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dns860 08-25-2004 02:03 PM

The World Is A Safer Place Today
Yesterday I was confronted by a single MTA police officer at New Rochelle station. He told me very calmly that he will arrest me for trespassing if he sees me photographing trains one more time. He reminded me I'd been warned several times now. In fact he knew about the last confrontation by New Rochelle Police last Wednesday, even though he wasn't there, and even though it was a different agency than his. In other words, he knew of me before we met, which means the agencies are exchanging information about me.

So I will stop. I don't want to mount a protest. I'm just a guy. I just wanted to do my thing. I sure don't want to get arrested. They're not going to let me do my thing, even though they know my interest in trains is completely benign.

I took 62 photos yesterday. I will submit the best ones once I am done editing them. I think a few of yesterday's photos might pass muster. And that will be that.

I guess New York City is a safer place today, now that nobody has to worry about me taking pictures of trains.


busyEMT 08-28-2004 04:56 PM

Too bad you have to stop completely.

It is a bit more tolerated here in the Twin Cities. Last month I was "warned to stay clear of the tracks."

As I waited for an H-CSXPAS train, north of Northtown, I had a camera on a tripod and one hanging from my neck. I saw a Special Agent drive down the service road and thought this was my invite to leave. But to my surprise, he was going to drive past me. I said Hi, he waved and then I alerted him to the fact that one of his headlights was out. He stopped and corrected a loose wire problem and prepared to continue on his way. I took this opportunity to inquire about the CSX consist I had seen at an un-photographable spot. He pulled out his daily schedule and told me if it hadn't been by yet, it should be soon (it was an hour late). I thanked him and he left.

AEM7NATE 08-29-2004 11:56 PM

What happened to the freaking permit???

Remind me never to railfan within 200 miles of New York. Just reading your posts....GRRRR!!!! :roll:

I feel for you Dave.


dns860 08-30-2004 02:42 AM

Safer Place Update
Hi Nate!

I did get a permit. It's valid for one week only, from 8/28/2004 to 9/6/2004, and only at Metro-North's Tarrytown, Riverdale, Crestwood, Fleetwood, and New Rochelle stations. And I was reminded when I received it that the police's authority supercedes the permit.

Things are tense for the general public here in New York. Everyone is closely watched. I rode Metro-North today to get to a work assignment in Harrison. There was a police car at the station where I boarded a train, a uniformed state policeman on the train, and I saw at least five uniformed officers at New Rochelle, a station Amtrak shares with Metro-North. It also appears that helicopters are patrolling the rail lines. So much for any attempt to pretend that the day would be an idyllic, late-summer 'Penny Lane' or 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' free from fear, despite the clear blue sky, the balmy temperataure, and the bright, abundant sunshine. I had a subtle but persistent feeling of being in danger until I got home.

Most people I talk to believe if some fanatic wants to harm us, eventually he or she will find a way, and all the security in the world won't stop them. But we can't just look the other way and hope the threat will go away, either. These people really do present a clear and present danger. More and more I think about moving to the country, if this is how things are going to be.

I've spent my life just working and trying to get by. It's hard to believe anybody would want to hurt me for that. Can things be so different elsewhere for the common man? I really don't have time for hating others. I'm just trying to get by, make it through the day, the week, the month, the year. I'm nobody, and I have to adapt continuously no matter what mandates a change, be it my family, the economy, my government, or threats made real by fanatical foreigners. I guess what I'm saying is that life was challenging enough without all this fear and security stuff.

From what I hear, security in Midtown Manhattan is even more intense. Every kind of police vehicle imaginable is patrolling the avenues. Major thoroughfares are completely closed. Anybody seen as loitering is scooped up and brought elsewhere, if they can't move along all by themselves. Sentries wearing helmets stand at every corner in flak jackets. They have automatic assault rifles slung over their shoulders or cradled in their hands. Most of the soldiers don't return eye contact. Most are half my age. Do they know enough about life to judge me fairly?

The security is for the best, I suppose, but I must say it's more depressing than reassuring to me. Two guys were hauled in just this week, and the papers said they had all kinds of bad plans. They alledgedly wanted to blow up a subway station, among other locations. Just two guys. It's believed that they are not even connected with Al-Qaeda. Just two angry foreign guys. A policeman told me he doesn't think things are ever going to be the way they used to be.

The reason for the ultra high state of readiness is of course the RNC this week in Manhattan. Amtrak passengers were especially scrutinized. Those trains as I'm sure you all know go directly beneath MSG.

Sure, I think the added security is great. It's just too bad that a railfan like me who could be sort of like a free extra security guard is seen as a bothersome flake - or worse, a suspect.

The Republicans chartered a private varnish special to get to NYC. It came down the Hudson Line this evening. I'm sure hanging around the station would have gotten me unwanted attention, so I didn't even try to get a picture of the train, even with my permit, which was in fact valid today at Riverdale Station.

I wonder if the tension surrounding the RNC will make my permit a meaningless piece of paper. Nevertheless, I do feel lucky to have it!

MTA/NYC Transit as yet offers no formal photo pass for the general public, as far as I know. I just called the head office, and much to my surprise, was able to directly ask a high profile person for a pass, and after a few hours such a permit was faxed to me. I do wonder if my name preceded my call! Now I can enter the TRAINS photo contest. I'm not expecting to win anything, but at the very least I want to be able to say I tried.

I understand the MBTA has begun issuing 'official' photo passes. There is no fee for the pass, but applicants must go to the MBTA HQ in person to apply, and if a pass is granted it is only valid for 30 days. Who's going to want to go down there every 30 days and re-apply?

The fact is, in NYC photographing just about anything causes some people alarm. My friend was detained and questioned for an hour outside the Javitz Convention Center after he was observed taking a picture of the midtown skyline. And my friend is a very presentable, married, and stable caucasian American-born man who wears khaki slacks and Ralph Lauren polo shirts. He just likes photography. It was sunset, he told me, and the sky and and the sun were reflecting off the skyscrapers in a photogenic manner.

At least two of my friends will not accompany me anywhere if I have my camera. They are worried we will be stopped by police. They tell me to accept the realities of the present, like food rationing, gas rationing, and dimming the lights on Broadway were accepted in another war 60 years ago.

If I sold cameras for a living, I'd be very concerned about this widespread public mis-perception that any type form of public photography is illegal in New York.


AEM7NATE 08-30-2004 10:52 AM

And so the debate continues.

I suppose it would do no good for me to rant, and that's not me anyway. I am a very peaceful person, and as you know I have moved my gear more then once at the request of law enforcement with out so much as a word (to them) on how silly it was.

I know how much I enjoy the art/hobby, and I really feel for you. I understand all the song and dance of security measures. I have utmost respect for our armed servicemen here and abroad.

No offense Dave, but I have seen your website. You look about as threatening as.....well, you don't let's say. :lol:

Hope you find a new place to hang out. If not come down to PA and catch some frieght trains with me. I am a big electric (Amtrak) fan, but I enjoy some good frieghts. Harrisburg is awesome for that.

Best regards, Dave.


dns860 08-30-2004 02:09 PM

My Web Site
Yes, Nate, I am a fearsome-looking man. People tell me I resemble a hostile, lobotomized Telly Savalas. It's awfully lonely for me. Old ladies cross the street when I am out walking. Police officers rest a hand on their night sticks when I come near. Shopkeepers jump to my attention just to get me out of their stores as quickly as possible, because I frighten the other customers. Sometimes they don't even charge me for my purchases. "Just take the milk and orange juice! No charge! But please leave!" Their politeness is so obviously insincere it breaks it my heart. I sometimes see myself as sort of a Frankenstein railfan monster. That's why I bought a tuxedo recently and began practicing a tap-dance act to the tune "The Orangeblossom Special." You know, to improve public perception of me. I figure I'll do my act at the Harvest Fair in October. Then the townspeople will see I'm really just a gentle soul who just likes trains and means no harm to anyone.

Maybe I will come to Harrisburg!


Miketherailfan 08-30-2004 05:32 PM

When I was railfanning at Homestead,PA while waiting for a CSX or NS train, there was one of the Waterfront's security officers. He sat there, and when he drove off, he didn't seem to care that I had a camera around my neck. What a close call!

JButler 08-30-2004 09:31 PM

Gee, I guess I am way at the onter end of the spectrum. I carry a camera in my cruiser, and try to get some decent shots while on coffee and lunch breaks.
It is just sad that there is not a good doughnut shop in my town. I have had to resort to taking pictures of trains when loafing on city time. :wink:
Jim Butler

Aaron 08-30-2004 11:13 PM

I have been reading this post and wondering how horrible it must be to go thru all that trouble just to take some pictures of trains. Here in Canada, for the most part, no permit is required. (the real only exception is TTC subway stations, and Toronto Union Station) I frequently go to oshawa station, which is not really a small station, and take pictures at pretty much any given time. Early morning, late evening. Anytime I please I go to oshawa to take pictures. As some of you have noticed I have a lot of pictures from OShawa Station. I just could not imagine going thru thaT hassel to take pictures. Myself, I dont think I would really bother getting permits or taking pictures if it was that much grief. Anyways, those are my two cents worth.

AEM7NATE 08-31-2004 12:14 AM

Well, we should mention that worse things could happen, and life really is not that bad. We could be much worse off in alot of ways. We are a truely blessed people and country.

That being said, it is a shame what is happening to our hobby. A section of history may remain undocumented in the name of "security". Those who have seen my posts should know I respect and appreciate all that's being done to protect America, and those who do it. I just wish some, (not all), of those in authority would recognize the lack of logic in bothering folks that clearly are no threat. See Dave's website for a pic of Dave .. :lol:



cmherndon 08-31-2004 03:35 AM


Originally Posted by AEM7NATE
Well, we should mention that worse things could happen, and life really is not that bad. We could be much worse off in alot of ways. We are a truely blessed people and country.

How right you are. We live in the greatest country in the world.


That being said, it is a shame what is happening to our hobby. A section of history may remain undocumented in the name of "security".
It's also a shame that a lot of people fail to realize that railfans are some of the best FREE security a railroad has.


I just wish some, (not all), of those in authority would recognize the lack of logic in bothering folks that clearly are no threat.
The few times I've actually been questioned by police, nobody has asked me to leave. In two instances the cops pulled up and then asked what I was doing. After I told them what and why, they left seeing that I posed no threat to local or national security. Another instance, I was actually called in by a local resident for "taking pictures" like it was some crime or something. The sheriff showed up, wanted to know what I was doing, and after ten minutes was finally satisfied that I didn't pose a threat. He asked, "Why are you taking pictures of trains? Is it for a school project?" to which I replied, "No sir, this is for my own personal whim. It's a hobby." He left shortly afterwards.


See Dave's website for a pic of Dave .. :lol:
What's the address? Surely Dave doesn't look like a threat to national securty...well, that is unless he's taking his train photos with a turban on his head. :lol:

dns860 08-31-2004 05:53 AM

Today's Experiences
Thanks for all the support! It takes a strong demeanor to look at me. Some people have nightmares for weeks and months afterwards. But if you feel you've got the right stuff, here's a picture of me:


Today I went to Manhattan. I arrived at New Rochelle Station about 15 minutes before train time. It just so happened that there were five empty MoW tie cars on Track One, which is the northbound express track. There were also five uniformed police officers from New Rochelle and Metro-North police departments, plus a bomb-sniffing attack dog watching over the passengers and the platforms.

Before I pulled out my camera, I figured it would be best to let them know I had a permit. I went up to two of them and introduced myself. I offered to show them my permit. They just waved me off. One of them said, "I didn't know it was illegal to take a picture of a train!" Neither wanted to see my permit!

I gotta say that remark made me wonder! I was searched, questioned, and told to move on seven times for taking pictures before I got my permit!

About a minute later, Metro-North EMD GP-35 #106 came around the bend into the station. It had come to pick up the empty tie cars and clear the line before rush hour began.

Well, I've been hanging around the tracks a lot since June, and I've never seen #106. I don't see any of M-N's MoW locos very often. Naturally, I hurried off to snap a few pics. (The pics I took are in the queue now!)

I could tell the policemen were amused by me. I must have seemed like an overgrown kid to them, I thought. I mean, I pretty much ran down the platform to get a shot on the sunny side of the locomotive. After I got a few good shots, I walked back up the platform to retrieve my daypack, which I'd simply abandoned right at two officer's feet - a big no-no these days! Everyone is on the lookout for unattended parcels.

I think the two officers became a little more curious about me at that point. One of them said, "let me see that permit. I want to see that permit." I fished it out of my pack. He told me he'd never seen a photo permit.

The other officer asked me how I knew #106 was coming. I told him the truth: I didn't! It was just luck. Then he asked me what was so great about the locomotive, and why I wanted to a picture of it. I told him all I usually see on the line are the same electric m.u.'s, day after day. He told me if I wanted to see diesels, I ought to go across the Hudson River and check out the trains over there. (CSX's ex-NYC West Shore Line). Then he said his shift was over and walked away.

At that point, the other officer handed me back my permit. I could tell he didn't want to talk to me anymore. I don't know why, but I felt sort of embarassed. He looked hot, tired, sad, and bored. I took back my permit, said thanks, and walked away.

My train arrived a few minutes later. I checked out the photos I took of #106 on my way to NYC. I think they came out pretty good. I guess I'll find out what the screeners think tomorrow!


PS - I did some more creative writing recently. Check out the thread about Digital SLR's if you're curious.

AEM7NATE 09-01-2004 02:58 AM


Your comment on FREE security is so true.

Sorry to beat a dead horse, but when I was at Perryville, I was doing just that. I could see the whole Amtrak bridge, and 3+ miles in the other direction with a 300mm lens and 10x binoculars. Talk about coverage. I have an opened Icom ham radio (callsign KG3X, only used on ham bands), but if I had to I had a cell phone and access to Amtrak channels, (ONLY emergencies, please no flaming).

???? As I said before, the cop who asked me to move on seemed sheepish as she said it. Now Dave may be asking for it just a bit trying to railfan NYC, but he loves that area just like I love the areas I do. He is not a threat, and the cops up there should know it by now.

Oh well, let's press on folks. I hope to contribute my slides soon as I get my slide scanner for Christmas. Yes, I shoot slides on a MANUAL camera, and proud of it. I can do very artistic shots.

Best Regards all,


Rich 09-06-2004 04:02 AM

Welcome to Soviet America-the terrorists have already won. (that's our own government, right?

Now you know why I'm getting out of NJ and moving to Pa.

upswitchman 09-12-2004 05:54 AM

Hi Dave,
The problem is only going to get worse! Just the other day Peter Jennings on World News done a sigment on how easy it is for a terrorist to board a commuter train plant a bomb and get off without being suspected.
I believe this may have upset these commuter lines in a way that they will prove to the public and to the world that any would be terrorist trying there luck will be cought. They my think in there mind a person could be taking pictures for the terrorist so that they can use the pictures to plan an attack. It is a shame that we live in a country that has stripped our rights as Americans to be unable to continue our way of living. If you or any other member or other people cannot take a picture of a train then the terrorist have won.
As a railroader myself I have never turned in a railfan for taking pictures as I do not see them as a threat, one has to use good judgement. Even though the policeman is doing his job he could also be harassing you as well. You my wont to find a better spot for taking pictures somewhere out of the city. Thats what I do to avoid any run in with the police or a person turning you in for looking like your blow up the railroad or something to that nature. All though I can take pictures on railroad property being an employee, I do not go out hardly at all to railfan because of what has happened to you and others.


dns860 09-25-2004 05:32 PM

Time Goes By
Last Wednesday I made twelve 8"x11" prints of a variety of Metro-North trains. I put them in a large manila envelope with my resume and a letter requesting some sort of documentation stating I was a known railroad photographer and that I have railroad's permission to do my thing from public areas on railroad property.

Meanwhile, I've kind of drifted away from the railfan scene. When I think about it, I really do feel my life is missing a fun, productive component. The new camera I bought in June now just sits in its case on the bookshelf, out of action, its batteries removed.

I do like all kinds of photography, but I only have so much interest in practicing my skills by taking pictures of ducks in the pond at the park, as one policeman advised me to do. Believe me, that's about your only acceptable option for public subjects around here nowadays, and I wouldn't be surprised if even that brought some attention from the police. How would they know if you're focusing on a duck or the Citicorp building in the distance?

See, you can't take pictures of banks, dams, bridges, tunnels, offices, or government buildings. Even if they're far off in the background. That means you can't even pose your girlfriend in front of the post office. It's a federal building.

If I was in the camera business, I'd be pretty bummed out. The public at large seems to believe photography is against the law now. It must be killing sales, at least in New York City. I mean, even recent immigrants who barely speak English have come up to me on the street, wagged their finger, and said, "No pictures! No pictures!"

Since the Republican convention ended the police presence has become less visible. But I'm sure they're watching. I don't want to make good on their threat of arresting me if they see me taking pictures again, so I've been laying low. It's frustrating! Hopefully the railroad will grant me permission to do my thing.

I made some new friends here. I received a lot of supportive letters over the summer as the multiple confrontations built up to a final ultimatum. This morning I realized I hadn't checked out the forum in as many weeks. I'm shut down I guess. It's not as interesting when you're barred from participating.

Sure, I can take more far-flung field trips to railroad lines farther removed from the NYC area, and I suppose I will. But I kind of liked just doing my thing while on the way to and from my regular daily business.

I still go by the station nearly every day. I don't bring my little digicam anymore. Sometimes I see things I know would make good shots, and I lament that I don't have my camera to capture them.

I've become so wary however that I don't even like to use the term "shoot" or "shot" out of concern someone somewhere might misinterpret my use of the language of photography. "He said he was gonna' shoot the train! Call Homeland Security!"

Meanwhile, some of my friends who attend sports events still bring their cameras and take pictures inside the stadium. Now that's a place where huge crowds gather. Why isn't photography banned inside stadiums? I guess I don't see the logic, try as I may. I just try to practice a little patriotic acceptance at being forbidden to photograph trains.

So that's where I'm at right now. Just hanging out. Things are okay otherwise. Seems like the news is about Iraq, hurricanes, and the finger pointing election "issues" of the day. Guess things are the same everywhere in that regard.

"In every life we have some trouble / but when you worry / you make it double / So don't worry, be happy!"

David Sommer

trailvan1 09-26-2004 02:24 AM

Guess this means the entire NYC area has gone into the "overkill" mode. Its really sad if not pathetic that these "police" cant distinguish between a law abiding railfan and a terrorist so theyre taking no chances. Maybe it will take a lawsuit against these people for stepping all over ones given Constitutional rights and being guilty of nothing more than being a fan. This is how it all started in pre-WWII Nazi Germany. We are fast becoming a parnoid nation - just what terrorists want.


trailvan1 10-04-2004 04:36 AM

I just got back this past Thursday from being in the Los Angles area. LAX security very tight but down on the South side of Imperial Highway in El Segundo, on a hill top was a railed lookout area complete with a telescope to observe the LAX action.

I had time to spend part of a day at Cajon Pass summit. Once, the railroad security police pickup truck passed me on the opposite side of the tracks. The officer looked at me with my camera in hand, waved and kept on going down the dirt. He drove by several times and just waved.

Is the East Coast hyperventilating and the West Coast more laid back and reasonable towards railfans and picture taking? Go figure.

Gib Allbach/ Chicago area

daveha 11-06-2004 09:59 PM

It's only going to get worse, I fear...
Hi folks,

Just wanted to pop in and share some info I became aware of not too long ago that certainly seems to suggest things are going to get worse instead of better... I read through your forums and didn't see this discussed, so forgive me if it has:


Basicly, the laundy list at the end of this memo, combined with the specific mention of photography at least twice, makes one wonder if you are going to be reported to the feds for taking a picture in your own kitchen, since it's connected to the "critical infrastructure/key resource facilities", ie the water system of your local community.

Pretty chilling, if you take this seriously. I don't do rail pictures at this time, but am into another form of heavy transport, that being ships and other vessels. I've spent days waiting to get the right light and right shot of a vessel, and dang it, seems many times ships seem to hang out near bridges, ports and waterways, so I guess my photos are a double threat.

I honestly don't know what the answer is here. Common sense says that most of this info is alreasy out in public view, so my shot of a vessel passing under a local landmark bridge in just the right light isn't going to pose a threat to anyone, except perhaps my competitors in the photo biz.

Having spent 10 years in Law Enforcement, I am aware of both the mindset of that field and my own individual rights, so it can be interesting.

One tip though: for those of us shooting digital, remember that "erasing" a memory card is meaningless. I can format an entire day's shooting, pop the card in my laptop, and be looking at the pictures in seconds, all in perfect condition :wink: Not exactly the way I want to live, but it's a thought.

BTW, very nice site you all have here... you should be proud to have contributed to it!

mtrails 11-07-2004 02:15 AM

The world is a safer place...
I have been kicked off of "railroad property" simply for being there. I was not told that photo's are prohibited, but that I was too close to the railroad and it was private property. I was parked about 20 feet from the tracks, and did not see any signs stating 'private property" or otherwise, and mentioned to the security officer that I was railfanning. He said, "that's fine, but you need to be at least 50 feet from the tracks". He also said, "I understand you aren't a transient, and aren't making graphitti here, but you are not supposed to be here... try not to come here too often". The next time I went down to that area, I parked 100 feet from the tracks and was standing around 10 feet away with my camera on it's tripod, and he was not as nice this time about me being there. I first asked him if he was hired by the railroad, and he replied "yes", and then I stated that I have been given waves, and toots from the engineer's, and the railroad's (what'you call it, the trucks that drive on the rails, marked with the railroad's insignia) person's that have aknowledged me near the tracks taking photos and never stopped to tell me I shouldn't be there. I guess it makes me confused. I try to get photo's from as public property as possible, but as a photographer, what is the harm? In regard's to the Police, they are completely fine with it, and even suggested to flip the finger to the security officer(s)! How nice it would be, but not knowing if the security officer is directly, or indirectly employed by the railroad, keeps my finger down, considering he has my licsense plate number. I have seen the security vehicles near refinery's and other such active rail exchange areas, but not anywhere else, so railroad photo shooting doesn't seem like a problem in my area (Billings, MT). Though the particular area I was in was relatively public, it was about a mile from a refinery.

JButler 11-07-2004 04:12 AM

I'd think long and hard before giving the finger to the RR cop. Not sure about where you are, but in WV, VA, KY and OH railroad cops are not security guards, they are certified police officer that happen to be employed by the RR and they have the same authority and arrest powers as any deputy or cop.
As for the train crews and track workers not telling you to get off RR property, its not their job. They get paid to run trains. RR cops get paid to protect life and property. Especially RR property!
Just make sure you are not on RR property, or at least not where it appears that you can do damage or get hurt and most cops and RR cops will cut you some slack.
This may not apply in New York City:-)

Ween 11-07-2004 04:42 AM

And if you have the moxie, get in touch with someone with authority to grant you permission to be where you are. Be sure to get it in writing so next time Mr. RR Cop tells you to beat it, show him the letter...

Ken Carr 11-07-2004 08:39 AM

The southwestern states out here RR police are all Category 1 officers and have the same police powers and most even attend the same academies as local and state officers. Obey their directions espeically here in Nevada or I'll land up seeing you not on the tracks but at my job the court and five out of ten times that after your release from jail.
But over all most are friendly stay off their right of way sixty plus feet here, donot get on the main or the tracks at any of the yards and you'll be fine...

dns860 11-07-2004 01:34 PM

With Permission?
Hello Everyone!

Yesterday afternoon I spent some time taking photographs at Wakefield Station on Metro-North's Harlem Line. It's located in The Bronx near the border of Westchester County.

I have a permit, but even so, the police check me out every time I take photos, and usually within 30 minutes. People who see me report me. Sometimes train crews call 911 about me too. Whenever possible I try to alert the police before I begin taking photos at a location, but it's not always an option to do so. They won't give me an inside line I can call. They say if they get a complaint they are obligated to respond, even if I have a permit.

After I was at Wakefield for about a half hour a cruiser pulled up on the bridge over tracks at the other end of the platform. Two officers got out, staring at me hard. I wasn't worried. They came down the steps and walked towards me and when they got closer I waved hello. I recognized one of them, and he recognized me too. He was friendly, and joked that he'd figured the call he received was probably in reference to me. But his partner seemed, shall we say, somewhat bothered by me, although he was professionally polite.

I showed them my pass. To be honest, Wakefield was not listed as one of the stations where I could take photos. I readily admitted this, explaining that I was walking over the bridge on my way from somewhere else when the sun came out, so I decided to stop and take a few photos. The truth was that I picked all the stations listed on the permit myself. The locations were not assigned to me by the railroad for any particular reason. Other than this discrepancy, my permit was in order, as well as my ID.

Nevertheless, the officer who knew me decided to call the official who issued it. My permit provided that person's phone and pager numbers. No one answered the phone, so the officer went ahead and paged the official. We stood there and waited for the return call.

After a few minutes the officer who'd made the call left to walk down the platform and talk in private with the official, thus leaving me alone with the officer who seemed to see me with a disapproving eye. This officer took the opportunity of being alone with me to ask me a few questions about what I do. That was yesterday, and I'm still quite hung up about what his line of questioning implied. In effect, what I got from him was that he saw me as a misguided, unpatriotic citizen.

He asked me how long I was going to be taking photos. Not just for that day, but with regard to the foreseeable future. I said I hoped to get photos during all four seasons, or in other words a year. I added that I knew I was fortunate to have the permit, and that I would only do my thing as long as it was okay by them. I stressed that I did not wish to cause anyone any problems.

He prefaced his next question by saying he was aware of my rights and so on, which indicated right away that he thought I was some kind of activist making a stand. That was a wrong assumption, so I interrupted him. I wanted him to know I was not taking photos of trains to exercise my rights, hassle the police, or make any sort of statement. I am not with those groups who have been protesting the New York City subway photo ban. These groups have been staging protests at transportation hubs around the city, making a fairly good sized stir. But as for me, I am just a railfan, and I have been one since long before 9/11.

But before I could finish my sentence he glanced at me in a way that indicated interrupting him was not a good idea, so I dropped my attempt to clarify that I am not an activist. I do what I do out of a simple if incomprehensible fascination with trains. I do what I do in much the same spirit as those who enjoy fly fishing, customizing cars, collecting sports memorabilia, or any other hobby.

He saw it differently though. He wanted to know how I, as an American citizen, could have no concern whatsoever about others using my photos to perhaps commit terrorist acts. I explained that thousands of books, photos, and videos about trains already existed. I said that the horse was out of the barn on that note a long time ago, meaning there is already a dearth of info about trains available to anyone who wants it without my photos. And as far as tactical value goes, I think it's safe to say my photos are not especially remarkable. In fact, I told him, a trip to the local library would provide far more detailed info about infrastructure than any of my photos ever could. And then there's the information that can be easily accessed at home from the Internet. There are webcams all over the world which show real-time activity at railroads, airports and busy locations in most major cities in many countries. I can watch trains at Rochelle, Illinois any time I want right here at my desk in Mount Vernon, New York.

I got the impression that even if this officer encountered more railfans than most people, it's still a weird and unnecessary hobby to him. He didn't strike me as being truly aware of just how many people like trains, and that there are enough of them to support several monthly magazines on the subject, just like there are magazines about golf or guitar playing.

On that note I added that no link has ever been found between amateur train photography and terrorists. I can't remember where I read that, but it didn't matter. He wasn't buying. I know Mayor Bloomberg recently said publicly that the he thinks ban is overkill.

A train went by. The other officer was still on his cell phone with headquarters at other end of the platform.

The officer continued asking me questions and explaining his thoughts. He asked me if I realized I was in effect putting his life at risk. After all, it would be him who got killed if he had to respond to an attack on the trains. I said I could get killed too, but he mocked me. "You?" he said with a smile. "You're not going to be the one who rushes to the scene of an attack!" If he laughed at all during this dialogue, it was at this point.

In my mind, I was reeling from the insinuation that I was unpatriotic and somehow my photos would be to blame if there was some kind of an attack. He was putting an awful lot of blame on my shoulders. with his line of thinking of course he would view me with contempt. Yet it was all conjecture! I stated that a reasonable balance between security and hysteria must be determined. He countered that he had a wife and kids, evidently implying I should feel guilty. He said he understood that photography was something I enjoyed, but how would I feel if my hobby resulted in an attack, and that he and others like him lost their lives as a result?

I blurted out that of course I would feel awful if such a thing ever happened, and I would. I just have a hard time it believing it could. I mean, I believe the threat of an attack is very real. I just don't believe my photos specifically would be needed or used by our enemies. I do not believe my photos have any special tactical value or provide any information already easily accesible elsewhere. In fact, I would be very surprised if it mattered to an attacker whether he was riding on a Budd M-1 or a Bombardier M-7.

He continued that while there's been no link found between amateur railroad photos and terrorists, it doesn't mean there couldn't. I felt he was implying that I am betraying my country by taking train photos. He really wanted to know why I continued doing what he so clearly saw as wrong, and he seemed perplexed that I could not understand what he so clearly understood to be an incontrovertible fact.

He made one more point. He said that he and his partner were at a far busier station than Wakefield when they got the call to come up north and check me out. Now that other station was unprotected. Someone, he said, could be getting assaulted while they were wasting time with me. I guess I am somehow responsible for when ordinary criminals might strike too.

There was little more I could say. I just re-emphasized I had the railroad's permission to take photos. Evidently someone whose judgment he could trust more than mine must have decided my activities are okay. After all, I'd furnished the railroad with sample photos, a copy of my resume, and a copy of my driverís license.

I felt it would be ineffective to go on defending my point-of-view. He obviously did not like it, but I did have a valid permit. I do not see how I could be responsible for an assault that might or might not happen miles away. I believe an assault was more likely to occur at a minor station such as Wakefield, where we were standing at the moment, simply because the location is indeed not watched as closely.

But I was going to persuade this policeman anything other than what he steadfastly believed. I felt we were at an impasse, so I extended my hand for a friendly handshake to end what I considered had been a gentlemanly dialogue. But he did not shake my hand. In fact, he grabbed my wrist and pushed my arm down. What was he thinking? I had not raised my hand suddenly in any sort of alarming way. Did he think I was reaching for his belt? Was he afraid I was somehow infectious? Or was it a plain and simple snub delivered to show how deeply displeased he was with me?

Countless images of New York City's railroads and major landmarks appear in movies, TV shows, newspapers, post cards, brochures, and magazines. The library has books and videos not just about trains, but about military armor, weapons, aircraft, and naval vessels. There are programs about such diverse topics as the inner workings of the CIA to local law enforcement procedures to understanding alarm systems and computer code encryptions. If anyone is alarmed by the easy availability of this information it is news to me. Yet if I take a simple photo of a relatively mundane commuter train in the suburbs the response is swift and serious.

I really have a hard time accepting that anything I do compromises New York's safety and security. Does anybody remember the 70's film 'Escape From New York'? In its opening scenes, terrorists hijack a plane and crash it into New York City's Financial District. Should the producers be held liable for planting the idea in the 9/11 terrorist's minds?

The New York Daily News ran a centerfold story depicting images of the most likely terror targets. Why isn't that deemed 'unpatriotic' and a 'threat to security' in the same manner my photos seem to be?

I believe I am being a patriot by refusing to allow terror theats to completely re-direct my life. I am all for security, I am not about to go into hiding in my apartment, or anywhere else for that matter.

The other officer returned. He'd spoken with the person who issued my pass. He said there was no problem. It was valid. He just said I should stick to stations on the list, and that if I want to go to other locations I can call headquarters on Monday for a revised permit.

And with that, they left.

Everything was fine, but I felt troubled. I still feel troubled. In October I went to the Metro-North Open House. All types of equipment were on display. Photography was encouraged. I was able to look beneath rolling stock and take photos of rolling stock details impossible to see anywhere else but in a repair bay. The photos I took are among my most popular at railpictures.net.

In September the railroad offered a railfan photographer's special. The trains traveled up the New Haven Line and the Danbury Branch, across The Beacon Line, and then back to Grand Central Terminal. Hundreds of fans took thousands of photos from the train and trackside. What made that day any different from yesterday? Same tracks. Same equipment. Same details.

Many photos from these events are already on the Internet. Other photos taken on ordinary days along the railroad through the years are also easily found.

A friend suggested that the arguments I heard yesterday weren't the real root of the debate. The sore spot was that they had to drop whatever they were doing and drive five miles to check me out, and probably had to write a lengthy report about it too. I don't know. Could be, I suppose.

I am troubled that this policeman thinks I have a selfish, unpatriotic disregard for his safety. I am a bit worried too that he will make some calls Monday and pressure the person who issued my permit to take it away so he doesn't have to be bothered whenever someone calls about me being at some station taking photos.

If that happens, there will be little recourse. Metro-North is my local railroad.

I guess I could switch to photographing beautiful women modeling skimpy lingerie. That's All-American, isn't it? Because I could really get down with that program! But they would have to assign me one who would do it for free.

If you would like to see a photo taken exactly where this dialogue took place, click here:


Dave Sommer

C40dash8 11-07-2004 09:52 PM

CSX Police officers have full police powers. It would not be a good idea to shoot them or any police officer the bird. We as railfans really don't want any more animosity than there already is. If you were detained while shooting that far (90 feet) from the track, I would suggest respectfully asking where the property line is. While I agree the police's time would be better spent catching vandals and grafitti "artists", they have a job to do. Part of that job is keeping trespassers off the property. And if you are not an employee or contractor, you are trespassing. (I know, many of us do it.) The railroad has liability concerns as well as security concerns, and because of this, they have chosen to kick everybody off. As far as Dave's latest case goes, I really don't understand why the police are trying to make him feel bad about them leaving a station unprotected; after all they chose to make the contact longer by challenging his permit. Some cops, like everybody else, can be real jerks. Seems like Dave has met all of them in the NY Metro area!

Chessie4033 11-07-2004 10:10 PM

Boy am I glad that I live in upstate New York. The only time (so far) that I have had the Police question me came about 15 seconds after snapping this picture.


I saw the Police car coming up Route 5 with its lights on, but seeing as how the fire trucks had just gone by a couple of minutes before, I didn't think anything of it. However, before this train even finished passing, the Police stopped, got out of the car and began questioning me. Apperantly, some concerned citizen call them believing I was going to jump from the bridge. When I told them I was simply taking pictures of the trains, the only thing they asked me was "Aren't you usually down by the Pizza Shop?" (at the Lock Street crossing).

Ween 11-08-2004 12:09 AM


He added that he had a wife and kids, evidently to make me feel guilty.
Boo hoo. If you're killed in the line of duty, that's part of the job. It's still voluntary to sign up for the police force, right? No one holds a gun to your head and makes you sign on the dotted line. Just like the armed forces, you volunteer.

If this guy is such a baby worrying about what might happen, maybe he should find a new line of work. Worrying is wasted energy, and it sounds like this cop needs to understand not to worry about that which he cannot control.

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