I am no expert on railroads or railroad safety, but can speak based on my 20 plus years of experience watching trains. Based on my being witness to or reading about the dangers of railroading and train watching, I have become big on railroad safety and educating the fellow railfan on how to be safe while watching trains.
I have been active in watching trains ever since I can remember. Of course, I could not take it up seriously until I had my first car! In the modern era as I call it of train watching, too many times I have seen the general public or worse yet other train watchers act irresponsibly in and around railroad property.
Railroading, trains, train watching, railfanning, rail spotting or what ever you choose to call it, is a dangerous business & hobby. My vehicle, a friend of mine and people who I do not know but were present with have been injured while watching trains.
Please remember these rules & guidelines if you want to watch trains and with a blessing from god above, you will never witness some of the horrors I have had the unfortunate pleasure of seeing in my years of railfanning:
Remember when you trespass on railroad property, as the general rule of thumb, you are a unwelcome guest. If you are asked, told or flat yelled at to leave, thank them politely and leave. Best bet, do a little research and learn where public access areas are and stay in them. If you go on to private property, it's best to secure written or verbal permission first from the land owner. Remember that train watching is a privilege and that privilege DOES NOT include the right to trespass. Several railroads INCLUDING Norfolk Southern and Florida East Coast will arrest and prosecute you if you are caught trespassing on their property!
When around railroad tracks, remember the golden rule of railroading:
EXPECT movement on ANY track in ANY direction at ANY time
NEVER stand, walk or pause between the rails!
In one experience of my train watching, I was standing between the rails with a train crewman (standing outside and CLEAR of the rails where I should have been) at 3am in the morning as they were working. Take it from my personal experience. You DO NOT always hear the train cars approaching you! If it had not been for that conductor, I would have been a part of a caboose coupler a long time ago! Needless to say, I owe him my life and took his lesson very seriously. I also had to purchase some new underwear to boot!
NEVER walk on top of the rail. The rail top is a curved and very smooth surface. Water, ice, sand, oil or other foreign substance causes that surface to become very slick. Imagine two pieces of ice moving back and forth. It takes only one slip stepping on top of the rail to end your life. This rule also goes for walking around switches! Imagine you get your foot lodged in the points of the switch and then you notice a train is coming or worse yet, a dispatcher hundreds of miles away throws the switch with you standing on it. The resulting picture is not pretty in either case.
When watching trains, always stand a minimum of 100 feet away from the tracks. Better yet, if you have some object that can offer you some protection, stand behind it. Plan a clear escape route BEFORE the train gets there should you witness an event from a passing train that might signal harm to you.
Stand no less then the longest car on the train or a distance of not less than 100 feet from the train. Even when standing up hill. Trains when they derail can travel up hill, and a train can derail at any place at any time. In my 5 years as a CSX police officer I have seen and arrested many people for reckless endangerment for standing way to close to a moving train.
First Responder, Detective SGT. CSX Police and Special Services
My best friend was just about hospitalized form NOT following this rule. As I follow this rule, I generally will stand behind my car when a train is passing. My car can be replaced, I CAN'T. My friend was leaning against the car towards the tracks. A hopper car was spilling ballast along the track with the train moving about 50 miles per hour. He didn't get out of the way in time and was struck in his breast bone with a piece of ballast that had skipped. After a trip to the doctor, he was fine but VERY SORE and had trouble breathing for several weeks. Needless to say, after that incident, he chose to stand behind the car with me!
Yes, there are public access areas where you can get as close as 20 feet from the tracks. I know of many areas around the Elkhart, Indiana area. Please keep in mind that a 86' Hi-Top boxcar moving 50 miles per hour will take LESS THEN 2 SECONDS to hit you if you are sitting that close to the tracks. As a reference point, the average human reaction time is about 1.5 seconds. This gives you exactly 1/2 second to get out of the way of a 150,000 lbs. boxcar. Do the math!!!! You CAN NOT possibly get out of the way in time to prevent getting hit. Think your car is going to offer protection? Hmmm.... 3,000 pound car vs. 150,000 pound Boxcar.... You do the math.
Scenario: You are caught off guard and get trapped BETWEEN several passing trains at one time. Suddenly you start to become dizzy and / or disoriented. What do you do?
Lay Down and cover your head!!!
Read rule number 1. Getting trapped between two trains WILL NOT happen if you do not trespess!
When you have several passing trains at once and you are trapped between them, it is easy to get disoriented and / or dizzy at the same time. DO NOT risk it, lay down, cover your head and wait for the trains to pass. Your life is not worth being a macho man and try to fight it. This CAN happen while you are track side watching trains! Same rule applies. If you do not have something to grab a hold of, lay down. You are better off a little dirty then VERY DEAD!
Bridges & other roadways: A common place for railfans to shoot photographs of trains is above them from highway bridges. Please take EXTRA care when doing this. Check to see if there are any "NO Trespassing" signs posted for the bridge. Check City, State & Federal laws. Some bridges are OFF LIMITS to people on foot. NEVER STOP you car on a bridge... Wear brightly colored clothing, especially at night... If the bridge has a sidewalk, USE IT. (Trust me on this one, I've seen idiots walk in the middle of the road). Park your car WELL off the road or in a public parking lot if available. Have a friend act as a spotter so you are aware of approaching cars and the cars are aware of you. Remember above all, other drivers are NOT EXPECTING YOU to be walking on the bridge!
Photography: Guys, use your brains on this one. It's at night (or Dusk). The train is coming. Are you going to use that photo flash? How about you DO NOT USING YOUR PHOTO FLASH AT NIGHT! Think about it... Do you want a flash going off in your face while driving down the road? While the engineer has no steering wheel to hold, he STILL has to be able to see ahead for railroad crossings, animals, humans and other obstructions that might impead his path. Railroad crews need to be able to see those RR signals, just like we have to see traffic lights.
Scanners: Check with the state police in the state where you plan on operating your scanner. In a number of states, it is *ILLEGAL* to operate a scanner in your vehicle unless you are a member of public service (Police / Fire), a security company, local 24 hour news media or have a Valid FCC license for Ham Radio operators. You could be arrested for violating this law. Check to see if you can get a "letter of exception" from the local sheriff's office or State police post. My friend was issued such a letter by simply calling the local sheriff and explaining he wanted to use his scanner in his vehicle to listen to the local train traffic.
Railroad Police: Almost every major & regional railroad have railroad police. These police officers are Federally Sworn officers and carry arrest powers where ever they go. Needless to say, assuming you are immune from railroad police just because you are standing on public property is a HUGE mistake!!! BTW, they CAN write parking tickets, speeding tickets, etc. As with ANY law enforcement officer, threat them with respect and be polite to them. They are just doing a job just like the rest of us.
Railfan Parks: There are a number of public and private railfan parks springing up around the country specifically for the railfan. Some are there for the enjoyment. Public railfan parks built by local city or community governments have done so in attempt to get you to visit. PLEASE support these railfan parks! They were built with you in mind, they welcome you and are a SAFE place to go. Visit the local establishments and spent some $$$$$ there to show your thanks for their efforts.
More important then anything else... USE COMMON SENSE! God gave you a brain, use it! If it doesn't look safe, then it probably isn't. No picture, location or collectible item is worth you getting killed, maimed or injured over. It's also not worth you getting arrested over. Enough Said!
In those famous words... Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but foot prints.
As a closure to this briefing on railroad safety, I recently moved from Ocala, Florida to Elkhart, Indiana. On July 1st 1998, my first night living in the state of Indiana, I had come across an accident scene at a railroad crossing. A 13 year old boy who was TWICE the legal limit for being drunk (.08 is the legal limit for Indiana) had played chicken with a Conrail TV Intermodal train and lost his life. The gates, bells and locomotive equipment were functioning CORRECTLY at the time of the accident.
It happened again on about July 12th when a 15 year old kid failed to wait for the gates to lift after a freight train had gone by and was side swiped by an Amtrak train traveling 79 miles per hour on the adjacent track. He survived but his family has huge hospital and doctor bills to pay.
Here is a bit of trivia for you:
Say a suspect has driven thru a standard 28 foot gate arm crossing. In a court of law, how many counts of running a stop sign can the suspect be charged with?
Answer: Each blinking read light on the signal mast and gate arm counts as one stop sign. Example, If there are a total of 8 lights facing the driver on the mast(4 per each side of the road) and 4 on each gate arm (total of 8 on both sides of the road) and two each on over head systems for a total of 4 more, than the total would be 20 counts of running a stop sign!!!!!
A Railroad police office has the right to request the case be in federal court. A conviction can mean the loss of license and possibly loss of vehichle.
First Responder, Detective SGT. CSX Police and Special Services
I am sure I have not covered all the basics, so take what I have said here to heart and take the time to learn more about your favorite railroad, it's rules for operations and most importantly, railroad safety. Please follow these links to learn more:
Thank you for stopping by my railroad page. Please forgive me as I have been busy lately. I plan to post to the Internet some of the photos that I have taken over the years. Some date back to before 1985 when I first started to photograph trains.
There is one thing to be said for liking trains, living in a ACTIVE railroad town & working for the railroad... OK, the contractor to the railroad! I am employed at K&B Transport. We operate the Elkhart, Indiana Conrail (Now Norfolk Southern) auto ramp. I have had a life long love for trains. While I am not as fanatical about trains as a friend of mine, I do enjoy the thought that all I have to so is look out the window and there's a train! The
St. Joe Valley Model Railroad club where I am a member is also located right along the very busy Chicago-Elkhart mainline at about milepost 433. The really nice thing about living here as opposed to Florida, you don't have to waste a half of tank of gas going somewhere to see the trains. Often, just sit and wait, trains WILL come!
Check here often as I will post new photos here as I get a free moment. I will print a brief description and will update the page with thumbnail photos as soon as I can figure out a way to do them #1, but not make them irritating as I have seen them on other pages...