RailPictures.Net Forums

RailPictures.Net Forums (http://www.railpictures.net/forums/index.php)
-   Railroad Photography Forum (http://www.railpictures.net/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=9)
-   -   LEO tells me train photography is suspicious (http://www.railpictures.net/forums/showthread.php?t=5837)

Joe the Photog 09-16-2007 02:03 PM

LEO tells me train photography is suspicious
At about 5:15 on 9/15/07 I was in Spartanburg, SC trying to shoot the helper unit on a loaded train. I was near Wofford College near where the Clinchfield ended and the helper loco was halfway over the trestle with “Wofford” written on it, a place I’d wanted to get a shot since I first saw it in 1999.

The nose and cab of the unit was still behind a tree, so I made myself be patient and wait it out, standing on the shoulder of a road on the right of way in plain sight on a sunny day with a camera around my neck. A few cars passed as a crew member was on the rear of the train doing whatever has to be done to get the unit to work in tandem with the head end power.

Perhaps five to ten minutes after I stood there, a City of Spartanburg police car drove slowly past. Even though I did not turn back or look over my shoulder, I was aware that my patrol car stopped on the side of the road. Truth be known, I was in a bad mood already due to several things, none of which had to do with trains, photography or LEOs. So I told myself to be calm, answer his questions and not make a scene which I may have done in similar circumstances and moods if my wife and kids weren’t in my car across the road.

The officer came up and spoke to me. He was pleasant and non-confrontational. The words attributed to him and me are to the best of my recollections four hours after the event. He said, “Just taking pictures, are you?”

I said, “Yeah, yeah.”

“Is it a hobby?” he asked.

I said, “Yeah, I just like to do it.”

He said, “You do understand that it looks suspicious, don’t you?”

Going through my head, I thought to say, I can’t help how what is normal to me might look to someone else. But I didn’t.

He went on to tell me that no one called this is, but as he passed, he thought it looked odd to see someone standing near a railroad track with a camera. Again, that seems totally normal to me, but then again, I’m a photographer of trains. He said that since 9/11, we have to be careful because that’s – pointing to the still stopped train – is what they’re going after.

Again, going through my head, but unspoken, I thought, “No, they wouldn’t go after a coal train. They’d go after a hazmat train or an Amtrak train.”

He asked to see my ID, which I fished out for him. If I had thought about it for a moment, and if my wife and children weren’t watching, I may have given thought to telling him I shouldn’t be forced to show him my ID for doing nothing wrong. Of course, he may have said, “Well, you did park on the side of the road.” In any event, I gave him my license.

By now the train had started to creep, so I said, “Do you mind?” gesturing toward the train. He indicated I could go ahead and while I made sure my camera was going to start back up – a three and a half year old 300D does have a bit of a lag time when it’s asleep – he went to his patrol car to radio in my specifics.

By now, there was a general merchandise train creeping up behind the loaded coal train, so at least I had something to do while he waited to hear back from dispatch. In fact, I haven’t looked at the shots since then, but I think I may have overexposed the helper shot because I didn’t have a chance to adjust for a lower sun angle while talking to the officer. So the second train crosses the Wofford bridge and comes to a stop presumably to make a few switching moves as the officer comes back.

He hands me my license and again says I have to understand that taking pictures of trains looks suspicious. Again I wonder why I’m supposed to care what people think of what I’m doing when what I’m doing is perfectly legal and I’m doing it in broad daylight on the side of a road. He then went into a monologue on how terrorists take pictures of things they are going to hit. Now I admit that I have never heard this. I’ve never seen proof that terrorists take pictures of their targets before they bomb them.

But let’s assume this is true. Then shouldn’t people like me actually be encouraged to be out and about is plain sight? I mean, if more of us are out there, then we can keep an eye uot for real, actual terrorists? Why should honest, tax paying innocent civilians be made to feel they shouldn’t enjoy their hobby?

He wasn’t finished yet. He then said, “I’m not going to tell you not to take pictures of trains, but you should go to the office and tell them you’re here. It’s right up the hill there.”

Yeah, right. Because train crews and yard masters have nothing better or more important to do than have railfans come up and bother them.

I said, “Well, I’m not going to do that. I’m not on their property and I wouldn’t be.”

He said, “That’s the advice I gave you. You don’t have to use it. But it might help them out to know you’re down here and what you’re doing.”

What I wanted to say: “I have a camera around my neck. I thought it would be easy to figure out.” What I actually said, “I appreciate the advice. I work as a photographer for a TV station. This is what I do for a living and this is the first time this has happened to me in four years.”

We went our separate ways. I decided to leave his fine city, but did manage to shoot the helper side of the coal train one last time crossing an ACL RR-marked bridge on my way out.

Still not sure exactly what to think of the situation. This happened to me before in Spartanburg and the LEO then was down right rude and obnoxious. This fellow was very cordial and almost nice to me. I think his opinions on things are screwed up, but he’s welcome to them as I am to mine.

My wife said I should have given him a business card with my web site and YahooGroup listed. I don’t think it would be a good idea at all to list my YahooGroup on there. It would probably frighten them to know that we discuss what goes on with the railroads as much as we do. She then said maybe I should have given him my TV station card. But I don’t know. I wasn’t on the job and at the end I did mention my station by name at the end.

The fact that he stopped to see what I was doing didn’t bother me. I don’t like that he asked for my ID or that he called it in. By that point, anyone should have been able to see that I’m a harmless photographer. You know, truth be known, some guy standing in the open shooting a train doesn’t bother me. It would be the ones that ride by in their cars slowly, but don’t stop, that bother me.

Oops. I hope the Cayce PD isn’t reading this.

Crusader 09-16-2007 03:46 PM

Well, as I often say, the day I had to pass thru a metal detector to view the Liberty Bell was the day that fear defeated reason in this country. (It was also a big day for irony as well.)

Sadly, your experience is all too common. Seems as if restraint won the day, on both sides. As I'm sure you know, railfans elsewhere have been detained or arrested, or forced to delete all their pix from their cameras as an officer looked on. A friend of mine, when stopped under circumstances similiar to yours, was only able to convince the local LEO that he was not a terrorist by scrolling thru the pix of his 2-yr-old grandson that just happened to be in his camera along with his railfan photos.

I've often thought of what I'd say under similiar circumstances, and I s'pose I'd just go with the simple truth: that I'm a big kid who's been taking photos of trains for 30 years. I did have a local LEO pull up beside me once as I photo'd a thru-freight on the CSX Philly Div. He didn't get out of his car tho. And after I got my photo, I waved to him and walked back to my car. Surprisingly, he just waved back. Maybe he was a railfan too.

Ween 09-16-2007 04:11 PM


My wife said I should have given him a business card with my web site and YahooGroup listed.
That's what I do, and that's why about a half dozen LEOs around the region have my railfan busniess card. And as far as them reading my Yahoo! Group, fine, I have no problems with it, but they have to become members first!

PLEzero 09-16-2007 05:57 PM

It happens. They are just doing their job. I have had many people question what I am doing. FYI, if an officer asks for identification, you are required to give to to them.

Joe the Photog 09-16-2007 06:49 PM


Originally Posted by Crusader
As I'm sure you know, railfans elsewhere have been detained or arrested, or forced to delete all their pix from their cameras as an officer looked on.

I have read those cases and am relieved I've never had one. I will say this; no one will ever convince me to delete my pictures from my camera. Ever.


Originally Posted by PLEzero
It happens. They are just doing their job. I have had many people question what I am doing.

I see a difference between the LEO stopping to see what I am doing and running my ID through the system when he sees I am just an ordinary photographer. Note in my post I never said he should not have stopped.


Rich K 09-16-2007 06:51 PM

Recently a few railfan buddies and I were talking about railfanning and interaction with law enforcement .

We noticed a sort of pattern in that older railfans like myself (age 57) seem to have virtually no problems with being hassled by law enforcement. On the other hand the younger guys all have had several somewhat unpleasant episodes.

Maybe old guys look more harmless or less suspicious, but for whatever reason I for one have been approached a couple times but never hassled or threatened by the police.

ottergoose 09-16-2007 07:38 PM

Could have been worse. I got frisked on the sidewalk of a bridge over a busy highway (and BNSF and UP mains). I was shooting south of Saginaw, TX, and the spot I was shooting from was right next to an airport. Two LEO's pulled up from either end of the bridge simultaneously, they had me put my stuff on the ground, hold my hands on my head, and proceeded to frisk me. After discovering a billfold, keys, and cellphone, they proceeded to go through my backpack, which had a tripod, and issues of Trains, Wired, and TRP. After announcing I didn't have any surface to air missile launchers in my bag, he ran my ID and they left. Needless to say I won't be shooting there again...

Ken Carr 09-16-2007 08:47 PM

Interesting thread; and timely for me since just this morning at 1:30, while off the ROW and on tribal grounds. A westbound autorack in the hole at Ute called in this strange vehicle (me). I was off the ROW, with parking lights on, along with my dome light. After she called it in a second time I walked on to the row with reflective vest on, camera and flashlight which I shined on myself and of course the camera less than 50 feet directly from the engineer. But just silent from the engineer until I turned where she called dispatch a third time requesting assistance from the special agent.
I returned to my truck, calmly took my vest off and replaced my camera and headed back to the I-15 at 20 mph. Later still a mile off the interstate I noticed lights. I drove up slow and was stopped by a tribal police officer who had been called by UP RMCC. I calmly ID'ed myself showing him my DL and offical ID.
I admit to being frustrated only since I didn't get the photo I wanted. As to the Tribal officer he was professional and after ID'ing myself, our converation was along a professional lines.
But as more and more restrictions or limitations continue for rail fans within Clark County or Southern Nevada I start to wonder when will it stop. NscaleMike who posts some excellent work here has been stopped by BLM rangers and UP Special Agents. I've had my contacts with UP SA's and now with local police.
But I also received complements from UP for reporting sparking rear wheels of a grain train that two other meets had missed. My reporting of person placing debris on the tracks.
In Northern Nevada a small group of railfans and concerned persons have patroled near the tracks reporting damage, trespassers, graffitti artists among other incidents.
Railfans may not know the workings of a locomotive but they do have a general idea of what doesn't belong from debris, specific persons and of course different items on a train. BNSF is the only Class one I know of that has sort of enlisted railfans to be eyes and ears. In regional locals Union Pacific has down the same but on a more limited basis. I'm unaware of anything on the east coast.
Hopefully there can be a compromise between the two groups in the mean time showing ID to a Peace officer or Special Agent is no big deal, officers check persons all the time a quick warrant and vehicle check , maybe a field interview card and unless there are problems the person is on their way. That the way it will be for some time to come.

Crusader 09-16-2007 08:55 PM

ottergoose: Yikes. Am really glad I've never had that kind of "welcome" from law enforcement.

* * *

Rich K: Although as I said in an earlier post, my buddy who was stopped is a grandfather, I think that his case was the exception. The "profile" of a terrorist, saboteur, or plain old graffiti-artist does not seem to include us "Papa Bears", who often show up often with our kids or grandkids in tow.

* * *

PLEzero: I have no objection to producing my ID. It's the other stuff (like erasing images or being told to leave public land) that seems like over-reaching.

bigbassloyd 09-17-2007 12:35 AM

well, I was gonna do some fanning in spartanburg next month... scratch that!

I'll just go for the intended purpose, eat some beacon, and call it good..

I haven't been hassled once... ever... hell I stood along a cruiser and the officer and I watched Hulcher lift a locomotive off its lead truck.. :D

guess I'm lucky, or so backwoods nobody cares..

Loyd L.

Mgoldman 09-17-2007 01:35 AM

I'm typically ridiculously polite when I get asked questions regarding my suspicious activities - I'm glad someone has a system in place and is keeping a eye open. What perturbs me, however, is despite my politeness, which is often returned, I get the debreifing usually by several officers. And like you said, Joe, is it really that suspicious shooting pictures in the wide open??

No one ever says, "oh, OK, cool, no problem", it's always like, well..., you still might be a terrorist." Like these pics dont' already exist in volume on the Web!

Joe, I was at New Hope and they thought I was a spy from the L&C trying to get the steam engine back. No, just kidding. But, this was embarrising - I was panning a hand pump car during a Thomas the Tank event (what, like you didn't see that comming?) and I was told that my actions could be mistaken for something else - ie, taking pictures of kids. D'oh! But, you know, I stopped right away, it was a family event and it could be mistaken for something else. But after I showed the guard my unusual and creative pan pump car pics as proof it took a bit more conversation - what am I doing here, where am I from, ID please - what ever happened to "oh, OK, just checking, perhaps you might consider another subject", which was the final conversation.


Northern Limits 09-17-2007 02:46 AM


Originally Posted by bigbassloyd
guess I'm lucky, or so backwoods nobody cares..

Loyd L.

Same here. I feel for you guys. So much for the land of the free [and anything that is still free is either illegal or paid for by taxes :wink: ]

My worst was a safety rep that told me I wasn't wearing proper safety gear - steel toed shoes :o

WKUrailfan 09-17-2007 03:15 AM

Why the outrage over being questioned? Rail photography isn't the most normal hobby in the world, and in this age of terrorism, you might as well get used to the cops questioning you. Presumably, for every railfan that responds respectfully and politefully to a cop, another one doesn't have to do deal with it. In other words, don't give railfans a bad name.

For those that don't keep up with the news, about 2 years ago in New York City, two egyptian nationals (who were in the country illegally) were found video taping the track and third rail in a subway station at 2am. I believe in the end the men were linked to an Al Qaeda cell. Terrorists "recon" their targets all the time. When the CIA finds laptops and computer hard drives during raids, these "recon" pictures and videos are usually present.

Freericks 09-17-2007 03:43 AM

It's sure a pain, but a pain we're going to have to live with. I've had the same experience as you, with a very polite cop essentially trying to talk me out of ever taking pictures of trains again (because it will scare people). The man was kind, professional, and polite... but he still made me really angry (don't worry, I was polite as can be back.)

Nothing to do really, but take a deep breath and nod in understanding.

Crusader 09-17-2007 04:04 AM

So it seems we have a choice...to be perceived as potential terrorists or perverts. Nice. Just once I wish I could be mistaken for a Nobel Prize Winner or Poet Laureate. ;)

trainboysd40 09-17-2007 05:24 AM

I know what you mean! I've actually been mistaken several times for being with the press (Suprisingly, I was 15 the first time) and occasionally I've been mistaken for someone taking a picture of something cooler than a train :P
I've had a couple times when I was driven off of railway property, and once when I was bullied by a BNSF bigshot in his shiny new jacked-up pickup truck who told me that if he saw me within sight of railway property again he'd cite me with trespassing. Lovely chap. I made a point of going to another spot 500m away. Suprisingly, nobody's pulled the terrorism card yet!

MichaelJ 09-17-2007 01:43 PM

I have never had problems with the Queensland Police, but I have had countless unpleasant experiences with Queensland Rail Staff in the CityTrain area. Station Staff and Transit Officers have regularly told me that it is illegal to photograph trains from QR and Public Property and threatened to call the Police to have me arrested. I normally show them my Media Pass and then get on the phone to Corporate Relations.

Funny story ... I'm on the first revenue service from the Gold Coast to Brisbane worked by a brand new IMU 160. At the terminus I decided to get a photo of the Queensland Government decal even though I had countless photos of the trains for my feature article in Railway Digest. A Transit Officer approaches me and says, "Mate, it is illegal to take photos of the train and if you continue I will call the Police to have you arrested." Without any comment, I got on my mobile and called Corporate Relations. Then I handed the Transit Officer my phone saying, "I have Corporate Relations on the phone and they would like to speak with you." The colour instantly drained from his face and when he returned he said, "I was only doing my job, mate" and I responded, "That's fine, just do not try and stop me from taking photographs when you do not know the railway's policy."

Weeks later, I was having trouble with my SmartCard Ticket at Brisbane Central and another Transit Officer attempted to stop me from walking through the barriers when my other 'friendly' Transit Officer walked over and just said, "Let him through."

QR issued a Rail Enthusiast Photography Policy effective from September 1, 2007. They recognise the value that Rail Enthusiasts can provide to their organisation and be a second pair eyes for Station Staff.

M.L.Gabert 09-18-2007 01:35 AM

I've been questioned so many times over the past 30+ yrs that I get tired of repeating myself "hello officer, just doing a little train watchin' and photography". Although since 9/11 it's been a little crazy, anything outside "the norm" is thought to be terrorist activity. :roll:

Freericks 09-18-2007 01:40 AM

Three years ago, I take a couple hours to watch trains, and chose the Metrolink Montebello platform. As a freight starts to ease its way toward me, a LASD squad car comes racing across the parking lot at a pretty high speed. It stops just below the steps to the platform where I'm standing. An officer jumps out of the car, pats his gun butt, and begins to walk directly at me. I stumbled and hemmed and hawed and tried to say... "Just taking a picture of the train..." but I may not have said it exactly like that. The officer just keeps walking to the newspaper machine... then looks back at me and says "What?" I repeated myself. He nodded, put his coin in the slot and bought a newspaper. He then jumped back in his car and tore away.

SP3197 09-18-2007 12:50 PM


Originally Posted by M.L.Gabert
I've been questioned so many times over the past 30+ yrs that I get tired of repeating myself "hello officer, just doing a little train watchin' and photography". Although since 9/11 it's been a little crazy, anything outside "the norm" is thought to be terrorist activity. :roll:

Man, I feel left out. In 30+ years of shooting trains, I never been questioned by cops or railroad special agents. The most I have ever gotten is the occasional curious railroad employee saying "Hey what's ya doing?". Nothing more than that. I guess I must have an honest face :)

ottergoose 09-18-2007 04:36 PM


Originally Posted by SP3197
Man, I feel left out. In 30+ years of shooting trains, I never been questioned by cops or railroad special agents. The most I have ever gotten is the occasional curious railroad employee saying "Hey what's ya doing?". Nothing more than that. I guess I must have an honest face :)

It's the patriotic loco you're using for your avatar. Nobody who has a pic of a bicentennial unit is a terrorist.

EMTRailfan 09-18-2007 08:41 PM

I've had a few similar situations that turned out for the good. I mentioned in another thread that security for what I consider a "photo sensitive" refinery had one of the truck drivers check me out since he was coming up into a safe zone for a smoke. I was not taking pics there, just watching the train. Turns out that the truck driver and I have an aquantence that is a modeler that I didn't know about. I'm not a modeler, but a railfan is a railfan. He said that he is his boss, and he is also a part time EMT for a neigboring EMS service, which is how I know him. The truck driver and I BS'ed for a while and we went our seperate ways.

The first time that I was to Station Square to railfan, my brother and I were sitting on the rocks at the bottom of the Duquesne Incline. We were there for a while and security did a few fly-bys in that time. Eventually he stopped and asked us what we were doing, DUH! I was polite the entire time, but thinking the whole time, what the hell? He said that he had to check to see that we weren't terrorists or illigal aliens. OK, anybody can be a terrorist, I'll give him that one for doing his job, but an illigal alien?! His skin and hair were much darker than mine, and I not only have 1 yob, I have 2 yobs. John and I had a pretty good laugh over that one after he left, and he didn't ask us to leave. Wade, John Ireland, PLEZero, or anyone else in Pgh: have you ever ran into this guy?

I won't lie and say that I've never crossed the tracks "to get better sun", but other than that, I have never been on rail property without getting permission, and can say that I haven't been denied. Hint: the weekend crews are more apt to give you access to the yard or shops :wink: If they give me permission onto the property, I always ask if there is anywhere they don't want me and comply fully out of respect for them "bending the rules" for me. Granted, these aren't the big class 1's either. I also called Amtrak to get permission to photo the 3 trains coming into Ft. Worth from the platform when we were there in May. Whoever I talked to said that I could. I still checked in with CS when I got there and told her that I called earlier. She in turn radioed security and told them what I was doing. Nobody bother me, and the engineer of the Heartland Flyer even stopped and chatted with me for a few seconds.

Like Ween, I too carry a railfan business card. I haven't had the oppotunity to give one to a LEO, but have handed a few out to fellow railfans that I have met.

Rich K 09-18-2007 09:00 PM

For you folks that carry and distribute railfan business cards . . . .

What info do you include on them? Do you give yourself a title on the card like Railfan or Railroad Photographer?

What quantity did you order when they were printed and what did it cost?

EMTRailfan 09-18-2007 09:06 PM

1 Attachment(s)

Originally Posted by Rich K
For you folks that carry and distribute railfan business cards . . . .

What info do you include on them? Do you give yourself a title on the card like Railfan or Railroad Photographer?

What quantity did you order when they were printed and what did it cost?

I'm a cheapskate. I just printed a few out on Printshop on card stock. They aren't quality but they do. I just have my name and list railpictures.net and say that I'm listed under the photog on the home page instead of printing out a 3 mile long address to just my photos. I also have my username (same for all) for the various forums that I look at and my yahoo group name since it is different.

Greg P 09-18-2007 09:08 PM

For the record, I am a Criminal Justice student and I have read reports of terrorists photographing their targets. I actually worked with a policeman who stopped a family who had very detailed photos of security points around Washington DC.

All times are GMT. The time now is 11:05 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.1
Copyright ©2000 - 2021, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.