable source that knows the statures about legal-illegal photography matters is definitely becoming a must in this day and age. Anyway, like I said, great report I hope you'll be doing more soon it really gives me something to do at work. Haha. Thanks for sharing.

PS. Makes me wanna go out and do some night photography.

08-19-2006, 12:03 AM
Where's the professional courtesy?!?

Save The Wave
08-19-2006, 01:47 AM
That is some nice shooting from both of you, I love doing night shooting.
Too bad about the a-holes, hopefully they'll forget and move on.

Christopher Muller
08-19-2006, 04:37 AM
Where's the professional courtesy?!?

All bets are off when your in CODE RED: All Out Paranoia, with everyone running around like this :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock:

John Fladung
08-19-2006, 04:49 AM
In my nine months of "serious" railfanning I have never seen a crew member so mad. The sliding window on that SD40-2 was throw open so hard I could hear it slide and slam to the open position, he then stuck most of his upper body out, I just kept waving thinking he was trying to be overly friendly and maybe pose for a shot but his facial expression and glare proved otherwise, little did I know later on we would be stopped by the police due to being reported by this railroad employee.

Good report Chris, sums things up very well.

08-19-2006, 10:24 AM
This stuff seems to be getting more and more common, and not just with train photographers. I havan't personally had any problems (though if I keep shooting at my local Metra station that may change), but I've heard all kinds of stories from photoraphers shooting from public property getting into trouble for no good reason. It's one thing to be alert, but to hassle every person standing outside with a camera is just going way to far.

Christopher Muller
08-19-2006, 03:24 PM
...keep in mind it was 3am, in a town with less than 3k people.

08-19-2006, 06:38 PM
Small town mentality, I guess. Nothing good happens after midnight, they say, but when you're within your rights, there's not a thing they can do...

Joe the Photog
08-19-2006, 08:52 PM
Too bad you guys didn't have your hand BNSF railfan "Get out of jail free" card.


08-19-2006, 09:56 PM
The fact that MN Chris is a law enforcement official himself is the trump card. It just looks like the Staples Roscoe was just being a PITA...

08-19-2006, 10:05 PM
What happens when you get a grumpy conductor and a grumpy cop?

Two people looking to spread a little joy in the world.

Christopher Muller
08-20-2006, 12:11 AM
The fact that MN Chris is a law enforcement official himself is the trump card. It just looks like the Staples Roscoe was just being a PITA...

While hardly an Official, I used my judgement and figured in this situation using either would be inappropriate. The officer was simply investigating a call that he received. While he was incorrect on a few technicalities (the railroad property, and that its illegal to photograph trains w/o railroad permission), I don't think he was out justification on any doing what he did.

Staples Police Department, along with Todd County Sheriff's Office, will be getting a letter, advising them their officers need to be made aware of what is legal and illegal as far as photographing railroads. You can't enforce laws that don't exist.

Reminds me of when one of my partners stopped an off duty police officer for speeding (not just speeding, they were going 94/55 - after pulling on to the roadway just a half mile before). The suspect said, "I'm a cop." My officer responded, "Good for you, I'll add that to the ticket and report for wreckless endangerment."

08-20-2006, 02:07 PM
While he was incorrect on a few technicalities (the railroad property, and that its illegal to photograph trains w/o railroad permission),."

What's funny, is that the BNSF Citizen's Reporting thingy, is in a sense, a permission slip - as long as you aren't violating the "agreement(s)" printed on the card.

09-14-2006, 09:13 AM
Well, the one benefit of having a scanner is you get a great heads up when someone's having a bad day and wants to share the love. When you hear that call to dispatch it's time to find a new spot 10 mi down the track! :-)

Christopher Muller
09-14-2006, 01:27 PM
Well, the one benefit of having a scanner is you get a great heads up when someone's having a bad day and wants to share the love. When you hear that call to dispatch it's time to find a new spot 10 mi down the track! :-)

That in its self is a gross misdemeanor in Minnesota.

...just a follow up, I had another encounter with another officer in Staples a week ago. This officer was very kind and in a good mood, he pretty much told me go where ever you want, just don't get hit.

09-30-2006, 07:45 PM
Those are the type of officers im talking about! The officers and railroad employees that jump over someone just for having a bad day is so common its sad. Im, what you might say a BAD guy, as I WILL tresspass, only if I think its safe. Im a very careful person, and many railroad personel ive talked to *while tresspassing on their property* say just be careful and usually wave or tell me when the next train is coming. CP guys are the nicest when it comes to this. BNSF, ive had one bad run in with. For those of you that go to Northtown, by the 35th Ave bridge, will notice the dirt road that leads to the North runner. I was standing about 15 feet from the track, full knowing the WC was being routed through the bowl and to the T yard. So i was patiently waiting and some BNSF crew got out and said "its not safe waiting there" And Im not ever going to argue if i am caught for tresspassing, but the thing is, if I did want to argue, i would say put a sign up. There is only one sign, and it reads "attention, remote control area". Ofcourse i left and went on the bridge again. Thing is, some of the law enforcers (railroad too) think that people are idiots when photographing trains.

I was just up North last weekend, at Park Rapids, and saw a few trains at night while going through the Motley-St. Cloud freeway. We went up there to fish, but i was always wishing to be taking pics....


11-15-2006, 07:38 PM
...according to one officer.

The officer told me, "Its illegal to photograph trains...

Closing thoughts... its really too bad people are too ignorant to
understand and appreciate what were doing out there.

-MN Chris

tape record what people say , without their knowlege,

really helps out with 'Authority Figures'

11-17-2006, 11:01 AM
Well, the one benefit of having a scanner is you get a great heads up when someone's having a bad day and wants to share the love. When you hear that call to dispatch it's time to find a new spot 10 mi down the track! :-)

Damn right! Any freq you want at www.radioreference.com (http://www.radioreference.com) .